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Falcons Building Blocks: A.J. Terrell has potential to be elite corner representing hometown over long term

Clemson product, Atlanta native has become shutdown corner over three professional seasons

The Falcons Building Blocks series is a week-long series of stories that focuses in on certain talent that will be counted on throughout the course of the 2023 year in Atlanta, and beyond.

Two years ago, when I authored this series, and I had certain requirements and marks the players on this list must have. They had to be on a rookie contract. They had to be 27 years old and younger. They had to be thriving already, "with leadership qualities and potential for even better down the road." Though this list follows a similar pattern, like last year, there are no such requirements for the 2023 list compiled and authored by me and Tori McElhaney.

We're looking at players the Falcons can build around, regardless of age, overall status or contract details. The Falcons have a young foundation set. So, who are the main pillars of that foundation?

By Scott Bair


The Falcons exercised their fifth-year option on A.J. Terrell's rookie contract this spring. I mean, obviously.

The man's an top-flight cornerback, a shutdown cover man as reliable as almost anyone in the league.

While he's officially under contract through the 2024 season, it's near impossible to think his impact on the Falcons will expire with that deal. A new one's likely in the offing. Terry Fontenot prioritizes rewarding homegrown talent that fits the organization's ethos.

Terrell certainly does. He's a local kid done good. He works hard. He's unassuming about how talented he is. And, boy, can he cover people.


That's why he's already a pillar of the organization.

"He's a competitor," Falcons secondary coach Steven Jackson said during the offseason program. "It doesn't matter the technique or the situation, he's going to do his job. What he does is go out there and win every single play. He's a competitor to the umpteenth degree."

That makes him the type of player to lead this defense into the next era, a point that Terrell seems to understand. That's why he made a point this offense to start taking care of his body, to stay available as much as possible. That's a plus, considering the biggest knock against him is availability. He hasn't missed tons of time, but that's the only thing that has hindered his consistency.

"I'm focused on taking care of my body," Terrell said during the offseason program. "The older we get, the more the body wants to shut down. I'm already starting to feel it and understand what the older guys have been talking about all these years. You have to respect the body and do what you're supposed to do to be able to come out here and play at 100 percent."

Some may point to high touchdowns allowed last season as a detraction, but that's an aberration more than anything else. His target count shows the respect he's paid by the opposition, with 66 targets in 571 coverages snaps in 2021 and 68 in 444 coverage snaps in 2022.

Analytics site Pro Football Focus considers him a top 10 cornerback in the league, and he earned NFL-wide respect during a breakout 2021 campaign where he was named a second-team All-Pro.

Terreel plays a premium position. He's proud to represent his hometown and therefore a perfect person for the Falcons to build around moving forward. He'll require a significant investment to keep him around long-term, but the Chris Lindstrom extension shows that the Falcons are willing to pay to keep their own in red and black.

They gave Lindstrom a big contract before he started playing on his fifth-year option. Expect a similar cadence with Terrell, especially if he has a big year. His target count might go up if Jeff Okudah plays to his potential on the other side, but that will provide opportunities to make plays on the ball. He has been good at that, with 28 passes defensed over three professional seasons.

The Falcons have strengthened their secondary overall this offseason, providing some help at every spot around Terrell. They'll continue to build around him and Troy Andersen and continue looking for the pass rusher required to make the defense complete.

Terrell isn't necessarily a vocal guy, but he's assuming more of a leadership role in the secondary, exuding Ryan Nielsen's principles of being both physical and aggressive.

He can also bring out the best in others just by being himself – a grinder passionate about playing the Falcons' brand of football.

"We're going to push each other every single day," Okudah said. "We're natural competitors. When we step on the field, we want to be the best we can be."

Take a look at our favorite photos of year two players from the 2023 Atlanta Falcons Creative Days.

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