5 cornerback targets for Falcons in 2020 NFL Draft

Cover 9@9: A closer look at Florida cornerback C.J. Henderson

Welcome to the Cover 9@9 blog — our weekly list of nine things that you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons.

1. The No Spin Zone. After releasing cornerback Desmond Trufant, the Falcons have not replaced him in free agency.

It’s pretty obvious that they have a major need at cornerback in the upcoming NFL draft. The issue is whether there will be a first-round worthy talent available or could they wait until the second round and address the need.

Right now, Isaiah Oliver, Kendall Sheffield and Blidi Wreh-Wilson are the team’s top three cornerbacks. Jordan Miller, who showed some promise last season, has to serve a four-game suspension. C.J. Reavis and Chris Cooper, who played well in the 2019 exhibition season, are the remaining cornerbacks on the roster.

We started our work on the position-by-position draft preview series and here’s how the cornerbacks board stacks up right now: 
1. Jeff Okudah, Ohio State
2. C.J. Henderson, Florida
3. Kristian Fulton, LSU
4. Trevon Diggs, Alabama
5. A.J. Terrell, Clemson

Okudah will be long gone before the Falcons pick at 16th overall. Henderson, who entered the draft after three seasons with the Gators, could still be available. He’s 6-foot-1 and 204 pounds and has the size that the Falcons covet at the position. 

He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds and had a 37.5 inch vertical jump at the NFL scouting combine.  

2. Man to man. Henderson is comfortable playing man-to-man coverage. 

“We played that a lot back Florida,” Henderson said. “Press was our main go-to. So that’s something I’m very comfortable with.”

He played under former Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham at Florida.  

“He mixed up a lot of coverages,” Henderson said. “So it was very different for us, compared to freshman year, mostly one coverage. So, it was very different.”

3. Dream matchup is Julio Jones. Henderson was asked who he’d like to matchup with in a dream Prime Time scenario.

“I’d say maybe Julio (Jones),” Henderson said. “He’s one of the best in the game right now. I’d say that would be great. It’d be a great competition to me. Just study his game, watch his film and defend him from there.”

He may get his dream matchup in practice every day.

4. Johnson high on Lee. Former NFL tight end Jimmie Johnson, who played at Augusta Josey High before playing football and basketball at Howard, was Falcons tight end Khari Lee’s position coach with the D.C. Defenders in the XFL.

Johnson went on to play 10 years in the NFL (1989-98) and was the tight ends coach for the Vikings (2006-13) and Jets (2015-18).

“He bounced around with a few teams,” Johnson said of Lee. “He did a good time for me for the time that I was working with him. He’s real intelligent. He’s sharp. He does a good job of catching the ball. He does a great job of making defenders miss when he has the ball in his hands.”

Lee also is a solid blocker. 

“I was real surprised when we asked him to pass protect,” Johnson said. “We asked the tight end to pass protect and he did a great job of that. Yeah, I think his glass is half full. His arrow is still going up. I think this is year four or five for him. I think he’s like 28, so he still has something left in the tank.” 

5. McCray’s workout program. Falcons offensive lineman Justin McCray has had to alter his workouts with his twin brother, Jordan, during the coronavirus pandemic. 

“It started hitting me when the gyms started closing down,” McCray said. “You had to think of different parks to go to and then the parks started not letting people in.

“It’s honestly just super different not knowing when it’s all going to cease. When it’s all going to be back to normal.”

6. Backup center candidate. With Wes Schweitzer off to Washington, the Falcons don’t have a backup center on the roster.

McCray has played some center with the Packers and was coached by former center James Campen (1987-93) with the Packers and the Browns.  

“Honestly, I feel more comfortable inside,” McCray said. “That’s where I played in college for the most part, guard (and) center. But just for having to do it so often in my career in the NFL, I’m not opposed to playing tackle at all either.” 

He credits Campen with jump starting his career after he was out of the NFL for three seasons working as a bellman and playing in the Arena Football League. 

“Coach Campen, I had never really snapped before I got to Green Bay and to come in and initially make the team in Green Bay as a swing guard and backup center, I owe him a lot of credit for that and just for working with me and finding the time to fine tune somethings to help me become a center and a guard and eventually a guy who could play all five positions,” McCray said. “I owe coach Campen a lot.” 

7. Levitre’s roommate. After his career at Central Florida, McCray signed with Tennessee and was on the practice squad for a season. He was re-signed, but was cut in August 2015. 

He talked with former Titan and Falcons guard Andy Levitre before he signed here. 

“I actually stayed with him for a year in Tennessee,” McCray said. “He was a guy that was there for a while. He pretty much told me that I’m going to love it here as long as I work hard and do the right things, I’ll have a good time here.”

After surviving the past three winters in Wisconsin and Ohio, McCray, a Miami native, is looking forward to play in the South. 

“Definitely (warmer climate) and Atlanta is a lot closer to home, too,” McCray said. “My mom (Debra) is actually from Augusta, Ga. Pretty much all of her side of the family are Falcons fans. Just being able to be closer to family is going to be a cool thing.”

8. Free agency tracker: Who’s coming, who’s going and who’s staying:  

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS 

NEW PLAYERS 

OFFENSE 

» Todd Gurley, running back - Agreed to one-year deal with team. 
» Laquon Treadwell, wide receiver - Agreed to one-year deal with team.
» Justin McCray, guard - Agreed to one-year deal with team.
» Hayden Hurst, tight end – Acquired via a trade with Baltimore.

DEFENSE 

» Dante Fowler, defensive end - Agreed to three-year, $48 million deal with the Falcons.
» LaRoy Reynolds, linebacker - signed by the Falcons on March 24.

» Edmond Robinson, linebacker – signed by the Falcons to a one-year deal March 28. 

SPECIAL TEAMS

» Sam Irwin-Hill, punter – Signed to a one-year contract worth $510,000.

RETURNING PLAYERS 

OFFENSE

» Matt Schaub, quarterback – Club picked up his option, according to his agent.
» Keith Smith, fullback – Re-signed to a three-year deal.
» John Wetzel, offensive lineman – Vested veteran contract terminated and then re-signed.

DEFENSE

» Blidi Wreh-Wilson, cornerback - Agreed to one-year deal with the team. 
» Tyeler Davison, defensive tackle - Agrees to three-year deal. 
» Steven Means, defensive end - Re-signed to a one-year contract March 9.
» Sharrod Neasman, safety - Signed to one-year contract.

SPECIAL TEAMS

» Ryan Allen, punter – Signed to a one-year contract extension for $945,000 on Feb. 18.

FORMER PLAYERS 

OFFENSE

» Austin Hooper, tight end – Will be allowed to hit the market. Has agreed to terms with the Browns
» Devonta Freeman - Cut by the team March 17.
» Luke Stocker, tight end - To be released pending a physical.
» Kenjon Barner, running back - Unrestricted free agent.
» Justin Hardy, wide receiver - Will not re-sign with team.
» Matt Simms, quarterback -- Unrestricted free agent.
» Wes Schweitzer, offensive guard/center – Will be allowed to hit the market. Set to sign with Washington.
» Ty Sambrailo, tackle - Released by the team March 16. Signed by the Tennessee Titans. 

DEFENSE

» Desmond Trufant, cornerback - Released by team. He signed a two-year, $21 million deal with the Detroit Lions.
» Vic Beasley, defensive end/linebacker – Will not re-signWill join Titans on a one-year deal.
» De'Vondre Campbell, linebacker – Will be allowed to hit the market. Agreed to one-year deal worth up to $8.5 million with Arizona. 
» Adrian Clayborn, defensive end - Agreed to terms with the Browns on Tuesday, March 31.  
» Jack Crawford, defensive tackle - Signed with Tennessee on Tuesday, March 31.
» Johnathan Cyprien, safety - Unrestricted free agent. 
» Ra’Shede Hageman, defensive tackle – Waived by the team Jan. 13.
» Kemal Ishmael, safety/linebacker – Will not re-sign with Falcons.
» Jamar Taylor, cornerback - Unrestricted free agent. 
» J.J. Wilcox, safety -- Unrestricted free agent.

SPECIAL TEAMS 

» Matt Bosher, punter -- Unrestricted free agent.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS 

OFFENSE

» Brian Hill, running back - Falcons placed fifth-round tender on him.

DEFENSE

» Michael Bennett, defensive tackle – free agent

SPECIAL TEAMS 

» Younghoe Koo, placekicker – Signed a one-year contract extension for $660,000 on Feb. 18.

9. Update Depth chart.  With former Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn and defensive tackle Jack Crawford going to new teams on Tuesday, the Falcons must replace three of their top six defensive linemen and 1,656 snaps from last season.

They join Vic Beasley (Titans) on the departed list. Beasley played the second most snaps (774) on the line and was the team’s sack leader with eight.

Clayborn played 446 snaps, the fifth most and Crawford played 436 snaps, the sixth most.

The Falcons re-signed defensive tackle Tyeler Davison, defensive ends Allen Bailey and Steven Means, who spent last season on injured reserve. 

Snaps played in 2019: Grady Jarrett 821, (77.7%), Beasley 774 (73.3%), Davison 568 (53.8%), Takk McKinley 557 (52.7%), ABailey 521 (49.3%), Clayborn 446 (42.2%), Jack Crawford 436 (41.3%), Jacob Tuioti-Mariner 188 (17.8%), John Cominsky 102 (9.7%), Deadrin Senat 20 (1.9%), Austin Larkin 10 (.9%). 

Here’s a look at the Falcons’ updated depth chart: 

OFFENSE

WR 11 Julio Jones, 13 Christian Blake, 19 Devin Gray, 80 Laquon Treadwell
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 75 John Wetzel 
LG 73 Matt Gono, 77 James Carpenter, 64 Sean Harlow
C 51 Alex Mack
RG 63 Chris Lindstrom, 68 Jamon Brown, 65 Justin McCray
RT 76 Kaleb McGary 
TE 81 Hayden Hurst, 86 Khari Lee 87 Jaeden Graham, 85 Carson Meier
WR 18 Calvin Ridley, 83 Russell Gage, 17 Olamide Zaccheaus, 15 Brandon Powell
QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub, 6 Kurt Benkert, 16 Danny Etling 
RB 21/23 Todd Gurley, 25 Ito Smith, 30 Qadree Ollison, 23 Brian Hill, 42 Craig Reynolds
FB 40 Keith Smith 

DEFENSE 

DE 56 Dante Fowler 53 Austin Larkin
DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 50 John Cominsky 
DT 96 Tyeler Davison, 94 Deadrin Senat
DE 93 Allen Bailey, 55 Steven Means 
DE 99 Takk McKinley 91 Jacob Tuioti-Mariner
LB 54 Foyesade Oluokun, 46 Edmond Robinson, 52 Ahmad Thomas 
LB 45 Deion Jones, 55 LaRoy Reynolds
RCB 26 Isaiah Oliver, 39 C.J. Reavis 
LCB 20 Kendall Sheffield, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson, 28 Jordan Miller
NCB 37 Ricardo Allen, 34 Chris Cooper
SS 22 Keanu Neal, 35 Jamal Carter 
FS 27 Damontae Kazee, 37 Ricardo Allen 

SPECIALISTS

K 7 Younghoe Koo
KO 7 Younghoe Koo
P 9 Ryan Allen, 9 Sam Irwin-Hill
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 9 Ryan Allen
KOR 17 Olamide Zaccheaus, 15 Brandon Powell
PR 17 Olamide Zaccheaus, 15 Brandon Powell

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About the Author

D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter is the Atlanta Falcons beat writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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