A.J. Terrell is ‘on par’ with Falcons’ expectations

Although A.J. Terrell was the third cornerback taken in the 2020 NFL draft, he is having the best season of any rookie at his position, according to one analytics website.

Through 10 weeks, Pro Football Focus has graded Terrell at a 70.0, which is the highest for any rookie corner who has at least 250 snaps. The closest to Terrell at No. 2 is Dallas Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs, a second-round selection who has a 60.0 grade.

In fact, Terrell greatly has outpaced the two corners selected ahead of him. Pro Football Focus has graded Jeff Okudah (Detroit Lions) at 40.1 and C.J. Henderson (Jacksonville Jaguars) at 57.9.

Terrell has been a mainstay in a secondary that continues to rotate players in and out. In the Falcons’ win two weeks ago against the Denver Broncos, Darqueze Dennard, Isaiah Oliver, Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Kendall Sheffield all rotated with each other in the secondary. At left corner, Terrell played 100% of the snaps.

As the season has progressed, so has Terrell’s confidence.

“It’s playing within the scheme of the defense and team,” Terrell said. “Just going out there and trusting in my teammates and being held accountable on the field.”

Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris said Terrell is “on par” with what the team’s expectations were for him from the outset. Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said he’s been surprised at how few mistakes Terrell makes considering his stature as a rookie.

One thing Morris noted is that while Terrell has earned an early positive review from an entity such as Pro Football Focus, what will truly differentiate himself in the NFL is producing more turnovers. Through nine games, Terrell has one interception, which came in a win over the Minnesota Vikings.

“If he turns into a guy that’s able to get the ball back in this league, I think he can separate himself, not only from rookie corners, but from anybody,” Morris said. “I think he has the ability to do that because of his elite ball skills, his length, his ability to run, his challenging, his compete, his toughness -- all of the qualities that we loved about him that we talked about in the offseason. I really believe those are the things that are going to separate him. That’s what you have to really put your stock into when you dive into it.”

At practice, the Falcons’ coaches have emphasized Terrell’s eye location to prevent him from getting beat on double moves. Terrell has been susceptible in this department, which is something secondary coach Joe Whitt Jr. recently said must be corrected. Early in the season, Seattle Seahawks DK Metcalf beat Terrell on a double move for a 37-yard gain. Carolina Panthers receiver D.J. Moore got a 42-yard gain on a double move against the young cornerback, too.

Terrell agreed that’s an area that must improve.

“I’m competing. I know those are (plays) I probably gave up a few times, on double moves,” Terrell said. “It’s trusting my ability, trusting my eyes and making a play when it comes.”

Ulbrich said this sort of thing should be expected with rookie cornerbacks. They’re going to learn on the fly and get better over time. What’s stood out with Terrell, however, is that even with the aforementioned double moves, he hasn’t made nearly the number of rookie mistakes you typically see at the position.

Ulbrich said Terrell has been a reliable and steady option at cornerback throughout the season.

“It’s tough when you’re out there on that island. It’s a lot of pressure,” Ulbrich said. “You’re spotlighted, and we play in a division where they’re going to find you -- the quarterbacks we play against, they have receivers who can take advantage of matchups. They’re typically a lot of bumps in the road with that rookie. There’s been way less than I anticipated. He’s done a fantastic job.”

In addition to the interception he has recorded, Terrell has totaled 34 tackles and two pass breakups. Although the Falcons are impressed with what Terrell has displayed, they are cognizant of the learning curve he’s still going through. In Terrell’s first five games, he allowed 19 completions on 23 targets. In his past two games -- he missed two because of COVID-19 -- Terrell has allowed 10 catches on 16 targets.

Over his past four games, Terrell has posted only two missed tackles.

As an entire defensive unit, Terrell said the team’s focus remains on playing better situational football late in games. The Falcons held fourth-quarter leads but lost against the Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions. The Falcons were able to defeat the Panthers and Broncos in recent weeks with late stops in the fourth quarter.

“We’ve just been stressing the importance of finishing the games,” Terrell said. “We’ve been playing well, especially going into these last couple of games. We just need to finish the games.”

About the Author

Editors' Picks