Continuing the countdown of the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, let’s break down the second best player in cornerback Desmond Trufant.
To read about the methodology in how these rankings came about, you can click here.
Total Score: 92.5/100
Last year’s rank: 4th
Player Grade: 80/100
Teams he is starter: 32 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 27 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 32 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +3
Positional Bonus: +4
Honestly, I was a bit reluctant to crown Trufant after his solid rookie season. While he certainly was deserving of the high praise he received after 2013, it was going to be pivotal for me to see how he fared against the many top wide receivers he would face in 2014. Potential early-season matchups against top wideouts like A.J. Green, Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall compelled to wait and see before officially placing Trufant among the elite corners in the NFL.
Of course Trufant handled himself admirably, cementing himself as one of the best cornerbacks in the process. While the “shutdown” cornerback doesn’t really exist in today’s NFL, there is “field-tilting” corner. That is one that is so able to lock down the receivers on his side of the field, that it forces the opposing offense to adjust and allows his defense to funnel things to the opposite side of the field. Trufant was able to prove that he belonged in this special class of cornerback last season.
A defensive coordinator loves a cornerback that he can trust to put on an island in man coverage because it frees him up to do more things with the other 10 players on defense. Trufant allowed just that in the second half of the season when the Falcons asked him to often shadow the opposing team’s No. 1 receiver. It did lead to him getting beat more often than he had in the first half of the season when he was stationed on the left side of the defense exclusively. But Trufant more than handled his own against players like Kelvin Benjamin and Josh Gordon, with Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown being the lone player that really gave him fits.
Trufant will have to make some adjustments this year under Dan Quinn, who features a lot more press coverage and zone. However, Trufant shouldn’t have too much trouble making the adjustment despite not being the classically built press corner like Quinn had in Seattle. Trufant’s six-foot frame, 190 pounds and 31-inch arms are much closer to the NFL average that what the average Seahawk corner was a year ago: around close to 6’2″, 202 pounds with 33-inch arms.
But Trufant is savvy, hard-working corner with great awareness, instincts and quickness. While he might not be the sort of player that is going to manhandle receivers at the line of scrimmage a la Brandon Browner or Richard Sherman, he still should be effective in press coverage. Using a lot more zone will allow Trufant to use the heightened instincts as well, as he should have no problem playing in space and handling the deep third as he’ll often do when the Falcons utilize Quinn’s trademark Cover-3.
Whatever adjustments need to be made, one can trust Trufant will do so. He may not be the prototype for what Quinn might be looking for at the position, but he’s too good of a player to label him a square peg. Eventually the hope is that Trufant will grow into this scheme and become Atlanta’s version of Sherman, becoming a player that offenses actively avoid.
That won’t require too much change since Trufant was second only to Sherman in terms of being the least targeted corner in the NFL through the first half of 2014. Only after the Falcons’ bye in Week Nine did the team start employing Trufant more as a shadow corner and thus saw his targets increased. But at least through the first eight weeks of the season, both Sherman and Trufant were rarely thrown at. According to a metric of Pro Football Focus, Sherman was the least targeted corner in the NFL in that span, seeing a pass thrown his way for every 8.8 snaps he was in coverage. Trufant was right behind him through eight games, seeing a target every 7.9 plays he was in coverage. Thus expectations should be high that Trufant’s production in 2015 will be at a comparable level to Sherman.
However one area where Trufant might not be as successful as Sherman is in generating turnovers. During the first half of last season, Trufant failed to collect a single interception. Once he saw more targets coming his way in the second half of 2014, he managed to snag three picks. As a rookie Trufant had just a pair of interceptions and despite starting all four years of his collegiate career, Trufant only snagged a total of six interceptions; never eclipsing more than two in a single season. Meanwhile Sherman has averaged six interceptions per season over the course of his four-year career.
Given his history, it is unlikely that Trufant is ever going to be in the running to lead the NFL in interceptions. It’s a reason why despite being highly productive the past two years, he’ll probably never get the credit that is due to him by people outside Atlanta. Interceptions are sexy and if Trufant winds up only snagging a couple on an annual basis, then he’ll never garner the headlines that other corners generate.
But what Trufant lacks in “sex appeal,” he more than makes up for in consistency, work ethic and blue-collar toughness. And those traits should more than satisfy Quinn as the anchor of his secondary.