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Falcons achieve goal of balance in draft
Atlanta Falcons first round draft pick, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, right, holds up a jersey with his mother Elwanda on Friday during an NFL football news conference in Flowery Branch. - photo by Brant Sanderlin
FLOWERY BRANCH — Thomas Dimitroff said the Atlanta Falcons draft went by the script, even if the team didn’t add pass-rushing help at defensive end.

With four picks on defense and three on offense, Dimitroff achieved the balance he sought in the NFL draft while adding immediate help at outside linebacker and future help on the offensive line.

First-round pick Sean Weatherspoon of Missouri will be expected to contend for immediate playing time at outside linebacker, possibly replacing starter Mike Peterson on passing downs.

The Falcons also added two offensive linemen, two defensive backs, one receiver and one defensive tackle.

Even though the draft class didn’t include a defensive end, Dimitroff said he was happy.

“Our No. 1 scenario was getting the exact positions we got with the players that we targeted,” he said. “I know that sounds like almost like I’m kind of pumping that, but it’s the truth.

“We came away with everything we were truly looking for and not only from a position standpoint. All of these guys on this list were definitely targeted.”

The Falcons traded up in the fifth round on Saturday to select Oklahoma cornerback and return specialist Dominique Franks.

The team’s second fifth-round pick was Kansas receiver Kerry Meier.

Meier was drafted less than a week after the death of his older brother, former Kansas State quarterback Dylan Meier, on a family hiking accident in Arkansas. Kerry Meier was on the family hiking trip on Monday when his older brother died after a fall.

“It’s a surreal experience and something I still don’t really feel it happened,” Meier said in a telephone interview. “I’m thinking my brother is going to come walking through that door with that big smile on his face.

“The (draft) news I got today, besides me being the happiest guy, he’s the second-happiest guy for me. He’s pushed me through a lot of tough times growing up and he’s always been right there for me. ... He showed me the direction and showed me the way and now I just want to continue my football career in honor of him and continue to play well, just the way he played.”

Dylan Meier’s funeral service is scheduled for Monday.

Dimitroff said he had a lump in his throat when talking on the phone with Meier on Saturday.

“It’s obviously a very unfortunate and heartbreaking story,” Dimitroff said. “... My heart goes out to the family.”
Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith picked defensive tackle Corey Peters of Kentucky in the third round on Friday before spending the team’s next two picks on offensive linemen, starting with offensive guard Mike Johnson of Alabama.

The Falcons opened Saturday’s final day of the draft by picking center Joe Hawley of UNLV in the fourth round. They then traded up in the fifth round to select cornerback and return specialist Dominique Franks of Oklahoma.

Dimitroff picked Montana safety Shann Schillinger in the sixth round.

The Falcons may have an opening at defensive end. John Abraham is established at one end. Jamaal Anderson, the team’s 2007 first-round pick, has only 2 1/2 sacks in three years and is bulking up in the offseason to play end and defensive tackle.

Dimitroff said the Falcons “feel very strongly about our young guys” at defensive end, including Kroy Biermann, who had five sacks as a backup last season, Lawrence Sidbury and Chauncey Davis.

The Falcons needed a center as the future replacement for 33-year-old starter Todd McClure. Hawley (6-3, 297) started at guard and center at UNLV.

Franks (5-11, 194) may make his first impact as a return specialist. He returned kickoffs and punts at Oklahoma.

“Mr. Dimitroff said there is a possibility I could be returning kicks as well,” Franks said in a telephone interview.

The Falcons, who finished 28th in the league against the pass last season, signed free-agent cornerback Dunta Robinson to a six-year, $57 million deal last month.

The Falcons traded a lower fifth-round choice and their last of two sixth-round picks to the Rams for the fourth pick of the fifth round, No. 135 overall, to select Franks.

The Falcons did not have picks in the second or seventh rounds.

Dimitroff selected defensive players with seven of eight picks last year and said “it was incredibly refreshing” to have a more balanced draft class this year.
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