The Atlanta Falcons used day one of the NFL draft to bolster their offensive line. Void of a pick on day two, the team began adding defensive depth in round four of the 2019 NFL Draft. They started by drafting cornerback Kendall Sheffield.
The Atlanta Falcons used day three of the NFL draft to bolster the depth of specific position groups. Cornerback is one of the most slim positions on the entire Atlanta Falcons roster. Desmond Trufant, Isaiah Oliver and Damontae Kazee are the favorites to start at the position. Blidi Wreh-Wilson is the only other experienced cornerback on the roster, though safety JJ Wilcox is also able to defend the slot. Help is definitely needed at cornerback.
The Falcons decided that Kendall Sheffield from Ohio State University is the help needed in the defensive backfield. Sheffield is a former track star and a 5’11 193 pound cornerback. He was originally a member of the Alabama Crimson Tide, but transferred after receiving a red shirt. Before moving on to Ohio State, Sheffield made a stop at Blinn Junior College. Kendall arrived on the Ohio State campus and immediately found the field. He played in all 14 games, with three of those being starts. He made 40 tackles on the season, with 2 of those tackles being for a loss. Sheffield also forced and recovered a fumble. He also added a solid nine pass breakups in 2017.
This past season Kendall Sheffield earned the right to start all 14 games that Ohio State played in. This time he registered 35 tackles, with two again causing a loss of yards for the opposition. He also forced a fumble. Sheffield earned his first two interceptions as on the major college level in 2018, and he broke up six additional passes. He was an honorable mention for the All Big 10 Team and declared for the NFL draft following the season.
The Atlanta Falcons YouTube channel provides us with some highlights of Kendall Sheffield:
Kendall Sheffield was targeted 58 times in coverage last season. He allowed 32 of those passes to be caught for 553 yards and five touchdowns. That’s a catch percentage of 54.2. Quarterbacks had a rating of 100.5 when throwing at Sheffield. In the advanced stat of yards allowed per coverage snap, he gave up 1.22 yards per snap. That ranked him number 87 in the country. When defending slot receivers, Sheffield gave up 2.56 yards per coverage snap. This gave him a ranking of number 148 among NCAA cornerbacks.
Overall Pro Football Focus gave Kendall Sheffield a grade of 74.8 for the 2018 season. His run defense grade was 60.4. In coverage he was awarded a grade of 76.5. That was a nice improvement from a 67.0 coverage grade the prior season.
Here is Kendall Sheffield’s initial reaction to being drafted by Atlanta, courtesy of the Falcons YouTube channel:
Kendall Sheffield is blessed with natural speed. He is the Ohio state record holder in the 60 yard dash and a two-time 110 meter hurdles champion. He is an explosive runner, that very few can beat in a foot race. He fast enough to catch up when beat initially at the snap. Sheffield is very agile with loose hips that give him the ability to cut and run with receivers. He drives on and breaks back to underneath passes very quickly. He also is aggressive in swatting the ball away from opposing wide outs.
The main negative in the game of Kendall Sheffield is he doesn’t possess good ball skills. His inability to find the ball on down field passes is noticeable on film. He lacks awareness in this regard and must develop in this area. Kendall needs to continue to work on his footwork, reaction time and all the nuances of playing defensive back. He also needs to be stronger and play more physical. He has a hard time jamming wide receivers at the line of scrimmage and gets bodied in contested catch situations by bigger wide outs.
Kyle Crabbs of The Draft Network gives a thorough analysis of Kendall Sheffield’s skill set in this Draft Profile. He offers this synopsis on Sheffield’s game:
"Kendall Sheffield has some attractive qualities to his game, but he’s got some significant concerns that will be difficult to reconcile if hoping to project him as a starter in the NFL. Sheffield has great quickness and the needed long speed to play on an island, but his footwork, physicality and ball skills are all lacking. That makes Sheffield more of a long term projection vs. a plug in prospect. His best fit may be as a nickel defender against smaller slots."
While I definitely understand the Atlanta Falcons having interest in Kendall Sheffield due to his natural speed and athletic ability, he seems to be a project. This does not fit the bill of a cornerback ready to play now. I expect Blidi Wreh-Wilson to be the first cornerback off the bench behind the two outside starters. Kendall Sheffield should be groomed to be a future slot cornerback, where he can defend small, fast, less physical wide receivers. Safety JJ Wilcox will likely earn the backup nickel cornerback spot initially. Sheffield should help on special teams, but he needs a lot more development before seeing regular season action against NFL wide receivers. Watching his development will be fun, but for now the Atlanta Falcons must turn to other sources for quality cornerback play.
Grade B –
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