Cornerback, cornerback, cornerback. Most every mock draft has the Falcons spending their first pick on one. Thomas Dimitroff, who’ll do the picking, went to a function Tuesday night and the conversation turned to … well, guess.
The speculation makes some sense. The Falcons couldn’t stop the pass last season — they were 28th-best in a 32-team league — and they’ll own either the draft’s 19th or 20th overall pick. (Depends on a coin flip with Houston, upcoming at this weekend’s combine in Indianapolis.) And the sight of the Falcons’ young defensive backs being undone in most every game is burned, so to speak, in every fan’s memory. That said …
Dimitroff has the reputation of being picky, pun intended, about cornerbacks. “I get a kick out of that,” he said Wednesday, meaning his professional image. But there’s truth therein. He played cornerback for the Guelph Gryphons . (Guelph is a university in Ontario.) He described himself thusly: “A feisty little guy who had to make up for my lack of ability. I played with my heart and soul.”
Something the not-very-talented cornerback has learned about cornerbacks in general: There aren’t many great ones. The prototypical “shutdown corner” is seen about as often as Sasquatch. The best corner in football cannot shadow a journeyman wideout for 15 seconds. And that’s why the Falcons’ young defenders — Brent Grimes, Chris Houston, Christopher Owens — might not have been as bad as they appeared. That’s also why in-house urgency to draft another cornerback mightn’t match peripheral expectation.
“I definitely would love to get a No. 1 [cornerback, meaning not quite a shutdown guy but someone who can take an opponent's best receiver and hold his own], an evolving No. 1,” Dimitroff said. “But generally speaking, we as teams are hesitant to crown a guy as a No. 1 until he’s proven.”
Example: Tye Hill, now a Falcon reserve. The Rams took him with the 15th pick of the 2006 draft. Three years later, St. Louis gave up on Hill traded him here, where he has made little impression.
Dimitroff, speaking not specifically of Hill but generally: “You’d hope a guy taken in the top 10 or 15 would become a No. 1.” Then, addressing this year’s first-round pick: “But if he’s a deuce [meaning a No. 2 cornerback], I would have no hesitation about pulling his tag off the board [and drafting him].”
Consensus holds that Florida’s Joe Haden is the best cornerback in this draft, but he figures to be gone by the time the Falcons choose. They’re expected to eyeball men like Alabama’s Kareem Jackson and Boise State’s Kyle Wilson and Oklahoma’s Dominique Franks and Oklahoma State’s Perrish Cox and Florida State’s Patrick Robinson at the combine, and there’s a chance Dimitroff could fall in love with one of them. There’s also a chance he won’t see any of them as Round 1 material.
On the day he was introduced as the Falcons’ general manager, Dimitroff famously said: “Every draft is need-based.” But what do the Falcons need more — another young cornerback or a pass rusher who might render the incumbent young corners more formidable? And would there be a difference-making defensive end available at No. 19/20?
Something to consider: The Falcons would like to keep Brian Williams, the cornerback acquired from Jacksonville in preseason who started five games before hurting his knee. Williams is a free agent, and the team is monitoring his rehab. Would re-signing him mitigate the apparent Round 1 need for a DB?
Then there’s this: The Falcons’ defensive backs won’t be coached in 2010 by Emmitt Thomas, a holdover from previous administrations who was retained when Dimitroff and Arthur Blank hired Mike Smith as head coach. The team and E.T. parted ways in January. Tim Lewis is now the secondary coach. Don’t overlook that, either.
And one thing more: Last year’s No. 1 pick, defensive tackle Peria Jerry, was lost to a knee injury in September. Said Dimitroff: “That was a huge loss for us. [His presence as an inside rusher] would have affected production in the secondary.”
With so many variables, there can be no knowing what Dimitroff will do come April 22. The outside world fully expects the Falcons to take a cornerback. Me, I’m still thinking the feisty little GM might grab himself a big ol’ defensive end.