FLOWERY BRANCH — Thomas Dimitroff faces a crucial decision Saturday with the Atlanta Falcons holding the third pick in the NFL draft.
Does Dimitroff, in his first year as general manager, select Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan to further distance the Falcons from the Michael Vick era?
Would defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey of Louisiana State be the wise choice, especially since the Falcons could take a quarterback with one of their three second-round picks?
Other possibilities may include Virginia defensive end Chris Long, Arkansas running back Darren McFadden and Ohio State defensive end Vernon Gholston.
The Miami Dolphins, who have the first pick, have been in negotiations with Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long.
The Falcons, who were 4-12 in 2007, are rebuilding under Dimitroff and new coach Mike Smith after cutting Warrick Dunn, Alge Crumpler and Rod Coleman, and trading DeAngelo Hall.
On Monday, Dimitroff hinted he also may have the option of trading the No. 3 pick. Only two weeks after he said he had no offers for the pick, Dimitroff said he has had interest from other teams.
“Right now there’s nothing concrete at all,” Dimitroff said of talks with teams interested in moving up in the first round.
“We’ve obviously gotten phone calls,” Dimitroff said. “I don’t want to necessarily mention who they are right now, but there’s definitely been some interest.”
There has been speculation that last week’s retirement announcement by Baltimore quarterback Steve McNair may lead the Ravens to try to move up from their No. 8 spot to take Ryan.
Asked if McNair’s retirement could affect the interest in quarterbacks in the first round, Dimitroff said,
“I’ve seen it written that it will. I’m not necessarily sure. Nothing has been indicated to me otherwise.”
Dimitroff and Smith have said the Falcons definitely will draft a quarterback. They could wait until later in the draft to consider other quarterbacks, including Louisville’s Brian Brohm, Michigan’s Chad Henne, Delaware’s Joe Flacco or Kentucky’s Andre Woodson.
Dimitroff and Smith wouldn’t reveal their rankings of quarterbacks or say if they believe there’s a big gap between Ryan and other quarterbacks on their draft board.
The Falcons used three starting quarterbacks — Joey Harrington, Byron Leftwich and Chris Redman — last season. Vick, the team’s former star, is serving a 23-month prison term after pleading guilty to federal charges for his involvment in a dogfighting operation.
Redman and Harrington shared the work in a three-day minicamp this month. D.J. Shockley is returning from knee surgery.
“I thought both Chris and Joey did a nice job,” Smith said. “I think D.J. is close to coming back.
“There are some good quarterbacks out there. I think there are a number of quarterbacks who are draftable quarterbacks.”
Smith said there may be different opinions around the league about the quarterbacks who will follow Ryan in the draft.
“I think everybody has guys ranked a little bit differently in terms of the order,” Smith said. “We put our list together.”
Teams will have 10 minutes, instead of 15, to make first-round picks and seven minutes, instead of 10, in the second round.
Dimitroff said the faster pace of the draft could lead to more deals being made before Saturday.
“I think it’s going to be a little more heated,” he said. “I think you’ll have a lot more competitiveness in my mind prior to the draft as well, because I think people will be sort of working these deals prior to the kickoff of the draft. I think there’s already a lot of competitive juices flowing.”
The Falcons have 11 picks overall, including four in the first two rounds and seven of the first 103 picks.
Dimitroff, 41, has been groomed for this chance to direct his first draft. He has worked in player personnel for 18 years, including the last five years as New England’s director of college scouting. His father, Tom Dimitroff, was the longtime scout for the Cleveland Browns.
Dimitroff said his draft will be “system specific” and “needs based.” Instead of drafting the highest rated player on the board, regardless of position, Dimitroff said he will look for the best players who can fill needs in the Falcons’ system.
“We’ve stepped back and looked at every position on our roster,” Dimitroff said. “I know this seems evasive, but every position is up for recalibration and reconsideration.”
The Falcons have added free-agent kicker Jason Elam, running back Michael Turner and free safety Erik Coleman. Jerious Norwood returns at running back.