Falcons' Draft Needs Come Into Focus

Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff is very familiar with how to operate near the end of the first rounds from his days with the New England Patriots. Last year, in his first season with the Falcons, Dimitroff showed that he will move up late in the round to get his guy when he traded back into the first round to get Southern Cal tackle Sam Baker.

So, sitting back at the 24th position is not as undesirable as most teams would think. Actually, the idea is to win games, which means being in the back of the pack every year.

When you are further down in the draft, you have to take a different approach. The Falcons are basically hoping that the teams ahead of them will allow talented players to slip through. They'll have their target list of six to seven players and will hope that one is available.

Players to keep an eye on for the Falcons include Northern Illinois linebacker/defensive end Larry English, Southern Cal linebacker Brian Cushing, Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew and Florida State defensive end Everette Brown.

It is more likely that English and Pettigrew will be available at No. 24. But if Cushing or Brown freefall, Dimitroff will jump. If a scenario unfolds where all of the players the Falcons like are not on the board, then a trade to move down comes into play. Here's where you could see Kansas City and Atlanta talking about swapping picks, tight end Tony Gonzalez and other potential trading partners may step forward.

The major objective for the Falcons, who let five starters leave during free agency, is to rebuild the defense, find some help along the offensive line and a pass receiving tight end.

TEAM NEEDS: Outside linebacker, defensive end, cornerback, strong safety, defensive tackle, tight end.

OLB -- The Falcons let both starting outside linebackers, Michael Boley and Keith Brooking, leave during free agency. They signed Mike Peterson, but he could train his heir apparent.

DE -- This will be an admission pick that Jamaal Anderson is not the edge rusher some thought he'd be when selected No.8 in the 2007 draft. The Falcons reportedly are in love with Southern California linebacker Brian Cushing and are delighted with the prospect that he could possibly drop to them.

CB -- The best cornerback on last year's roster, Domonique Foxworth, left during free agency. Chris Houston and Brent Grimes are sitting atop the depth chart. One name to keep an eye on is Troy State CB Sherrod Martin. He's a big (6-1, 198 pounds) and physical player. The knock on Houston is that he's hasn't been as physical as his stature would suggest. Grimes was decent after opening the season as a starter, but not special. He also hasn't held up for an entire season since making the team as an undrafted free agent from Shippensburg State. Georgia CB Asher Allen is another player to watch for the Falcons.

SS -- They drafted California FS Thomas DeCoud last season and he will get the first crack at replacing Lawyer Milloy. The Falcons have fully researched Western Michigan's Louis Delmas, Missouri's William Moore and Alabama's Rashad Johnson. Delmas best fits Dimitroff's description of a hybrid safety. The position has moved away from the big, intimidating thumper who just serves as extra linebacker in run support. The Falcons' scheme requires a strong safety be adept in coverage, especially in zone coverage. He has to thump in run support and exhibit deep middle-to-sideline range in pass coverage. The quandary is Delmas is not likely worthy of the No. 24 pick, but might not be available when the Falcons pick with the 55th pick in the second round.

DT -- Grady Jackson was also allowed to leave during free agency, but he's closer to 40 years old than 30. The Falcons have Trey Lewis, who showed some flashes in 2007 after being drafted in the fifth round out of Washburn. He's been battling to come back from two knee operations and will have show that he can be helpful. Keep an eye out for Southern California's Fili Moala, Hampton's Chris Baker or Stillman's Sammie Lee Hill when the Falcons are drafting after the third round.

TE -- The Falcons made a play for L.J. Smith in free agency. There are a few decent pass-catching tight ends in the draft and the Falcons could take one as high as 24 with Oklahoma State's Brandon Pettigrew.


--Oklahoma's George "Duke" Robinson, an Atlanta Washington High product, who went on to star for the Sooners, worked out for the Falcons on Thursday.
He explained his decision to go to Norman, Okla. "I wanted to get away from the things that were surrounding me," Robinson said. "I wanted to change my life and see how far I could get. It worked out well for me. I'm proud of myself and my family is proud of me."

Robinson, who is related to the great Motown singer/songwriter Smokey Robinson (his great uncle), is projected as a late first-round or early second-round pick. The Falcons appear to be set at guard with Justin Blalock and Harvey Dahl. Also, the 24th slot appears too high for Robinson and he likely won't be around when the Falcons pick at 55 in the second.

Of course, he'd love to play for the hometown team. He's also worked out for St. Louis, Cleveland, Miami and Pittsburgh. Most teams have him as a guard, though some think he can play some right tackle.

"Right now, I'm just trying to stay focused," said Robinson, who worked at Braves game selling peanuts and baseball caps in his youth.

--The Falcons shot down a published report that they offered a second-round pick to the Kansas City Chiefs for tight end Tony Gonzalez. Falcons' general manager Thomas Dimitroff and Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli are best friends from their days in New England and the connection likely fueled the speculation.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We are cool. I played with him for three years. He's my dog, but he knows I'll put that hat on him, too." -- Oklahoma guard Duke Robinson on former teammate and Falcons middle linebacker Curtis Lofton.


Oklahoma offensive guard George Robinson was the headliner among local players who worked out for the Falcons this week. There are several area players on the radar screen starting with Georgia Tech defensive end Michael Johnson, Georgia cornerback Asher Allen, Clemson wide receiver Aaron Kelly and Troy cornerback Sherrod Martin (Griffin, Ga.).

The Falcons plan to add some pieces for their depleted defense during the draft, but will not ignore an offensive player if his value is high.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: P/K Michael Koenen: Tendered at $2.483M; signed tender Feb. 17.


--OT Wayne Gandy is veteran who could provide quality depth behind some young tackles.
--SS Lawyer Milloy will not return. He would like to end his career in Seattle and be reunited with coach Jim Mora.
--TE Marcus Pollard was signed late in the season and probably won't return.

--OT Pat McCoy (not tendered as RFA) spent the season on injured reserve.

--RT Tyson Clabo (tendered at $1.545M with second-round pick as compensation) has started for last two seasons and played with mean streak.

--OL Renardo Foster.

--OG Harvey Dahl: RFA; $1.545M/1 yr.
--DE Chauncey Davis: UFA; $14M/4 yrs, guarantee unknown.
--S Jamaal Fudge: Potential RFA; terms unknown.
--LB Tony Gilbert: UFA; terms unknown.
--CB Brent Grimes: ERFA; terms unknown.
--S Antoine Harris: ERFA; terms unknown.
--DT Jason Jefferson: UFA; terms unknown.
--P/K Michael Koenen: FFA; $2.483M/1 yr.
--TE Justin Peelle: Potential UFA; terms unknown.
--RB Jason Snelling: ERFA; terms unknown.
--C/G Ben Wilkerson (not tendered as RFA); $535,000/1 yr.
--LB Coy Wire: UFA; 2 yrs, terms unknown.

--MLB Mike Peterson: UFA Jaguars; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--C Brett Romberg: UFA Rams; terms unknown.
--OT Will Svitek: FA; terms unknown.

--LB Michael Boley: UFA Giants; $25M/5 yrs, $11M guaranteed.
--LB Keith Brooking: UFA Cowboys; $6M/3 yrs, $2.5M guaranteed.
--CB Domonique Foxworth: UFA Ravens; $27.2M/4 yrs, $4M SB/$3.38 report bonus/$16.5M guaranteed.
--DT Grady Jackson: UFA Lions; $8M/3 yrs, guarantees unknown.
--WR Laurent Robinson (traded Rams).
--LT Todd Weiner (retired).

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