Thrust into his first starting action of his NFL career, rookie cornerback Kendall Sheffield played admirably during the Falcons' 34-33 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
The fourth-round draft pick out of Ohio State earned the start after Desmond Trufant was declared inactive due to a toe injury, and Sheffield responded to the opportunity in a way that could provide more in the future.
"I was pleased with Sheffield playing outside," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "We've featured him more at nickel, so to see him work outside, I thought he really responded to the challenge."
Since joining the Falcons, Sheffield has primarily worked in the nickel cornerback spot defending opposing slot receivers on the inside of the defense. The shift to Trufant's outside corner spot was a new experience for the rookie at the NFL level, but he played every single snap for Atlanta's defense against the Cardinals and finished the game with four tackles. According to the Pro Football Focus video atop this article, Sheffield was targeted four times in the game and allowed two catches for just 8 yards.
"It felt good to have my first full start in the NFL," Sheffield said. "It was a humbling experience, I'm just happy I could get out there."
Following his performance against Arizona, Sheffield will continue to work on the outside of Atlanta's defense. For the meantime, with Trufant's status up in the air, it appears that Sheffield will be opposite of second-year cornerback Isaiah Oliver. Quinn did say that Trufant would resume his starting role once he's fully healthy, and it remains to be seen what role Sheffield would then occupy when that time comes.
Like all rookies, Sheffield is adjusting to life in the NFL and his first start provided an opportunity to test himself. A common note many young players have when discussing what sets the NFL apart from even top-tier college football is the speed of the game and the talent of everyone on the field. Sheffield's experience was no different.
"The tempo is a little bit different. That's probably one of the biggest things, the tempo. Every week, your opponent is very good. That's another big difference … It was a good start, but I also have things I can get better at. I'll just continue to work and get batter at those things I need to work on."
For now, however, Sheffield has done enough to continue to have a role on Atlanta's defense, and his first impression as a starter was a good one.
"We'll keep him outside, we like the work that he did in that space," Quinn said. "As we get into the week, we'll see where we go and what the matchups look like. But his first time outside, I was pleased with where he was at. He played square and tough at the line of scrimmage, what I'd hoped to see from him we did. I thought it was a good start for him being outside."