Robert Alford, Cornerback
All the plaudits for the Falcons secondary go to Desmond Trufant, and rightfully so because he is a terrific player – but very quietly Robert Alford has started to become a productive corner opposite him. Per Pro Football Focus Alford had the 4th best opposition completion percentage in the league last season, giving up a 49.3% completion percentage rate.
Alford is not the stereotypical Dan Quinn corner. At only 5’10” he can be left a little short in press coverage and as a result gave up six penalties over the course of the season – not a devastating amount but far from ideal. Because of that he can find himself at a disadvantage mid-route against some of the longer wide receivers around the league but he does have a deceptively long wingspan which can help him in recovery.
The Falcons have improved their terrible pass rush from last year, adding Dwight Freeney among others to try and pressure quarterbacks more frequently. Last year most passers had all day in the pocket to allow receivers to break coverage. Hopefully for Alford this year quarterbacks will be a little more anxious to release the ball quickly and get won’t have to spend quite so long in coverage.
Alford has always had the necessary athleticism to play the position but last year he added a little savviness to his game that really allowed him to step up his performance, becoming better with his footwork in man coverage a showing good awareness in zone coverage. Of course, some of Alford’s problems will come simply with the volume of work he could see in 2016. Last year, as Trufant’s prowess became more and more undeniable teams started to throw away from him.
It is a trend I expect will continue and as the volume of balls sent Alford’s way goes up so could the big plays against him. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that, much like an offensive linemen, corners only get press when they are in the best handful in the world or have messed up in a big way. A few bad plays can really alter the public perception of a cornerback while down by down consistency goes unnoticed.
Last year’s improvements by Alford included greater consistency, and this season I think he will be the one on the Atlanta defense that starts to turn heads, albeit not to the same extent Trufant did this year.