Team Needs: Falcons Need Size and Experienced Depth at CornerbackThe recent release of Asante Samuel has created a hole at cornerback for the Atlanta Falcons when there wasn’t one before. That hole should be filled with a veteran corner that can upgrade the unit with some much-needed size.
As the team sits today, only two cornerbacks are under contract: Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, both entering their second seasons. Well, technically Jordan Mabin and Saeed Lee are both also under contract, although neither are expected to figure significantly into the team’s plans in 2014. Mabin and Lee probably can only be expected to compete for the fifth cornerback spot, indicating that the Falcons will need to add at least two more cornerbacks this offseason.
One of those spots almost certainly will go to impending restricted free agent Robert McClain. McClain is a valuable reserve due to his ability to play in the slot, as well as the fact that he played well as a punt returner late last season. McClain also is the team’s most accomplished cornerback in terms of run support, an area where both Trufant and Alford were inconsistent during their rookie seasons.
But in terms of pass coverage, Trufant certainly was far from inconsistent. By year’s end, his play had become the steadiest of anybody on the defensive roster. Alford had his fair share of ups and downs, but showed enough promise that the team is confident that he can enter 2014 penciled in as Samuel’s replacement in the starting lineup.
The Falcons might opt to keep Dominique Franks, an unrestricted free agent, as the fourth cornerback. However, the team should be able to find a better option than Franks this offseason. While Franks has shown the ability to play in the dime sub package in the past, he would be an inferior option to McClain in such a role, and also is a very limited contributor on special teams. Franks has flashed ability in the past as a reserve on defense, showing the capability that he is at least competent there. That makes his primary value only worthwhile in the event of an injury to one of the starters, where he’d likely be promoted to the nickel role.
Such an injury is likely given the Falcons history, as the team has not had two corners start all 16 games in the same season since Ray Buchanan and Ashley Ambrose did in 2001. If that trend continues, then it’s imperative the team attempt to upgrade their depth in 2014.
And one of the areas where the Falcons could upgrade their depth is by adding more size to the position. In 2014, the Falcons will be facing several opponents that feature large wide receivers. Among them the Falcons will face A.J. Green, Jordy Nelson, Calvin Johnson, Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall, Josh Gordon, Larry Fitzgerald, Vincent Jackson, and Marques Colston, all of whom measure 6’3″ or above. In fact, the Pittsburgh Steelers are the only team on next year’s schedule that doesn’t feature at least one projected starting wideout that is 6’2″ or taller. The tallest corner on the roster is currently Trufant, who measures just under six feet tall.
As the Falcons saw during the Senior Bowl, there are several young, tall corners that could be had this May in the draft. However, given the team’s needs elsewhere as well as plenty of youth already being on the roster in Alford and Trufant, it may be a smarter decision to target a veteran free agent to help out depth-wise. It would give them a more reliable insurance policy in the event that Alford is not quite as ready for the starting lineup as the team hopes. Not to mention that McClain is coming off a subpar season as the nickel cornerback, and also would give them another option in case he doesn’t bounce back in 2014.
Adding such a veteran wouldn’t preclude the team from drafting a corner later in the draft. It’ll just allow the team not to have rely on that rookie to have to hit the ground running in the event of an injury or poor play.