ATL News / Sports

Falcons: A.J. Terrell is experiencing a complete breakout year

The Falcons defense played well enough for most of the New England game; in fact, if the offense had mustered anything at all, it would’ve been a great game. The offense, particularly Matt Ryan, was the only reason the Falcons were winning games. The past two weeks, they’ve been as much of the problem as the solution. This isn’t to say the defense is good by any stretch, but they have a few guys that can give Falcons fans hope moving forward.

A.J. Terrell has been everything and more the Falcons’ previous regime had hoped he’d be. The new regime has to be thankful they have a cornerback like Terrell to build their defense around. The former 16th overall pick has garnered attention from all levels of the media, including most recently, Seth Walder of ESPN.

Quantifying the play of cornerbacks remains an unsolved problem, but one simple metric I like to lean on is yards per coverage snap allowed, which is based on nearest defender data from NFL Next Gen Stats. The key here is that part of a corner’s objective is to discourage targets. Yards per coverage snap rewards them from preventing a completion, either by preventing a target or forcing an incompletion.

And guess who is No. 1 among outside corners this year? Terrell, whom the Falcons picked No. 16 overall in last year’s draft. He’s excelling in both areas; opponents are targeting him 13% of the time — below the 17% average for outside corners — and when they do, their completion percentage over expectation is minus-14%.

The only area in which Terrell lacks is interceptions — he has just one, on Thursday night off Mac Jones. Another way to look at corners is expected points added (EPA) per coverage snap, which rewards them for an incompletion when they are the targeted defender and really helps if they record an interception. With only one pick, Terrell almost by definition can’t be at the top of the chart, but he’s still well above-average because of how hard it has been to throw in his direction

Atlanta’s defense remains a problem, as it has been for years. It ranks 25th in EPA per play overall and 28th against the pass. If the Falcons are going to turn around that unit, they’ll need some stars beyond Grady Jarrett. It looks like they found one in Terrell.

Terrell is coming off his worst statistical performance of the season after giving up 32 yards on four catches, with 19 of them coming on Nelson Agholor‘s touchdown catch and run. However, it wasn’t Terrell’s assignment blown.

 

Even if you chalk that touchdown up to Terrell, he’s still one of the better cornerbacks in the league. As Walder pointed out, he has been magnificent this season, ranking first in yards per coverage snap.

The Falcons don’t have many bright spots, but Terrell is undoubtedly one of them. He’ll be a part of this regime’s plans for many years to come.

 

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