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After tough season, Falcons facing greater urgency in draft

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

By PAUL NEWBERRY

AP Sports Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) The Atlanta Falcons spent the past couple of drafts filling in the pieces on a team with championship aspirations.

This time around, they're coming off a hugely disappointing season that turned up the heat on coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff.

The Falcons have the 14th overall pick in next week's draft - their earliest selection since 2015, when they took Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley at No. 8.

Despite a 7-9 record in 2018, which led to the ouster of all three coordinators, Dimitroff said there is no greater sense of urgency than other drafts. Just two seasons removed from a trip to the Super Bowl, he still feels the Falcons have the nucleus to reclaim their place as one of the league's better teams, especially after addressing some of the most pressing needs in free agency.

"We're going into the draft in a really good place," Dimitroff said. "We don't feel the same amount of pressure going into the draft having to get all these depth areas taken care of. That's a good feeling."

This is the fifth draft together for Dimitroff, the Falcons' GM since 2008, and Quinn, who came aboard as head coach in 2015. The two take a collective approach to making their choices, which seems to work well for both.

"We all have our hands in it," Dimitroff said. "This is not an organization where you have one guy pounding their fist on the table."

The Falcons' success on the first night of the draft may be determined by how many quarterbacks are selected in the first 13 picks. Oklahoma's Kyler Murray, Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins and Missouri's Drew Lock have all been mentioned as potential top 10 picks.

Atlanta, of course, is set at quarterback with 2016 MVP Matt Ryan and veteran backup Matt Schaub. Quinn jokingly lobbied for other teams to gobble up as many quarterbacks as possible before the Falcons get their turn.

"This is one of the best quarterback classes I've seen since 1983," Quinn said, with tongue planted firmly in cheek. "It's really, really something to behold."

Here are some things to watch for when it's the Falcons' time to pick:

BULKING UP

After a devastating rash of injuries gutted both sides of the line, the Falcons learned the hard way there's no such thing as too much depth. Even though they signed guards James Carpenter and Jamon Brown in free agency, and also brought back defensive end Adrian Clayborn, the Falcons will be looking for more big bodies in the draft.

If Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins or Alabama offensive tackle Jonah Williams falls their way, it would be hard to pass up - especially on the offensive side, where the Falcons must do a better job of protecting Ryan.

"It's a big year for offensive linemen," said Dimitroff, who thinks as many as 10 could go in the opening round. "It's not only a big year for number of tackles, but this is a year when several guards could fall in the first round as well."

THIN CORNER

The Falcons parted ways with three of their top four cornerbacks from 2018, including longtime starter Robert Alford, making this a top draft priority. Atlanta always seems to select a player from LSU, so Greedy Williams could be on the radar. Georgia's Deandre Baker is another player to keep an eye on.

"It's not necessarily a fast group," Dimitroff pointed out. "That said, there are some really good corners. Just because their (40-yard) times are in the 4.5s doesn't mean they won't be effective in this league."

EYES ON THE BACKFIELD

Running back Devonta Freeman has endured two straight injury-plagued seasons, and the Falcons no longer have insurance policy Tevin Coleman, who left in free agency to sign with the 49ers. Atlanta will likely be looking for another running back on the second or third day of the draft.

PLAYING IT SAFE

With starting safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen both coming off major injuries, Quinn acknowledged that the team might be looking to add to its depth in that area.

"That's an important position, and it's evolved more," said the coach, who is taking on the added duties of defensive coordinator. "People are using a third safety more than they have in the past."

TRADING THOMAS

Dimitroff loves to wheel and deal on draft day, and he's got extra picks to work with in the fourth and fifth rounds, a total of nine selections in all. While a major deal seems unlikely, look for the Falcons to do some maneuvering to get the players they want.

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paul%20newberry

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Updated April 18, 2019

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