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Draft analysis: Could the Falcons' play at No. 8 be to take a cornerback like Christian Gonzalez, Joey Porter? 

Gonzalez recalls matchup with Drake London during his days with Colorado. Says he's the toughest matchup he had in college. 

INDIANAPOLIS, IN. -- As Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez took to the podium on Thursday morning at the 2023 NFL Combine to face the media, he was asked which receiver was his toughest matchup in college. Gonzalez had the answer ready: "Drake London, my sophomore year, at Colorado."

At that time, Gonzalez had yet to transfer to Oregon. As a starting corner for Colorado in early October of 2021 he was tagged with the responsibility to line up against London when USC came to town. And in the matchup between Gonzalez vs. London, Gonzalez would be the first to say London won the day.

"He got the best of me," Gonzalez said, and he was right.


That singular game was a catalyst for London in a lot of ways. Reporters raved that London was a human highlight reel in the game that featured acrobatic catches, basketball-type jumps and sheer strength and speed. It was a performance that put London on draft boards. It was a game that got the attention of scouts across the league. It landed London on the Falcons' radar.

"No matter what they did, they couldn't (stop London)," Falcons area scout Joel Collier recalled of that game after London was taken as the No. 8 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. "When a team's defense is structured to take one guy away, and he still succeeds, it catches your eye, quick."

Gonzalez was a part of that defense, and not just a part of it, but one of the main defensive backs solely assigned to cover London. The future Falcons receiver's performance wasn't a singular failure on Gonzalez's part, but one wouldn't call it much of a success, either. Looking back, it was a game that changed Gonzalez.

"That's one receiver I feel like taught me a lot going against him," Gonzalez said of London.

Two years removed from that October day in 2021 and Gonzalez finds himself in London's shoes: As a player at the NFL Combine with first-round pick potential, and not just that, but an opportunity to be one of the first players taken at his position. London was drafted by the Falcons with the No. 8 overall pick in 2022. He was the first receiver taken off the board. The Falcons - again - have the No. 8 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Could they take - not just Gonzalez - but a cornerback at that spot?

There's an argument here to think they could.

A.J. Terrell is a staple in Atlanta at this point. He's still on his rookie deal and one would have to imagine that the Falcons would like to see Terrell's time in Atlanta extend beyond the years of that first contract. If Terrell is in for the long haul with the Falcons, the organization should prioritize finding him a running mate soon.

If Terrell signs an expensive extension with the Falcons, the best way to financially get the most bang for your buck is to bring in a young player to play opposite Terrell. Casey Hayward will return to the Falcons after a season-ending shoulder injury last year, but the veteran only has a year on his existing contract and - at 33 years old - one would have to imagine retirement would be something that's in the back of his mind. So, is it out of the question that the Falcons look to the 2023 Draft to find a player who can either 1) start right away or 2) split time with Hayward as he gets his legs under him as a cornerback in this league? It's something to think about.

Since the end of the 2022 season, draft analysts and experts have linked the Falcons to any and every top edge rusher in the 2023 class. The problem is that no one knows how picks No. 1 through No. 7 will play out come the night of the draft's start. What would the Falcons rather do: Take the third-best edge rusher, or have their choice of the best cornerback in the class? A class that is pretty talented at the cornerback position, one might add.

More so, did general manager Terry Fontenot play a card from his hand when he was asked during his Combine press conference about traits he looks for in a pass rusher?

Before answering, Fontenot said this, instead: "We want to add everywhere because if the coverage isn't good it doesn't matter."

Someone who helped affect the game in a subtle way in the secondary was Penn State's Joey Porter, Jr. Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin said during the 2022 season that Porter was someone who he could tailor his defensive strategy around because he had Porter in the secondary. Porter said on Thursday that he hopes to build that same type of trust wherever he lands come the end of April.

Porter was also someone who - at the college level - opposing offenses chose not to target in a similar fashion to that of the way NFL quarterbacks have accounted for Terrell in the last two years. In Penn State's 2022 season opener against Purdue, Porter was targeted quite a bit but he shined because of it, finishing the game with six PBUs, eight solo tackles and a fumble recovery.

Penn State defensive back Joey Porter speaks during a press conference at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Thursday, March 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

After that performance, opposing offenses stayed away, which - in part - accounted for Porter's lack of interceptions: Can't catch the ball if it's not being thrown your way.

"I feel like it was more of a respect thing so I didn't take it too personal. I feel like they respected my game," Porter said of his lack of targets. "One thing that I couldn't do is I couldn't get complacent and fall off my craft."

Again, not unlike conversations Terrell has had in the last two years.

Terrell's presence was felt during Thursday's media session with the defensive backs at the Combine. Though Gonzalez said he hadn't had a formal interview with the Falcons yet, Terrell is a talent that he admires.

"I watch him all the time," Gonzalez said of Terrell. "He's a great, physical corner that I love to watch and see what he brings to the table. He's one of the corners I study a lot."

Could Gonzalez or Porter be joining forces with Terrell in 2023? It's worth a discussion.

Join us as we take a look back at our favorite photos of our home, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, during the 2022 Atlanta Falcons season.

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