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Falcons looking for better balance in draft
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FLOWERY BRANCH — Thomas Dimitroff finally gets to pick from a full deck of players.

Dimitroff, Atlanta's third-year general manager, says he had to practically eliminate half the draft pool the past two years. The Falcons' emphasis was offense in 2008, when quarterback Matt Ryan and offensive tackle Sam Baker were the first-round picks.

The team took defensive players with seven of eight picks last year.

Beginning with the Falcons' No. 19 overall pick in the first round Thursday night, Dimitroff hopes to bring a more balanced class of rookies to Atlanta.

"It's going to be fun to jump back and take in the big picture and there will be some serious possibilities on both sides of the ball, whether it's early in the draft or whether it's late," Dimitroff said.

Dimitroff may look for pass-rush help with its opening pick. Two possibilities are Michigan defensive end Brandon Graham and Missouri outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon.

Dimitroff said 19 of 20 mock drafts he has seen have the Falcons taking Graham. He said Graham is "obviously a very good football player." But he added: "We're not locked in on Brandon Graham."

The Falcons may need a new defensive end to join John Abraham on the four-man front. Jamaal Anderson, the team's 2007 first-round pick, has only 21/2 sacks in three years and will see more time at defensive tackle.

"Jamaal right now is working hard to put on some bulk to know that he's going to be in a situation where he'll swing inside and be expected to be outside as well," Dimitroff said. "I know we're in a spot right now to continue to get him more reps inside."

Coach Mike Smith said 2009 first-round pick Peria Jerry, the defensive tackle who missed most of his rookie season with a knee injury, can help the ends by boosting the inside pass rush.

"Sometimes we missed pressure up the middle when Peria Jerry went down," Smith said. "We felt like he was really coming along and could win some of those one-on-one battles."

Dimitroff said he's open to taking an offensive player, even a lineman, in the first round. Florida's Markuis Pouncey, who can play guard and center, is a possibility. Falcons starting center Todd McClure is 33.

"A (lineman) you'd consider at 19 would have to be a player who has dual-position value, a player who could come in and possibly start at one position and move to another position if the opportunity presented itself," Dimitroff said.

A possible long shot is Oklahoma tight end Jermaine Greshman, who visited the Falcons for a workout and would be viewed as the longtime successor for 34-year-old Tony Gonzalez.

The Falcons filled a top need by signing free-agent cornerback Dunta Robinson to a six-year, $57 million deal in March.
"What it really did was it did change the approach of this draft, drastically in my mind," Dimitroff said of Robinson. "It allowed us to pull back and truly contemplate the offensive side of the ball early as well."

Ryan said the Falcons, coming off back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in franchise history, no longer have to depend on rookie starters. Ryan and Baker started as rookies in 2008.

"There were a lot of things that needed to get put in place a couple years back," said Ryan, two years after he was the No. 3 overall pick.

Ryan, the 2008 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, is the new face of the Falcons who also is a big name away from Atlanta. EA Sports invited Ryan, Derek Jeter and Wayne Gretzky to New York last week for its "Champions of Gaming" show.

"At this point I really feel like we've got the right pieces in the right places — and we're young, too," Ryan said. "We need to add depth, for sure, and we need to fill in some holes, but I feel like we've got a very young, very talented team that's capable of playing well next year."

The new prime-time format for the first two nights of the draft provides a good setting for a wider TV audience to watch trades develop. Dimitroff says "we decided as an organization" to allow the NFL Network to have a camera — but no microphone — in the team's draft room for picks 17 through 19.

Dimitroff acknowledged the decision to grant TV access is a surprise "because I'm quite guarded about the draft room."

The GM said he is "definitely very interested" in trading down in the first round to add a second-round pick. The Falcons gave up this year's second-round pick in last year's trade for Gonzalez.

Dimitroff, the former director of college scouting with the Patriots, named New England, Philadelphia, Denver and Tampa Bay as teams which might give up a second-round selection.

"Again, because this is a strong draft and there are some very good picks, we feel, in that 19 to 32 area as well as definitely into the second and third round, it's definitely worthy of discussion," he said.

Added Smith, who joins Dimitroff in the draft decisions: "There's going to be value in all rounds at all positions."
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