Atlanta GM expects Terrell to be ‘important part’ of defense
A.J. Terrell was taken by the Atlanta Falcons with the No. 16 pick in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft on Thursday night, becoming the third-highest selection among cornerbacks in Clemson history, trailing Donnell Woolford’s No. 11 overall selection by the Chicago Bears in 1989 and Tye Hill’s No. 15 overall selection by the St. Louis Rams in 2006.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney believes the Falcons are getting the defensive back version of star quarterback Deshaun Watson in Terrell.
“A.J. Terrell is the Deshaun Watson of this group, and what I mean by that is he’s a Deshaun Watson at a different position,” Swinney said in a release from Clemson Athletic Communications. “The reason I say that — and this is what I’ve told everybody — is his consistency. He’s handled himself like a pro since the day he got here as far as his maturity, his love of preparation, his mindset, and the type of teammate he is. He’s got unique intangibles to go along with a rare skillset for his position.”
Atlanta’s main need entering this year’s draft was at cornerback, and according to Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, Terrell was a player they targeted from the beginning of their draft preparations.
Dimitroff expects Terrell, a two-time All-ACC selection, to be an “important part” of the team’s defense.
“He’s a 6’1″ guy and who is 4.4 flat guy with athleticism, agility, body control, his ability to get his hands on balls,” Dimitroff said, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We’re excited about his natural ball skills. He’s a smart guy. Really squared away, full package for us, and I think that’s a big thing for us. Seems like he fits in very well with Dan’s system.”
Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said Terrell will start out as an outside corner, where he has the most experience, and he hopes they can get him ready to play quickly.
“Number one, we certainly at that position — he’s played a lot of press coverage, so that’s good, where he has some experience of playing that,” Quinn said, per the AJC. “It’s not necessarily teaching a new technique, so we certainly have expectations for him and coming in and playing well based on what we’ve seen and how he played. That’s why he was such a good fit for how we want to play. Long and tall and fast, and he can play down by the line of scrimmage. He’s got plenty of experience doing that. We’ll take him and keep going and coaching him as we go through it.”
Terrell finished his three-year Clemson career with 107 career tackles, 20 pass breakups, six interceptions and two forced fumbles in 44 games (30 starts). The Atlanta native started all 15 games in his first year as a starter in 2018, scoring the first points of the College Football Playoff National Championship against Alabama on a pick-six, and helped the Tigers to a 29-1 record in two years as a starter.
Dimitroff said the Falcons weren’t concerned at all about Terrell’s showing in the 2020 CFP National Championship Game, during which he allowed pass plays of 52 and 56 yards to LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase, who set a national title game record with 221 yards on nine receptions.
“No, that performance wouldn’t have dissuaded us at all,” Dimitroff said. “He was in phase quite a bit. (Joe) Burrow obviously had a hell of a game, dropped the ball in a lot. There were a lot of opportunities there that they really capitalized on. We look at the full picture, as you can imagine. He had a great — very substantial game in the National Championship the year before, Alabama game. He had a number of other games where he really stood out in our minds. So one game does not dissuade us.”
Terrell became the fourth Clemson player selected by the Falcons during Dimitroff’s tenure as their GM dating to 2008, joining defensive end Malliciah Goodman (2013), defensive end Vic Beasley (2015) and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (2015).
Dimitroff had a conversation with Swinney about Terrell leading up to the draft and was asked about the comparison Swinney made between Terrell and Watson.
“His comparison to me probably a little closer to home was he (Watson) and A.J. and where Grady Jarrett is and that they could literally be roommates; they’re that kind of people,” Dimitroff said. “They’re guys that are dedicated and focused and want to be the best. They have high expectations of themselves. They hold themselves to such high expectations in everything they do, not only on the field but off the field. I’m really — again, really encouraged and excited that we have a player at this position that has a well-rounded package to him, and with Dan himself and his staff, I really think we’re going to get the most out of him, and I think the combination of on the field and off the field is a really positive thing for us.”
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