I’m counting down the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, and let’s continue with 20th-ranked player: cornerback Robert Alford.
To read the methodology I devised to rank the Falcons players, click here.
Total Score: 56/100
Last year’s rank: 24
Player Grade: 50/100
Teams he is starter: 15 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 1 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 32 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +3
Positional Bonus: +4
After watching both Alford and fellow cornerback Desmond Trufant in college, I felt that Alford had the greater upside as an NFL corner due to superior physical tools. With what appeared on tape to be better speed, length and ball skills, Alford has the makings of a top NFL corner.
However, one of the drawbacks to being a corner with unique athletic gifts is that such a player has a tendency to rely solely on those gifts. Prime examples of recent Falcons that were in a similar boat were DeAngelo Hall and Dunta Robinson. Both Hall and Robinson were two of the premier corners in the league their first few seasons in the league but as time passes, such players begin to lose that athleticism. And without the technical foundation to rely upon, they quickly can become liabilities.
Obviosuly, for a second-year player like Alford that sort of issue is a long way off. But is still relatable to what he can do in 2014.
As a rookie, Alford had his brighter moments where his natural gifts were an asset in coverage. But there were also times where Alford looked a bit lost, and that lack of technical foundation showed. His key for success in 2014 will be improving that technique by playing with better balance, footwork and awareness.
If he can improve in those areas, that inconsistency can begin to be eliminated. And while I’m optimistic Alford will make significant progress this season, it’s likely to come with him taking a few lumps as well.
Another area where improvement must be made is in run support. That weakness was not exposed to any great deal in 2013 due to the fact that the majority of his reps came in the nickel (i.e. obvious passing situations). But as the Falcons’ presumed starting cornerback opposite Trufant, it’s likely he’ll see more than twice as many snaps where he’ll have to play the run in 2014.
Alford has a fairly bright future ahead of him, but the big question remains whether or not he will hit the ground running this season. It’s been a long time since the Falcons were able to say that they got good play out of both starting cornerbacks in the same season. Usually if one excels, the other does not. That’s a trend that dates back to the heyday of Ashley Ambrose and Ray Buchanan in 2001.
Getting good play from Alford as well as Trufant could really be a huge boost for the Falcons this season. Given the probability that the team won’t be able to generate consistent pressure on the quarterback, the defense may be largely reliant on turnovers to get stops. And if you have a pair of ball-hawking corners as opposed to one, it makes generating such turnovers a lot easier.