<
>

A.J. Terrell the star performer in Falcons' up-and-down rookie class

One of the NFL’s best rookies this season has been Atlanta Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell.

Despite missing two games on the reserve/COVID-19 list, Terrell has started all 10 games in which he has played and has 53 tackles, two forced fumbles, one interception and four pass breakups. He has played less than 97% of the snaps in a game just once and free safety Keanu Neal is the only defensive back to have played more snaps than Terrell (644).

“I’m really fired up about where he’s going,” interim head coach Raheem Morris said. “Really fired up where A.J. is going to be and I’m really fired up at his demeanor and how he approaches every single game.”

It has been an up-and-down performance from the Falcons’ five-member draft class. Second-round pick Marlon Davidson has, after a slow start, become a key contributor along the defensive line and fourth-round pick Mykal Walker has started six games at linebacker.

But Terrell has been the best of the group, which is saying something considering he’s had to match up against Michael Thomas, DK Metcalf, and Allen Robinson, among others. He just had his second go-around with Thomas, and while Thomas did catch nine passes for 105 yards, his longest catch gained 18 yards. Terrell also had nine tackles and a forced fumble, but missed out on an interception that he might have been able to take back for a touchdown.

“We all wish we had plays back,” Terrell said. “I’ve just got to make the play next time.”

Up this week for Terrell is Los Angeles Chargers WR Keenan Allen and then two games against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Mike Evans and Chris Godwin sandwiched around a matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs' Tyreek Hill. It’ll definitely be a challenge, but Morris believes the 16th overall pick is ready.

“The development of A.J. has been critical throughout the season,” Morris said. “You’re talking about a rookie who started from the beginning and has gone to the point where he’s not even a rookie anymore.”

The same thing applies to Davidson, who got off to a slow start, then dealt with a knee injury and a stretch on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Morris opted to hold Davidson out of Weeks 8 and 9 because he didn’t want to put Davidson in what he called a “troublesome situation” -- essentially they wanted to ensure he was completely healthy and had his conditioning back.

Davidson played just six snaps in the first game after the bye but has played in 25 and 18 the past two weeks and Morris is happy with what he’s seen from the former Auburn standout.

“He’s come out the last two games and been productive,” Morris said. “He made some really good plays versus the Saints. He’s made some really good plays the week before versus [Las Vegas]. He had a caused fumble that he didn’t get credit for. They overturned it, but the young man has come out, played with great energy, been able to get right into the rotation and he’s kind of jumping right into that role that we envisioned, as far as when we drafted him.

"Being a backup to Grady [Jarrett] in first and second down, being a contributor on third down, and then now, he’s forming that thing where he may be an every-down player at some point."

Here’s a look at the rest of the Falcons’ draft class:

OL Matt Hennessy, Rd. 3: He was drafted to eventually take over at center for Alex Mack, who is in the final year of his contract. But Hennessy got more work at guard early in the season and has played just 10 snaps in the past seven games.

LB Mykal Walker, Rd. 4: Walker has started six games and has 33 tackles, two QB hits and a forced fumble. He’s playing a lot in the nickel linebacker role and was at one point PFF’s highest-graded rookie linebacker.

S Jaylinn Hawkins, Rd. 4: The Falcons’ second fourth-round pick has played mainly on special teams but gotten some work at free safety.

P Sterling Hofrichter, Rd. 7: Hofrichter is averaging 41.6 yards per punt, which ranks 28th in the NFL. He’s put 12 inside the 20 and just two inside the 10.