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Cornerback Terrion Arnold on connection to Falcons, moment that 'changed everything' at Alabama and more

Top cornerbacks addressed the media Thursday in Indianapolis. Here's what mock-draft selection Terrion Arnold had to say about the Falcons. Plus a note on Clemson's Nate Wiggins.

INDIANAPOLIS — The Atlanta Falcons may be in the market for a new cornerback, and they're currently able to browse at the NFL Combine to decide whether they want to shop at the NFL Draft.

A.J. Terrell was the only player in 2023 to start every game at the secondary position. His counterpart began as Jeff Okudah and finished as Clark Phillips III. Terrell and Phillips are set to return in 2024, while Okudah becomes an unrestricted free agent on March 13.

So, Terrell is a lock. But again, opposite of him remains a question mark. Phillips could secure the spot, Okudah could re-sign in Atlanta or someone new could join for competition.

Speaking of a possible newcomer, on Thursday, the cornerbacks addressed the media at the combine. Some of the most notable names — Cooper DeJean, Terrion Arnold, Ennis Rakestraw Jr., Nate Wiggins and Kool-Aid McKinstry — should be available to the Falcons at No. 8 when the first round arrives April 25. The only cornerback of that group who has been selected in the latest mock draft roundup, though, is Arnold from Alabama by's Gennaro Filice.

"Having originally arrived at Alabama as a five-star safety recruit, Arnold's still relatively new to the cornerback position, but he checks all of the trait boxes with size, speed, physicality and ball skills," Filice wrote. "Now he just needs a little polish. Who better to provide that than new Falcons head man Raheem Morris and defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake, two coaches with a wealth of experience developing cover men?"

Arnold confirmed Thursday he met with the Falcons while in Indianapolis. And if this becomes a first-round pairing, there would be a familiar face on the Falcons roster that could help Arnold make the transition from collegiate to professional in the locker room and defensive meetings.

Safety DeMarcco Hellams is a fellow Alabama product, overlapping with Arnold for his final two seasons before getting drafted by the Falcons in the seventh round of the 2023 draft. They work different positions but both live within the secondary. And Hellams did well in his league debut, with four starts through 15 game appearances and making 40 tackles.

"DeMarcco Hellams, man, that's my boy," Arnold said. "I spoke with DeMarcco actually last week, just asked him about the combine experience, how it's going to be and different things like that. He told me he loves Atlanta. I mean, you guys got a playmaker in him."

Possibly in Arnold, too.

Arnold played for the Crimson Tide from 2021-23, redshirting his rookie season. During his first year of action, Arnold took down 45 tackles, broke up eight passes, picked off a pass and recovered a fumble. He was active for 11 of Alabama's 13 games in 2022 — missing those two other games not because of injury, but performance.

"After we played Tennessee, I got benched," Arnold said. "I've been telling all the NFL teams that that right there, it changed everything for me. I kind of like to say I had my Michael Jordan moment. I write it down every day. Eli Ricks, that's my brother, but when I got benched and replaced for him, it motivated me. I write it down every day and say I refuse to ever let that happen again."

He didn't.

In 2023, Arnold was present in all 14 games for Alabama — and all his totals jumped. He tallied 63 tackles, 6.5 of which were for a loss. He had five interceptions and 12 pass breakups. He made his first sack and forced his first fumble.

Now, even as Arnold begins the next chapter of his football career, he'll carry that moment he experienced as a redshirt freshman through to the end.

"That's what's going to lead me and take me to getting that gold jacket, which is the Hall of Fame gold jacket," Arnold said, "and I ain't talking about the one you can buy."


Honorable mention: Nate Wiggins, Clemson

Wiggins said Thursday that he also met with the Falcons while in Indianapolis. And like Arnold, there's a locker room connection with him, too, but one that expands beyond college. Wiggins is actually a Georgia native. He first attended Grady High School before transferring to Westlake High School. Wiggins switched to Westlake because that's where Terrell went, and Wiggins saw how much scouting exposure Terrell received while there.

Also like Wiggins, Terrell went to Clemson, where the Falcons ultimately drafted him out of with a first-round draft pick in 2020.

"I feel like he helped me a lot of with the process and just getting to Clemson," Wiggins said of Terrell. "I talked with the Falcons and it was a great conversation. They're hometown."

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