When Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff drafted Kendall Sheffield in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft, virtually no one thought Sheffield would be a starter in his first season.
This wasn't a knock against Sheffield by any means. The Falcons plan heading into last season was set with Isaiah Oliver and Desmond Trufant expected to be Atlanta's starting cornerbacks and Damontae Kazee to fill the nickel cornerback role.
But when Keanu Neal suffered a season-ending Achilles injury during the third week of the season, Falcons coach Dan Quinn was forced to reevaluate what his secondary would look like.
Quinn eventually decided to move Kazee back to safety and put Sheffield at nickel. Not only did Sheffield succeed in his new role, over the last half of the 2019 season he became one of the Falcons' starting cornerbacks in their base package.
Sheffield's first start came during Atlanta's 34-33 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in mid-October. Despite the outcome, the speedy cornerback impressed his head coach playing every snap and recording four tackles.
"I was pleased with Sheffield playing outside," Quinn said. "We've featured him more at nickel, so to see him work outside, I thought he really responded to the challenge."
From that moment on, Sheffield solidified his role in the Falcons' defense. Sheffield recorded 46 tackles, three pass deflections and one forced fumble in 11 starts.
With a wealth of experience now under his belt, Sheffield is ready to take his game to another level. In fact, Sheffield was picked as the No. 5 breakout player when the AtlantaFalcons.com editorial staff released their top-10 breakout players for the 2020 season.
"I just want to continue to be the best player I can be to help the team in any aspect I can," Sheffield said. "To continue to learn the game of football and just play the best football I can."
The former Ohio State cornerback is quiet by nature. He's one of the most soft-spoken players in the locker room and keeps to himself for the most part. But just because he's not always the loudest voice doesn't mean he's not someone who doesn't have a lot to say. Sheffield prefers to let his play do the talking when it's time.
"I would say I'm kind of quiet," Sheffield said. "The people who are always around me know I can get the job done when it's time."
The hardest part of Sheffield's transition from the college season to the NFL was the amount of games he played in. The 24-year-old said it "took a toll on his body" and it took him a while to learn how to navigate the length of the season.
Sheffield said in order to prepare himself for the upcoming season, he made sure to take enough time off to rest his body before training again. He was also strategic in the way he transitioned back into full-speed training so his body and mind wouldn't be overwhelmed.
When asked if the Falcons' coaching staff has told him where he'll be featured this season, Sheffield said he has not been told if he'll be used at nickel or on the outside. Similar to last year, Sheffield will prepare for any and everything so he's ready no matter what position he's asked to play.
The Falcons drafted A.J. Terrell with the No. 16 overall pick in this year's draft in hopes to continue to solidify the cornerback position. During the first eight games of the 2019 season, the Falcons ranked No. 31 in the league by allowing 31.3 per game.
Sheffield's presence in the second half of the season was one of the reasons the unit improved over the final eight games of the year. The Falcons finished No. 22 in the NFL against the pass, giving up 244.9 yards per game.
In order for the Falcons' defense to be the unit they need to be, Sheffield will need to continue to play at a high level and that's what he's focused on doing.
"I'm very excited for the team, our defense, especially myself as well," Sheffield said. "I feel like we're going to have a great team this year."
We are counting down the top 10 Falcons players our writers believe are most likely to have a breakout season in 2020. The definition of breakout, for the purpose of this list, is a player who shows sudden significant improvement.