The Atlanta Falcons suffered their first major on the first day of training camp, with defensive back J.J. Wilcox suffering a torn ACL. This article will show that his season ending injury, is a bigger loss than many realize.
Atlanta Falcons fans woke up to bad news Tuesday morning, concerning injuries on the first day of training camp. Two players suffered major injuries and will miss significant time.
Michael Bennett a defensive tackle, suffered a broken ankle and will miss the majority of the upcoming season. He is the second defensive lineman to be inflicted with a major injury. Defensive end Steven Means who tore his Achilles during OTAs, was the first defensive lineman to go down.
Most fans breathed a sign of relief, that none of the big named starters were bitten by the injury bug. However most people don’t realize how key, that Wilcox was to the depth of the Atlanta Falcons secondary.
J.J. Wilcox is a safety by trade. He’s able to play both strong safety in the box and free safety covering the deep middle of the field. He is the most experienced player among the Atlanta Falcons backup safeties and was competing for a spot to back up both Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen.
Neal and Allen are both working their way back onto the field, as they are recovering from season ending injuries themselves. Keanu is ahead of schedule and is already back on the practice field. However Ricardo has yet to practice with the team, after tearing his Achilles tendon.
The fact that Allen is taking a while to recover is worrisome. Sure the Atlanta Falcons have Damontae Kazee who tied for the NFL lead in interceptions, during his fist year as a starting free safety. Physically he is the best man for the job, but Rico is better at making sure his teammates are lined up correctly.
However with the departures of Robert Alford and Brian Poole, Damontae Kazee is slated to start at the nickel back position. So if he has to move back to free safety, or there is an injury to starting outside cornerbacks Desmond Trufant or Isaiah Oliver, the Atlanta Falcons would be forced to start a very inexperienced cornerback.
Blidi Wreh-Wilson is the most experienced backup on the team, but he has only played 110 total snaps in three years with the Falcons. He hasn’t seen starters snaps since 2014 when he participated in 675 plays. The following season he played 294 snaps. He hasn’t seen more than 78 snaps in a season since.
Outside of Wreh-Wilson, the other options are really green. Taveze Calhoun was a member of the Atlanta Falcons practice squad last season. He hasn’t seen NFL game action since 2016.
The other two options are rookie fourth round pick Kendall Sheffield and sixth round sixth round pick Jordan Miller. I’m believe that both men could develop into good NFL cornerback in time, but that is one of the toughest positions to learn on the fly. Quarterbacks pick on rookie corners without mercy until they prove that they can hold their own.
Among all of the remaining cornerback options, Kendall Sheffield is the only player with the speed and change of direction ability, to keep up with smaller quick slot receivers. Such receivers often run option routes in which they can go either direction, depending on how they are defended. J.J. Wilcox was expected to provide depth at the slot, in addition to playing safety.
The Atlanta Falcons would be wise to explore every possible option, to find a good, experienced cornerback that can defend the slot. This includes looking at available free agents, exploring possible trades and keeping a close eye in the waiver wire as training camp unfolds.
This team has a chance to be truly special. However with the pass rush already being a concern, it would be a shame to see the season derailed, due to lack of cornerback depth. In today’s NFL that is unquestionably a passing league, adequate defensive back play is essential.