Falcons draft Clemson cornerback A.J. Terrell in first round

The Falcons selected cornerback A.J. Terrell, who played at Westlake High, with the 16th pick in the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday night.

Terrell, who’s 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, was a two-year starter at Clemson. He helped the Tigers compile a 29-1 record.

Terrell should fit in the Falcons’ secondary.

» MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM: Falcons right to stay put at No. 16

“I fit anywhere they need me to,” Terrell said on a conference call. “I fit perfectly. I feel like I’m going to come in an make an impact. Come in and make my presence felt.”

He can also get physical with wide receivers.

“He’s a 6-1 guy, who is a 4.4 flat guy with athleticism, agility, body control, his ability to get his hands on balls,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “We are excited about his natural ball skills. He’s a smart guy. Really squared away. Full package for us.”

» DRAFT BIO: New Falcon A.J. Terrell

Terrell finished with 107 career tackles, 20 pass breakups, six interceptions and forced two fumbles over 1,827 snaps in 44 games (30 starts).

“The talent is there,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said. “He just needs more coaching.”

Terrell was the third cornerback selected in the draft.

Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah was selected third overall by the Lions and Florida’s CJ Henderson was selected ninth by the Jaguars.

The Falcons looked into trading up for a higher pick, but elected to stay at their original spot.

» DRAFT GRADE: Falcons earn a B for first round

“We hung tough,” Dimitroff said. “We entertained other opportunities to think about potentially moving up. But this is where we wanted to be. This is a player that we had targeted from the beginning of our draft preparations here.”

There was debate on the cornerbacks after the top two. The second group of corners included Alabama’s Trevon Diggs, LSU’s Kristian Fulton, Utah’s Jaylon Johnson and Terrell.

The knock on Terrell is that he grabs onto receivers too much and that will attract officials, which will lead to penalties.

“He just needs to be more consistent,” said ESPN analyst Louis Riddick, a former front office executive and defensive back. “This is a guy who really came up on the line of scrimmage and challenged you in press man coverage. He has good route recognition.”

Video: Falcons coach Dan Quinn and GM Thomas Dimitroff share their thoughts on first-round pick A.J. Terrell. Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter.

» MORE: What Dimitroff, Quinn said about drafting Terrell

Terrell doesn’t believe grabbing will be an issued in the NFL.

“I’m always coachable,” Terrell said. “Whatever I need to fix, it will definitely get fixed. Just coming in to work everyday those little things can get touched up easy.

“For me being aggressive is a key to my game. I’m not going to stop it.”

Terrell will have to play through longer routes.

“It’s really in the last third of the down is where I struggle with him as far as his ability to go ahead and consistently finish,” Riddick said. “That’s where he got into trouble in the national championship game against (LSU receiver) Ja’Marr Chase. He struggled down the field playing strong at the catch-point. If he can improve that, he’ll help the Atlanta secondary.”

» ALSO: What Terrell said about joining hometown Falcons

Terrell did not back down when asked about that title game matchup with Chase. He was credited with giving up three touchdown catches.

“I didn’t have most of the plays going my way,” Terrell said. “It just showed how you have to have short-term memory, come back and compete and never feel satisfied with your success. Just keep on competing and not just laying down for nobody. For me, it’s just competing non-stop and having a short-term memory.”

Terrell scored the first points of the 2019 College Football Playoff Championship game with a pick-six against Alabama.

“Just preparation,” Terrell said. “We had great preparation and that play, we were in a great cover-two call. I sat on the route and took it to the house.”

The Falcons had a need at cornerback and heavily scouted the group for this draft.

The elected to let their top corner, Desmond Trufant, leave in free agency. He signed with the Detroit Lions.

“We went into this draft with a couple of needs and our main need was at corner and we were very excited to have an opportunity to pick A.J. Terrell at 16,” Dimitroff said.

Terrell is projected to be an NFL starter.

“Hopefully we can get him ready to play quickly,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “He will be an outside corner first. That’s where he’s got the most experience and where he really thrived.”

Quinn said that Kendall Sheffield, who was selected in the fourth round last season could be the No. 1 cornerback. Sheffield played over 700 snaps at nickel last season.

Terrell was selected as the Class AAAAAAA player of the year in Georgia by the Coaches Association.

He was named first-team all-state by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2016.

Westlake has turned out several NFL players including free agent quarterback Cam Newton, former defensive back Adam Jones, linebacker Keith Adams, Ian Allen, Sean Jones, Keyaron Fox and Anthony Mitchell.

“It means a lot definitely for my high school, me and my family,” Terrell said about carrying on the Westlake NFL tradition. “It means a lot. It’s a surreal moment. It’s an honor. I’m grateful for the opportunity and I’m ready to get to work.”


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