Robert Alford says he's a top-10 CB with room for improvement

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons cornerback Robert Alford doesn't care about the criticism directed toward him from the outside. He remains confident in his ability.

Extremely confident, in fact.

"I feel like I'm top 10 [cornerback] in this league," Alford told ESPN. "Last year, I was doing my thing. Came into this year, I did my thing. At the end of the day, I just have to get back to my style of play and make those plays that the team needs me to make that I've been making in the past.

"I haven't made those plays this season, but we have [two] games left. All I have to do is show my worth and go out there and ball my tail off."

Alford was referring to creating more turnovers, something the Falcons had not been consistent with this season, until getting four takeaways against the Arizona Cardinals last week. Alford, who has 10 career interceptions and a pair of pick-sixes and intercepted Tom Brady for a touchdown in Super Bowl LI, does not have a takeaway in the 13 games he has played in 2018.

"People that know me, they know me for making big plays, whenever the team needs me to come through," Alford said. "I just feel like this year, I haven't been coming away with turnovers as I've been doing in the past. That's something that I always look at. Whenever the team needs a turnover, I always considered myself that turnover person. ... I haven't been able to get those turnovers for the team to help the offense to get the ball back."

There is one category where Alford is the team leader and would rather not be: penalties. He has drawn 12 flags. Eight of them were accepted for 82 yards and eight first downs. Alford has had five pass interference calls, five defensive holds and two illegal contacts called against him.

"As you know, they upped the rules this year in penalties, and they wanted more flags called," Alford said. "But you can let that get to you. That's the nature of the game.

"Some penalties are bad calls. Some penalties are good. The refs, they get graded too, in every game. I think that's a thing that a lot of people don't know. It's not that every penalty is a penalty. I'll go back after the season is over with, of course, and sort those penalties out and see which ones I can correct and see which ones probably shouldn't have been called. At the end of the day, they were called and are going to get tallied down as a penalty."

Alford's penalty issues are part of the reason skeptics wonder if it's time for the Falcons to move on from him. Both Alford and fellow starting cornerback Desmond Trufant have drawn their share of criticism this season, with the defense allowing opponents to convert almost 50 percent of third downs. The lack of a pass rush has contributed to those secondary problems. Trufant still has four years and $44.75 million remaining on his deal, with a salary-cap number of $13.9 million next season. Meanwhile, Alford still has two years and $17 million left on his deal, with a cap number of $9.1 million in 2019.

When asked if he was worried about his immediate future with the team, Alford just shrugged his shoulders.

"Not at all," he said. "The Man above is going to handle it. It's a lot of things that people don't know in between the lines that are going on. No, not at all. It's in God's hands."

Alford didn't want to use it as a crutch, but it's obvious the ankle injury he suffered in October that caused him to miss the Nov. 4 game at the Washington Redskins affected his play.

Despite a 5-9 record and a playoff-less season, Alford sees a positive outlook for himself and Trufant.

"Me and Tru came in together, 2013, [and] we already felt like we were going to be the future cornerbacks for the Falcons, let alone a good duo for the Falcons," Alford said. "I think we've been doing that. At the end of the day, we haven't been given our credit. All we have to do is go out there, show our worth and just make sure that this team wins."

The other factor that could determine how the Falcons line up at cornerback in the future is the development of rookie second-round pick Isaiah Oliver. The coaches are taking a longer look at Oliver here at the end of the season. He has a little more size than both Alford and Trufant.

"About Isaiah, we're bringing him along," Alford said. "As you know, he's a rookie. He's been progressing each and every week. Any question that he has for us, we've been opened doors. He's been asking them, and he's been soaking them up like a sponge. At the end of the day, just adding him into our cornerback group is going to make us even more elite."

The ideal conclusion to this season for Alford would be to create a few turnovers, play penalty-free football and silence some of his critics. Atlanta coach Dan Quinn applauded Alford's play in last week's win against Arizona, noting how physical he was at the line of scrimmage. But Quinn didn't want to give a full evaluation of Alford's season just yet.

"We assess that at the end," Quinn said. "I think it's more appropriate to say let's stay in the here and now. I thought [last Sunday] was a step in the right direction. Certainly, for him, because he made some really good plays. But as far as an overall assessment, I'd rather have more time to go back through on that."

Alford aims to give Quinn plenty to talk about.

"Just stay tuned, man," Alford said. "You're going to have up and down years. Deion [Sanders] didn't have a good year every year. My play in the past speaks for itself. Y'all just stay tuned. The best is yet to come."