A.J. Terrell’s performances were among the highlights of the Atlanta Falcons‘ 2021 season. The second-year cornerback earned recognition from many after taking huge strides and emerging as a legitimate NFL shutdown cover man.
The only thing missing from Terrell’s season was a deserved Pro Bowl nod. Despite the snub, Terrell remains one of the few elite talents general manager Terry Fontenot should build around for 2022.
Fontenot can kickstart the process by finding the perfect bookend for Terrell on the edges of the Falcons’ secondary. Two experts from CBS Sports have identified the ideal cornerback to partner Terrell in their latest mock drafts.
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LSU Star a Popular Pick for Falcons
CBS Sports’ Ryan Wilson thinks LSU star Derek Stingley Jr. is too good to ignore with the eighth-overall pick: “Former first-rounder AJ Terrell is having a great season, and Isaiah Oliver, who has also been good in coverage, is in the final year of his contract. After that, there’s not much depth and if the best CB in the draft is on the board here, it’ll be hard to pass on Stingley. The other option, of course, is targeting a quarterback here.”
Those thoughts are endorsed by another CBS Sports analyst, Chris Trapasso. He echoed Wilson’s sentiments that a Terrell and Stingley double act is too tempting to overlook: “Give me A.J. Terrell and Derek Stingley in the same secondary. The Falcons go defense instead of receiver here.”
There’s plenty to like about the Falcons using a top-10 selection to take Stingley off the board when the 2022 NFL draft gets underway on Thursday, April 28. The obvious positive would be acquiring the most talented coverage ace in this year’s class.
Stingley has impressed whenever he’s taken the field for the Tigers, who boast a program that’s sent many quality defensive backs to the pros. Kansas City Chiefs‘ safety Tyrann Mathieu and versatile Jalen Mills of the New England Patriots are just two former LSU standouts who have made the grade in the NFL.
The chances of Stingley replicating Mathieu, Mills and other LSU standouts are good. His is a game based on being as stingy as possible to opposing receivers, per Pro Football Focus’ Michael Renner: “This ranking is banking a lot on what Stingley put on tape a long time ago, but it’s not as if that talent went anywhere. He has allowed only a 41.1% completion percentage for his career and has been starting since his freshman year.”
Renner’s reference to what Stingley did in the past is telling, because if there’s a concern, it’s durability. Stingley suffered foot injuries that eventually required surgery and limited him to just 10 games during his last two years at Baton Rouge, according to NFL.com’s Chase Goodbread.
The injury record is a worry, but like Renner, most agree Stingley’s talent is still first-round worthy. Wilson continues to believe, telling Amanda Guerra of CBS Sports HQ he has “zero concerns” about Stingley’s injury:
Fontenot may want to make the same gamble if it means adding another young and dynamic cornerback to the Falcons’ secondary. Especially given the challenges presented by next season’s schedule.
Cornerback Depth Key for Falcons in 2022
Fielding an all-star cornerback tandem looks like a must for the Falcons, based on the number of talented quarterbacks they are set to face this year. Not just quarterbacks, but some of football’s best wide receivers too.
That’s a familiar problem close to home, where the Falcons have to deal with two games against NFC South power the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It means a pair of duels with Tom Brady and Mike Evans.
Atlanta’s 2022 slate also features home games against the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Chargers, per Kris Rhim of the Falcons’ official site. That means going against Cardinals’ duo Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins, as well as dealing with Chargers’ passer Justin Herbert and receivers Mike Williams and Keenan Allen.
As Rhim showed, road games offer little reprieve. The Falcons face Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens, along with Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase of the Cincinnati Bengals. There’s also a chance Russell Wilson could still be throwing passes to D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett when the Falcons make the trip to Lumen Field to meet the Seattle Seahawks.
It all adds up to quite a few headaches for Atlanta defensive coordinator Dean Pees. At least he can rely on Terrell to take away one half of the field, something the 23-year-old did for fun this season, as shown by these numbers from PFF:
Having Stingley do the same thing on the other side would not only slow down the explosive wideouts on next season’s schedule. It might also help alleviate the glaring weakness on Pees’ defense, namely the lack of a credible pass rush.
The Falcons registered just 18 sacks this season, by far the fewest in the league. Some studs are needed up front, but any pass-rushers are going to find it easier to get to quarterbacks forced to hold the ball because of smothering coverage on the back end.
Similarly, Pees could stack the box with eight men more often to gang up on the run against offenses reticent to put the ball in the air against gifted and opportunistic corners.
Stingley and Terrell would combine to make the whole Falcons’ defense better.