The Experienced Cornerbacks
Desmond Trufant will continue to hold down the left cornerback position. The Atlanta Falcons will insert last year’s second round pick Isaiah Oliver, as the starter at the right cornerback spot that Alford vacated. He played well last season in a small sample size of 183 snaps. In fact Oliver’s PFF coverage grade of 69.6 would have ranked first among cornerbacks on the team, had he had enough snaps to qualify. The 6’0 210 pound Oliver finally gives Dan Quinn the long-armed, press coverage cornerback, that he prefers starting on the outside of his defense.
The plan is to start Damontae Kazee at the nickel cornerback spot. Kazee tied for the NFL interception lead last season with seven, while playing the free safety position. He had an excellent coverage grade of 82.7 as a safety, but his responsibilities will be totally different as a slot cornerback. Kazee will be tasked with defending the most agile, shifty wide receivers in the NFL. As a former cornerback in college, Kazee certainly has the speed perform the task, yet it remains to be seen if he has the change of direction ability, to do it at a high level.
Moving Damontae Kazee to cornerback is less than ideal, with him having such an impact at free safety last season. However coming off of a torn Achilles, Ricardo Allen who was also a cornerback in college, may be physically unable to play cornerback. This will force the team to keep him as the starting free safety. Yet with the way that the Atlanta Falcons roster is currently constructed, Damontae Kazee will also be the primary backup at free safety. He would move back to the middle of the field if Ricardo Allen were to suffer another injury. This would leave the starting nickelback spot to the remaining options on the roster, none of which inspire a lot of confidence.
Veteran J.J. Wilcox was signed to a one year 895,000 deal, just prior to the NFL Draft. Wilcox is a Georgia native, who played college ball at Georgia Southern University. At 6’0 and 212 pounds, he’s a safety by trade, but has also played the slot cornerback position. Wilcox has been sub-par in coverage for most of his career though, as he’s graded in the 50s for coverage in three of his six seasons. This past season he had a coverage grade of 61.9, splitting time between the New Jets and the Indianapolis Colts. The only really good season that Wilcox had coverage wise was 2016, when he earned a PFF grade of 82.5. However he only defended the slot on 15 of his 718 snaps. Upon further review, J.J. Wilcox does not seem like a viable option to play the slot cornerback position. At this point in his career he may be better off playing in the box, as tacking and run defense have been the strongest part of his game in recent years.
Blidi Wreh-Wilson is currently the fourth cornerback on the Atlanta Falcons roster. He played very well in the tiny sample size of 28 coverage snaps, posting a PFF coverage grade of 90.1. Wreh-Wilson is highly unlikely to come near that number for a full season, having never earned a coverage grade better than the 68.3 he posted as a rookie in 2013. At 6’1 Blidi Wreh-Wilson is much better suited to play on the outside in Dan Quinn’s defensive scheme.