For the second straight year, defense was the early priority in the NFL draft for coach Dan Quinn and the Atlanta Falcons.
The Falcons chose Minnesota linebacker DeVondre Campbell in the fourth round on Saturday. Campbell was the third defensive player and second linebacker taken in Atlanta’s first four picks.
Campbell (6-4, 232) adds size, versatility and potential pass-rush skills with his speed to the Atlanta defense. He led Minnesota with four sacks in 2015.
The Falcons drafted Florida safety Keanu Neal in the first round and LSU linebacker Deion Jones in the second. They veered from their defensive focus by drafting Stanford tight end Austin Hooper in the third round.
General manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Dan Quinn addressed offensive needs with the team’s last two picks — San Jose State offensive guard Wes Schweitzer in the sixth round and UCLA wide receiver Devin Fuller in the seventh round.
Dimitroff said there was balance in the team’s draft, thanks to the late picks on offense.
“We talked from the beginning of this process we were going to be balanced and we were going to be open to the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, and we felt we did that with three on each side,” Dimitroff said.
Dimitroff said each pick adds “speed, athleticism, character, passion and competitiveness.”
In Quinn’s first draft last year, four of seven picks were defensive players, including outside linebacker Vic Beasley Jr. in the first round.
Campbell, who was timed at 4.58 seconds in the 40-yard dash, addresses Quinn’s requests for speed and toughness.
Campbell said his biggest strength is his versatility to play all three linebacker positions, but he will be used primarily at the will linebacker. Justin Durant, the 2015 starter, was released.
Campbell has trained with former Falcons defensive end Chuck Smith in the offseason. Campbell said the focus was on taking advantage of his speed on his pass rush.
“That was one of the things I knew I needed to work on because I have the skillset to be a dominant pass rusher,” Campbell said in a telephone interview.
A demonstration of pass-rush skills could help Campbell earn immediate playing time. The Falcons finished last in the league in sacks in 2015 and have ranked no higher than 28th since 2012.
Minnesota head coach Tracy Claeys said Campbell “can cover a lot of field and make plays. You cannot teach height and speed and he has plenty of both.”
Schweitzer (6-5, 314) played left tackle at San Jose State but will play guard with Atlanta. Falcons assistant offensive line coach Keith Carter was Schweitzer’s former position coach at San Jose State.
Fuller (6-0, 200) adds standout speed. He was timed at 4.39 seconds in the 40 at his pro day. He also returned punts and kickoffs at UCLA. He started only seven games as a senior due to head and ankle injuries and had 24 catches for 259 yards and three touchdowns.
Atlanta was stripped of its fifth-round pick as part of penalties for pumping artificial crowd noise into the Georgia Dome in the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
The Falcons traded their sixth-round pick to Tennessee last year as part of a package for left guard Andy Levitre. They added a sixth-round pick by moving down two spots in the second round in a trade with Houston on Friday.