Triangle? Square? Pentagon? Octagon? How many corners will the Falcons defense have? (Wait for laughter to die down and….), but seriously, the Falcons find themselves with an embarrassment of riches at the all important cornerback position heading into the 2017 summer workouts. With the NFL becoming more and more a passing league, and teams becoming more and more reliant on sub-packages, I guess you can never have too many cover men. But how many will the Falcons keep on the final 53 and how many will be among the 46 dressed on Sundays? We currently have a first rounder, 2 second rounders, 1 undrafted rookie and 3 castoffs, all of whom have seen significant playing time, and all who have played pretty well under some pressure filled situations. Now we add to the mix a 5th round rookie who by all rights should battle for significant playing time. Who will be the last few standing come September?
DESMOND TRUFANTxxxxxI had been pretty vocal on my displeasure with the Falcons rolling over and presenting Desmond with a big check without even testing the waters to see what type of deals might be available. Desmond is a good corner, but the defense actually played better (or put up better numbers at least) after Desmond was lost with an injury mid-2016. But with a new monster contract, Desmond will be a Falcon for quite some time. So let’s pencil him in at our #1 CB and hope he produces what his contract implies.
ROBERT ALFORDxxxxxThe player every Falcon fan loves to hate. Personally, I’ve always liked Alford. I could do with a few less penalties, which he did, in fact, clean-up in the back half of 2016. Alford has been our #2 CB since arriving via the 2013 draft with Desmond, and like Desmond, has a shiny new contract that will make him a Falcon for the foreseeable future. I like the way he takes chances for turnovers, something his counterpart doesn’t seem to do as often. I’ve seen where folks would like to see him tried out at FS, but since there have been no rumblings from the branch about this, we’ll go ahead and slide Alford into CB #2 spot.
JALEN COLLINSxxxxxBoy, I really didn’t like this pick in the 2nd round of 2015. Troubled past, not a lot of starting time at LSU, and didn’t put up impressive numbers when he did play. Really slow to pick up even the fundamentals when he got to “big boy school”, it looked as if this was a dud pick. 2016 didn’t start off any better for Jalen, as he was suspended the 1st four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Then coming off suspension, he was inactive for a few games and it looked like we might have to admit our folly in drafting Jalen. Then came the Trufant injury and Collins was forced to play. To everyone’s surprise, amazement and awe, Jalen actually played steady (further fueling my desire to at least shop Desmond). Jalen can be a solid #3 CB, but not a nickel. Ultimately, when we go to 3 corners, Jalen plays the outside and Alford would assume slot duties. One has to wonder though, has the Falcons FO had its collective fill of Jalen? Only 1 slip-up with the league so far, but is that, coupled with his past, and the fact that he was so slow to grasp the process, enough to make the Falcons look in another direction? More on that later.
BRIAN POOLExxxxxPoole burst onto the Atlanta scene as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2016. He impressed enough that he was the 3rd CB in the first 4 games while Jalen was serving his suspension, then continued in that role after Jalen returned and subsequently after Trufant was injured. Coach Dan Quinn intimated this past off season that Poole would get some work at safety. Obviously, some people ran with that and said Poole was being moved to safety. I don’t believe that to be the case. I believe Poole will get some work there to be familiar with the position in case of injury and to have more roster flexibility with the final 53 and the dressed 46. Right now, I believe Poole has the inside track on the 4th CB slot in dime situations.
DEJI OLATOYExxxxxAs 2016 wore on, the Falcons made a couple of minor roster moves to their practice squad with a couple of free agent CB’s. One, that we will get to in a moment, was more the “headliner” of the signings. The other, Olatoye, was barely even noticed. But down the stretch run to the playoffs and on into the playoffs and Super Bowl, it was Olatoye that proved to be the better signing, as he played steady, within himself, when called upon.
BLIDI WREH-WILSONxxxxxBlidi is the aforementioned “headliner” signing the Falcons made when filling out their practice squad. More heralded than Olatoye, Wilson did an admirable job when called upon, but it was clear that he was behind Olatoye in the pecking order. Good size and speed that Quinn likes, Wreh-Wilson may be fighting an uphill battle to earn a roster spot.
C.J.GOODWINxxxxxTalk about size, speed and athleticism! C.J. has it all except experience. A college WR along with playing WR his first couple of years in the league, C.J. made the switch to the defensive side of the ball in 2016 and showed some really good ability. Mostly a special teamer in 2016, CJ did find his way on defense a few times and was relied on even more during the post-season. There were also rumors of C.J. getting some looks at safety.
DAMONTAE KAZEExxxxxOne of our 2017 5th round draft picks, Kazee is going to be the wild card on how the CB situation plays out this fall. Smallish and more quick than fast, Damontae has a penchant for turnovers, something this defense could use more of (2 ways to stifle the opposing offense, stop ‘em or just take the damn ball from them). If, if, if, if, if Kazee can come into camp and win the 3rd/4th CB spot, things could get a whole lot more interesting in our defensive backfield, personnel wise.
Trufant and Alford are the starters, period. At the end of last season, Jalen had proved himself capable of being the #3 CB, playing the outside in nickel and dime situations. But if Poole improves and provides solid depth at the safety position AND Kazee comes in and performs like everyone hopes, Jalen could find himself on the outside looking in come 2018 (where he could be traded/released to provide some much needed cap space).
The Falcons will break camp with 7 CB’s on the roster. My feeling is Trufant, Alford, Collins, Poole, Kazee, Olatoye and Goodwin all make the club. Poole and Goodwin will also be used for depth at the FS position. I believe we could see a defensive alignment were all 7 are on the field at once (I call this the Knee-Jerk-Reaction-to-Blowing-a-Huge-Lead-to-the-Patriots-in-the-Super Bowl defense). Or maybe we’ll just call it the “Heptagon Defense”.
(And Yes, I’m aware that a heptagon actually means 7 angles, but that also means there are 7 vertices, or “corners” to the layman….I went to elementary school too ya know.)