Desmond Trufant: Solution to Atlanta’s Cornerback Problem

Entering last season, I would have said Desmond Trufant was destined to be a 2nd or 3rd round pick. After starting for three years, he had taken care of business all through his career as a Husky, but he hadn’t had a full campaign in which he really put it all together to become a shutdown type corner.

Well, he did just that in his senior season. While the Huskies as a team were defined largely by a rugged defensive identity, which helped to compensate for a struggling offense, Trufant was instrumental in allowing that change to take place. He refined his technique and took over as a team captain, and he was clearly more physical against the run game. Pretty much everything he needed to do to boost his draft stock.

If there was one game that demonstrated Trufant’s dominance and the influence it had on Washington’s success, it was the physically grueling 17-13 victory over then-#8 ranked Stanford at CenturyLink Field. While the Cardinal didn’t have a specific go-to wide receiver, Trufant basically took away Stanford’s number-one read on nearly every down, and with the Huskies hanging on to a thin lead late in the 4th, he picked off a pass intended for the 6’8″ Levine Toilolo, sealing the win.

Feb 25, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Washington Huskies defensive back Desmond Trufant catches a pass during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

He did that time and time again, against even the most talented of receivers. In the loss against USC, Trufant held Marqise Lee, the most productive wide receiver in the nation (118 catches for 1721 yards and 14 touchdowns), to 2 receptions for 32 yards. When you consider that Lee never had another game with fewer than five catches or fewer than 41 yards, and that he averaged (including the Washington game) 9 catches, 132 yards, and a little over a score per game, it was one instance that proved Trufant’s ability to lock down NFL-quality receivers.

As you probably know, Desmond followed up his fantastic senior campaign with a great showing at the Senior Bowl and well above average Combine numbers. A 4.38 forty, a 37.5 inch vertical, 3.85 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle, and 16 reps on the bench press. It looked to be enough to lock him in as a first round pick in the draft.

And sure enough, the Atlanta Falcons traded up to nab him with the 22nd overall pick. You don’t have to be a Washington fan to realize that this was a wonderful decision on Atlanta’s part. An elite team in the NFC South, with a 13-3 record and a close 28-24 loss to San Francisco in the NFC Conference Championship game in 2012, Atlanta’s biggest weakness throughout the year was pass defense. An inability to defend the deep ball even proved to be their downfall in the loss to the 49ers.

Add on to this the fact that Atlanta has parted ways with every corner that took meaningful snaps last year except for starter Asante Samuel, and the need for help at the cornerback position was a no-brainer heading into the draft. So they took Trufant, and right after that, in round two, they grabbed Robert Alford of Southeastern Louisiana.

The hope is that both players can come in as rookies and play serious time, presumably Desmond Trufant across from Samuel as the 2nd starter, and Alford at the nickel spot, which in the pass-happy NFL, is becoming more and more of a 3rd starting role. Is it safe to assume that both players will be fully ready to step in like NFL vets against the likes of Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Russell Wilson, and Aaron Rodgers (all quarterbacks on the 2013 schedule)? Probably not.

Even if both players earn the 2nd and 3rd corner spots in training camp, there will likely be some growing pains. But while I didn’t watch Alford play in college, I had the pleasure of witnessing just about every game Trufant played, and when you combine his on-field ability with his terrific work ethic and off-field focus, what you end up with is a player ready for the league. I’m confident that even if he has a rough game or two against Hall of Fame level quarterbacks and wide-outs, the Falcons have picked up a guy that can start for them for years to come.

In my eyes, the real question is how far Trufant’s game still has to grow. Can he pick up the ins and outs of the defense and transition to the pro game so well as to challenge the aging, but still talented, Asante Samuel for the number-1 spot? In a few years, will he be a solid, serviceable starter, or a pro bowl type? Impossible to know, though given the way Trufant jumped forward from his junior to his senior year, it wouldn’t surprise me if Atlanta fans look back at the 2013 draft and see the picking of Desmond Trufant (and perhaps also Alford) as the moment the cornerback problem was solved.

What do you think? Am I being too optimistic about Trufant, giving him too much credit? Comment below or tweet @HuskyHaul. And as always, thanks for reading.

Notes: Worth mentioning that it was Trufant that stopped new teammate Alford from scoring on a long kickoff return in the Senior Bowl, and that Toilolo, the massive tight end against which Trufant was matched up when he picked off the game-sealing pass against Stanford, was drafted by Atlanta in the 4th round. Small world. More on Trufant and Alford’s new bond, and that 6’8″ behemoth of a Stanford product, in this USA Today story.

Topics: Football, Washington Huskies

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