State Of The Franchise – The Cornerbacks

Yesterday, a worrying report came from Pro Football Weekly that suggested that Falcons CB Brent Grimes will be leaving the Falcons in March via free agency.

For more on the implications of that move check out my analysis of the story here.

In a division, where we face the high powered Saints and the up and coming Panthers twice a year, corner depth is critical when the offenses switch to 4 or 5 wide receiver sets. The last thing the Falcons should be doing right now is losing a corner, in fact they need to be continuously adding to one of the most critical positions in the game.

So what have the Falcons got right now at corner? How could we improve in the future?

Analyzing the Falcons corners, i think we all realize that we could use a bit of improvement. Our best corner is clearly Brent Grimes, whose athleticism makes up for his small size and he can cover anybody in the league because of his great reactions and coverage skills.

The Falcons other current starter is Dunta Robinson. Dunta is an aggressive physical corner that has been caught out of position and punished, quite often in his Falcons career so far. While his coverage skills aren’t the greatest, he is one of the best in the league in the run game. His prowess in this area of the game has probably been overshadowed by some of the “illegal” hits he has been fined for, which is a shame.

Where Robinson has really struggled is living up to the lofty expectations that came with the big money contract the Falcons gave him two years ago. While his play hasn’t been bad, it certainly hasn’t been to an elite level, which that kind of money commands. From what i can tell he will be counting nearly $8 million towards next years salary cap, which is way too much money for anything less than an elite #1 corner.

Depending on the Defensive Coordinator and the scheme we bring in, he could be deemed expendable at that rate of $.

Our nickel for most of the year has been Kelvin Hayden, who came over from the Colts late in the preseason. The major knock on him was always the health problems and whether or not he could be on the field for 16 games, as it turned out he couldn’t and missed a lot of action this year. When he played he was very effective in the nickel and was our best player at that spot all year. If he can be convinced to come back next year on a similar deal to this year (1 year, near to league minimum) I am sure the Falcons would love to have him back.

Digging deeper on the depth chart is the much maligned Chris Owens. Falcons fans have a very negative perception of Chris Owens after the Green Bay playoff loss a year ago and quite rightly so. He started the season slow but has come on strong the last few weeks, when his playing time increased due to the Grimes injury. Where Owens seems to struggle is playing inside as the dime or nickel, it doesn’t seem natural for him to play inside. Last week, against the Giants he played pretty darn well (credit where credit is due) whilst playing on the outside at LCB.

The way he has turned his season around will have impressed the coaching staff, and we know Mike Smith loves him after not cutting him after the playoff debacle. He is a free agent but I don’t see him going anywhere as he was drafted by the current regime and they obviously like what he has to offer, so expect him back next year.

Dominique Franks, is another young Falcon. He got a lot of playing time this year, and on the whole struggled against the NFL’s best, primarily due to his lack of experience. Franks has got a lot of physical talent and with a bit of time to develop he could become a very good corner for the Falcons. What shouldn’t be lost on fans, is that he came out as a junior in 2010 (drafted in the 5th round by Atlanta) and did not have a full training camp this year, which only hindered his development. Entering his 3rd year and with a full off season under his belt, i am expecting a breakout year in 2012 from Franks.

The relatively unknown quantity in the group is 2011 UDFA Darrin Walls. If pressed i don’t think the Falcons really wanted him to get much playing time this year and viewed this year more as a red shirt year for him. However that wasn’t the case and he was sprung into action as a result of the Hayden and Grimes injuries and in fairness he performed admirably. His season was highlighted by a pick in week 17 against the Bucs, his first in his career. I am real excited to see how he does in training camp after a full offseason, as i can see him being a future starter for this team, based on his physical skills, intangibles and production that he has already shown.

In terms of what the Falcons could do to improve at the position, Free agency isn’t really an option, as Brent Grimes is head and shoulders the best in that group anyway and if the Falcons wanted to pay big money for a corner (which they don’t) they would give that to Grimes. Robinson’s contract also prevents any serious money being spent on the position.

In the draft, there is a few players we could look at with one of our early picks (rounds 2 or 3) staring with Georgia’s Brandon Boykin, Vanderbilt CB Casey Hayward, South Carolina CB Stephon Gilmore and Virginia Tech Jayron Hosley. I have included links to scouting reports from NFL Mocks, click on the players name for that awesome scouting information.

In the lead up to free agency and the draft, I will be doing a profile of each position on our team. I could well do an update on the corner post when we finally find out who the Defensive coordinator will be.

Go Falcons!

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