Former Georgia wide receiver Jayson Stanley had never played cornerback until two days ago.
Stanley remembered playing some safety in youth football, but never outside on the corner.
The Falcons, who like Stanley’s size and speed, are attempting to convert him to cornerback. He’s 6-foot-2 and 207 pounds with the speed to keep up with fleet receivers.
He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds at Georgia’s Pro Day. The first time that he backpedaled was at the Falcons’ locals day in April.
For the transition, Stanley has leaned on former Georgia standout Deandre Baker, who was the first cornerback taken in the draft (30th overall by the New York Giants).
“I called Bake. Why not learn from the best corner coming out of college,” Stanley said. “I mean, he’s helped. I’ve gone back to high school classmates to learn from. There are a lot of people. I just know that they played DB and they can help me.”
Baker was the Jim Thorpe Award winner last season. The award goes to the nation’s top cornerback.
“Bake just gave me a few pointers and stuff like that,” said Stanley, who’s from Fairburn and played at Creekside High. “Stuff that he did throughout college to help him. Some of my high school teammates like Quartrez Sparkman (Miles College) and Cam Jackson, people from my high school, they’ve helped me.”
Stanley is thinking differently about receivers that he once wanted to emulate.
“Now, I get to lock you down,” Stanley said.
The Falcons have converted other receivers into defensive backs and had some success. C.J. Goodwin is on Arizona’s roster, and Deandre Burton is with the Houston Texans, both former wide receivers converted to cornerback by the Falcons.
“Coming in every day working to get better,” Stanley said when asked for his plan for success. “Practicing on and off the field. It’s coming along well. It’s kind of a change.”
The Falcons weren’t the only team to mention the position switch to Stanley, who was known more for his special-teams play and blocking as a wide receiver for the Bulldogs.
“I actually looked into it pre-draft,” Stanley said. “I looked at a lot of folks that had to go through that. Another guy was Russell Gage. I looked at him, and I was like, why not?”
Stanley said that the Falcons told him their main need was at cornerback.
Backpedaling felt strange at first.
“That was the first official time that I backpedaled and did some DB stuff,” Stanley said of the locals-day workout. “They just said they wanted to look at it then. I just kind of ran with it.”
Stanley also us getting used to defensive terminology.
“Just learning the defensive talk,” Stanley said. “From coverages to, it’s all new. It’s been an enjoyment just learning it. I just take it as me knowing more about football. I can learn pattern matches and see what type of routes are coming. All types of stuff.”
His days as a receiver come in handy.
“A lot, because I’m understanding why they might fall off here or why, if I was playing receiver, why the defense would do some stuff,” Stanley said. “It’s just a bigger learning game.”
The Falcons were pleased with Stanley’s work over the two rookie minicamp practices.
“We thought if we could convert him over and use some of that size and length at corner,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “We knew there’d be some on the job training for him.”
The Falcons plan to give Stanley some time at receiver, too.
“We know he also has the ability to go to receiver,” Quinn said. “At some point in OTAs, we can see him do some of that as well.”
The Falcons are going to proceed slowly with Stanley.
“To start off, we are going to feature him outside only, no nickel,” Quinn said. “At some point, maybe we’ll try him a day or so at receiver to get another look. But I was encouraged by the first two days. ... I thought it was worth the time on the experiment, and it’s worth continuing.”
After learning to backpedal, the next thing will be how Stanley comes out of the backpedal to break on the ball or to turn and run with a receiver. If he gets twisted around, he’ll get beat.
It will take time for the instincts to kick in.
“He’ll have some anticipation on some routes,” Quinn said. “He’ll have an advantage on some ball-skill things because he’s had so much experience at running the routes and understanding the splits and what things could happen. With all that length and size, we’ll try to keep him down by the line of scrimmage as much as we can.”
The Falcons also were impressed with Stanley’s blocking on punt returns at Georgia.
“There were a number of times they put him on the single (gunner), and Mecole (Hardman) had a number of good returns,” Quinn said. “If you look at some of the ones and who owned their side of the field, it was him. Both that and the cover side, I just love the competitive style, and I just felt we could add that element on to (special) teams and on to defense. With the size and length, let’s take a shot and see where it goes.”
Falcons defensive backs coach Doug Mallory will oversee the move. The experience from the Goodwin and Burton transitions will be valuable.
“The player really has to be willing to go for it in that way,” Quinn said. “If they are unsure about it or uncertain …you have to make sure that this is what we think is your best path onto the team.
“We wouldn’t ask a player to move if we didn’t think it was their best opportunity to do that. For him, I thought it would be in his best interest, although it would be on special teams first, there has to be a role past that.”
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