The NFL draft hasn’t yet arrived, and already Thomas Dimitroff has contracted a special strain of fatigue. “I’m sick of saying, ‘Explosive player,’ ” he said.
“Explosive” has become the latest buzzword to hit Flowery Branch. (”Process” was beaten to death in 2008, and “urgency” and “consistency” were the twin themes of 2009.) Dimitroff is, among other things, a wordsmith, and the general manager hates it when he can’t find a synonym.
Trouble is, there isn’t one to describe what the Falcons lack. Repetition be hanged, they need explosive players.
In other offseasons, they’d have found one by now. That’s the Dimitroff Way: Build through the draft, augment via other means. In 2008 the Falcons signed Michael Turner as a free agent, and he led the NFC in rushing. In 2009 they traded for Tony Gonzalez, the All-Pro tight end, ahead of the draft. In 2010 they signed Dunta Robinson, thereby alleviating the need to draft a cornerback.
This year: Nothing. The NFL lockout locked things down. Quoth the well-spoken GM: “Our incredibly narrow focus on building our team through the draft would not have been as narrow [this year] … The last three years we’ve been active [in trades and free agency]. This has caused us to focus even more on what we can control.”
Meaning the draft. The Falcons own the 27th pick in Round 1. Most mock drafts have them exercising that choice on a defensive end — a high-yield pass rusher meets the definition of “explosive player” — and this could be one time when external consensus mirrors internal thinking.
Not that Dimitroff is saying. But it seemed instructive that in a 45-minute conversation he took pains to review how defensive ends chosen in recent Round 1’s have fared as pros. CliffsNotes version: Results aren’t encouraging to those teams in such a market.
Dimitroff: “A lot of teams getting mass production from pass rushers are getting it from linebackers — like Clay Matthews [with Green Bay] or LaMarr Woodley with Pittsburgh in the 3-4.”
Does this mean the Falcons, who don’t employ the 3-4, won’t draft a defensive end in the first round? “I’m not saying that at all. What I’m saying is that you, me, our owner and our entire fan base has to be realistic about the production you’re going to get from a defensive end.”
That said, Dimitoff also offered this: “There’s no question that if you’re drafting someone in Round 1, you want to get production and need to get production.”
The Falcons were 13-3 and the NFC’s No. 1 seed. They were routed in their first playoff game by Green Bay, which would win the Super Bowl, in large measure because they couldn’t pressure Aaron Rodgers or cover his receivers. Does Dimitroff see his team as being one explosive player from a Super Bowl title itself?
“Because we were 13-3 does not mean we were one more step from the coveted game … There are a number of spots in this team we need to address.”
It has been speculated that the Falcons are working to move upward in the hope of landing Georgia’s A.J. Green or Alabama’s Julio Jones. (Wide receiver also fits the definition of “explosive player.”) To do that, the Falcons would have to leap into the top 10 if not the top five, which would be a mighty bound when you’re sitting at No. 27. It makes sense to try, and it would be the coup of coups if they succeed. But we shouldn’t hold our collective breath.
What we should do is do as we’ve been doing: Look for the Falcons to draft a defensive end. They can find a receiver to complement Roddy White in Round 2; they might not find John Abraham’s pass-rushing bookend so low.
The guess is that the Falcons would be delighted if Adrian Clayborn, the Iowa defensive end, is there when they pick. (In light of revelations that Justin Houston, the Georgia linebacker, tested positive for marijuana, it would be a surprise if they chose him.) As much as Dimitroff might try to drive down expectations, the guess is that he’s hoping for a defensive end in Round 1, hoping even harder he’ll become that explosive player.
By Mark Bradley