This Falcon can fly: Kendall Sheffield’s elite speed should help secondary

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In the fourth round of the NFL Draft, the Falcons selected their first non-offensive linemen. Atlanta chose instead to address its secondary by drafting former Ohio State cornerback Kendall Sheffield.

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The 5-foot-11, 193-pound cornerback can absolutely fly. Sheffield set an Ohio State record by running the 60-yard dash in 6.663 seconds, and that speed is something he brings to the football field as well.

Sheffield’s speed alone makes him a tantalizing prospect. He possesses not only the long-range speed to track receivers vertically, but he also has some quick-twitch qualities and breaks on receivers fairly quickly. In the Falcons’ defensive scheme that ability to bring a receiver down where he catches the ball is especially important.

As a tackler, Sheffield does a good job of shooting his arms and wrapping up a defender’s legs. It might be too generous to call Sheffield an urgent tackler, as he doesn’t usually seem hell-bent to get to the runner, but he is far from hesitant to make a tackle.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn indicated that Sheffield could get a look at the nickel role in Atlanta’s defense and tackling is especially important that close to the line of scrimmage.

Despite his raw speed and athletic traits, there are still several aspects of Sheffield’s game where he can improve. Most notably, locating and playing the ball while facing a receiver. This was an inconsistent part of Sheffield’s game at Ohio State and it’s the area he needs the most work as a pro.

Sheffield’s elite speed makes his flaws worth overlooking. Given the Falcons’ current secondary makeup, Sheffield should have time to learn and improve his technique without being thrust into starting action right away.

There are plenty of moments on film where Sheffield puts himself in the right position to make a play but is the victim of either a great throw or a tremendous catch. Still, it’s not the end result that matters in his evaluation but rather the skills he shows. In this instance, he displays good footwork and burst to close on the ball.

At times, Sheffield can get off-balance while mirroring a receiver at the line of scrimmage. This tends to get him into trouble at times. But, like most of the flaws in Sheffield’s game at this time, this is something that can be corrected with coaching and time.

Cornerback is one of the more difficult positions to play early on in the NFL, but Sheffield should have a little bit of time to make the transition. The Falcons have said they may look at Sheffield as a candidate to return kicks given his speed, but that is not a role he has experience occupying.

While he may have some things in his game to clean up, Sheffield is an exciting prospect who started every game for Ohio State last season.

If the Falcons are able to tighten up Sheffield’s technique and confidence when his back is turned to the ball, he has the makings of a quality starting cornerback in the NFL given his rare speed and explosiveness.

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