No pressing needs for Falcons heading into wide-open draft
By PAUL NEWBERRY
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) The Atlanta Falcons are used to focusing on one or two positions in the NFL draft.
Not this year.
After a Super Bowl appearance two years ago and another trip to the playoffs last season, the Falcons are fairly content with their roster.
Oh, sure, they've got needs like every other team.
But nothing that looks too pressing.
"This draft is different than most drafts I've been involved with," said Thomas Dimitroff, entering his second decade as the Falcons' general manager.
"This is an important draft and an interesting draft. There are a number of positions we're looking at, more than other years. Other years, we really homed in on one or two positions."
The Falcons have the No. 26 pick in Thursday night's opening round.
With a lot of attention on quarterbacks such as Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and the past two Heisman Trophy winners, Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson, Dimitroff expects some top talent to slip all the way down to Atlanta's spot.
"There's some really legitimate contenders to help our team right away at No. 26 if we stay put," he said. "We'll always be aggressive if we see some interesting impact players who can take us to another level. But hopefully they'll get to 26."
Atlanta follows up over the final two days of the draft with selections in the second (58th overall), third (90th), fourth (126th), sixth (200th) and seventh (244th) rounds. In addition, the Falcons were awarded the final pick (No. 256) as compensation for losing five players in free agency, which means they have a chance to grab the player known as "Mr. Irrelevant."
Here's some things to watch from Atlanta heading into the draft:
The Falcons will be looking for help on the interior of the defensive line after mammoth tackle Dontari Poe signed with NFC South rival Carolina during free agency.
The offensive line could get an upgrade, as well. Even though the Falcons signed guard Brandon Fusco in free agency, they are still looking for players to bolster their blocking around center Alex Mack.
The Falcons don't have a fullback on the roster after deciding not to re-sign Derrick Coleman, so look for some help at that position in the later rounds.
Also keep an eye on receiver. If someone such as Alabama's Calvin Ridley becomes available, the Falcons might jump at the chance to land a potential star who could take some of the coverage pressure off Julio Jones.
Dimitroff and coach Dan Quinn have formed an excellent working relationship after somewhat of a forced partnership.
The general manager was hired by the Falcons in 2008 and initially had total control over the draft, but he surrendered some of that power to Quinn when the coach was hired by owner Arthur Blank in 2015.
The arrangement has worked out just fine.
"It's nice for me from an experience standpoint to draft alongside one of the most tenured GMs in the league," Quinn said.
WHEELIN' AND DEALIN'
Dimitroff is always looking to make a deal on draft day.
Last year, the GM sent three picks to the Seahawks in order to move up to No. 26 - the same spot the Falcons have this year - for UCLA defensive end Takkarist McKinley, feeling he would be a perfect fit in Quinn's attacking defense.
Dimitroff also traded up to get cornerback Desmond Trufant in 2013, and most notably pulled off a huge deal with Cleveland in 2011 to land Jones, who quickly developed into one of the league's top receivers and a cornerstone of the franchise. The Browns are still regretting that trade.
HITS, MISSES AND BARGAINS
QB Matt Ryan has started all but two games since Dimitroff, in his first draft, made him the No. 3 overall pick in 2008. That remains the most significant selection in franchise history.
CB Jalen Collins, a second-rounder out of LSU in 2015, continually ran afoul of drug-testing rules and wound up playing less than two full seasons for the Falcons, who released him last November after his second suspension.
DT Grady Jarrett has become a force on the defensive front since being picked in the fifth round out of Clemson in 2015. The dynamic RB duo of Devonta Freeman (fourth round, 2014) and Tevin Coleman (third round, 2013) were both bargains. LB De'Vondre Campbell was a fourth-round selection in 2016 who became an immediate starter on defense.
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Updated April 25, 2018