Most general managers work hard to give away nothing. Thomas Dimitroff is unlike most GMs. He’ll give you some hints, provided you know how to listen. No, he won’t say, “Write it down — we’re taking Tommy Tailback from Bugtussle U. in Round 1.” He won’t draw a map, but he will leave breadcrumbs.
To wit: His pre-draft briefing last week began with Dimitroff expressing his excitement. Why? Because, he said, “We’ve finally got an opportunity to open the draft board to both offense and defense.” That wasn’t just a boilerplate intro. Dimitroff doesn’t traffic in boilerplate. He’s precise with his words. He says what he means.
It has long been speculated — in this space and many others — that the Falcons would use the 19th pick of Round 1 to bolster a defense that ranked 21st among 32 NFL teams in yardage yielded last season. Makes sense, right?
But let’s also note that the Falcons’ defense improved from 24th in 2008, and that was with almost nothing from Peria Jerry and William Moore, who were the first two picks in April 2009. The Falcons are convinced both will be impact players soon, and they’ve already signed cornerback Dunta Robinson as a big-ticket free agent. Those three players should effect another defensive upgrade by themselves.
Let’s look now at another set of numbers: The Falcons’ rushing yardage fell from second-best in the league two seasons ago to 15th-best in 2009. Much of that can be traced to the injuries sustained by Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood — much, but not all. The Falcons’ offensive line, which was the hidden key to the giddy rise of 2008, wasn’t nearly as forceful last season. And this remains an offense predicated on the run.
Dimitroff on the possibility of taking an offensive lineman in Round 1: “I’d be comfortable doing that. It’s never a flashy pick, but if an offensive lineman has versatility, the ability to play dual positions would give him exponential value.”
The Falcons like Maurkice Pouncey, the Florida center who could swing to guard. They might also like Mike Iupati, the Idaho guard who could become a right tackle. If either is available, don’t be shocked if the Falcons, to employ Dimitroff’s war-room jargon, “pull his tag off the board.”
And what of Brandon Graham, the Michigan defensive end recently thought to be ticketed to Flowery Branch? The Falcons like him, too. He’s on their shortlist of possibilities at No. 19. And it’s true that Dimitroff wants to revive a pass rush that resembled a gentle breeze last season. “We would like to ramp up the pressure,” he said last week, and then he added a line that sounded like a throwaway but really was not: “And there are ways to do that.”
One way is to draft a defensive end. Another is to find an outside linebacker capable of wreaking blitz havoc. Two months ago I was certain Dimitroff would take a DE over an OLB; today I’m less sure. Today I think there’s a chance that if both Graham and Sean Weatherspoon, the linebacker from Missouri, are available, TD the GM would pull the latter’s tag.
A year ago it was all but a given that the Falcons would take a defensive tackle in Round 1. (They did — Jerry.) There are no givens this time, and that’s not a bad thing. This is a club coming off consecutive winning seasons and a key winter signing. There’s flexibility now.
When Dimitroff says he’s open to both offense and defense, we should take him at his word. He could be content with either a pass rusher or some sort of an offensive lineman. (The belief here is that the Falcons would take a skill player — Georgia Tech receiver Demaryius Thomas, say — in Round 1 only if preferred options have been rendered inoperative.)
Just guessing, I’d say the need for an DE/OLB still ranks 1A to the 1B of an O-lineman in Dimitroff’s fertile mind. But that’s only a guess, and it’s very close. Like 51-49.