It’s no secret that the Cowboys are looking for a top-tier corner in this draft. Even after re-signing Anthony Brown and C.J. Goodwin, and adding Maurice Canady, Dallas is looking for a guy who can fill the role Byron Jones used to occupy. The short answer is that no prospect in this draft will replace Jones, but that doesn’t mean the team can’t find someone ready to start from day one.
A.J. Terrell of Clemson seems like a player who fits that bill pretty well.
Name: A.J. Terrell
Weight: 190 lbs
2019 stat line: 14 games, 34 tackles, 2 interceptions, 3 passes defensed, ½ sack
Combine results: 4.42 40-yard dash, 15 bench press reps, 34.5” vertical, 129” broad jump
Playing for three seasons at Clemson, Terrell had a rotational role his freshman season and blossomed into a starter in his sophomore and junior years. Each year he got noticeably better, and in 2019 Terrell was the top corner for a Tigers defense that finished as the fourth best pass defense in the entire country.
But Terrell was turning heads before he assumed the top corner role; in the 2019 National Championship game, in which Clemson blew out Alabama 44-16, Terrell intercepted Tua Tagovailoa’s third pass of the game and returned it 44 yards for a touchdown. That pick six scored the first points of the game, and it set the tone for what ended up being a very easy romp for Clemson.
That kind of defensive threat showed up frequently in Terrell’s 2019 game film. He wasn’t thrown at a lot because of that, but he still managed to notch two picks and three passes defensed. Terrell has a really good feel for getting his hands on the ball. His 31 ¼” long arms give him the necessary length to frequently contest passes at the catch point and he has good vision to locate the ball as well.
But for Terrell, his calling card is in his coverage skills. He is a master at moving with his receiver in man coverage. He’s able to flip his hips with ease and his footwork is so precise that he’s able to track his man without getting handsy. This precision allows for Terrell to succeed in both press man and off man coverage, always staying close to his target. Playing in the kind of defense Clemson runs, it’s obvious that Terrell understands how to match the routes the receivers are running.
In zone coverage, Terrell gets the chance to demonstrate his anticipation skills, which are sharp. Much like Florida’s C.J. Henderson, Terrell has great instincts when it comes to reading the quarterback’s eyes and breaking on the ball. And like Henderson, it sometimes gets him in trouble as Terrell can get out of position due to his desire to make a play. However, at Clemson he made the play much more often than not.
As far as athleticism goes, Terrell is one of the best in his position class. His 40-yard dash time at the combine was the fourth fastest among cornerbacks, and he demonstrates some really exceptional range when playing in deeper zone coverages. Of course, that speed also helps in man coverage, as he is able to keep up with just about any receiver.
Terrell can occasionally get out-muscled, so bigger receiver types create somewhat of a mismatch for him. Terrell does a good job of compensating by leveraging his length and ball skills against such receivers, but guys that are adept at boxing out will gain some advantage over Terrell’s more slender body. He bulked up for the combine and still only came in at 195 pounds, so adding more to his frame may be a concern for some teams.
This weakness sometimes rears its head in terms of tackling, as Terrell occasionally is guilty of just going for arm tackles or trying to hit someone instead of tackle them. He’ll come down in run support and mix it up, rarely making business decisions, but he’s also no linebacker. Terrell’s good positioning and strong arms do help him effectively bring down receivers on catches he allows, but that’s usually about it.
In simplest terms, Terrell is a near elite cover corner prospect who thrives in all kinds of man coverage and has aggressive, ball-hawking instincts in zone coverage. He’s incredibly sound on the fundamentals, notably footwork, and has a really solid football IQ, but his run support is likely to be an issue and he can get out-muscled by bigger receivers. But he will do a good job at denying completions and forcing turnovers.
Draft projections for Terrell are currently ranging anywhere from the end of the first round to the end of the second round, and his stock is largely dependent on how teams evaluate other players at different positions. From the Cowboys’ perspective, Terrell would be a very realistic option in the event of trading back to a later selection in the first round, and he would be an absolute steal in the second round at 51st overall. Terrell could come in and take on a heavy amount of snaps in the Dallas secondary right from the start, making him a name to keep an eye on.