Falcons eye big-play threat

GM Dimitroff says Atlanta needs 'more explosiveness'

ATLANTA --- Thomas Dimitroff is looking at more than just defensive ends as the Falcons' general manager considers his options for the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday night.


Sure, defensive end looks like a top need for the Falcons, who had only 31 sacks last season. That's only eight more than Denver's last-place total of 23.

There should be first-round talent at defensive end at the Falcons' No. 27 overall selection. Among the ends who may be available: Ohio State's Cameron Heyward, Georgia's Justin Houston, Arizona's Brooks Reed, Iowa's Adrian Clayborn, Wisconsin's J.J. Watt and UCLA's Akeem Ayers.

Most mock drafts have Dimitroff picking an end, but that also was the prediction a year ago, when instead he chose linebacker Sean Weatherspoon in the first round.

Dimitroff could provide an even bigger surprise this year.

"We need more explosiveness on both sides of the ball," Dimitroff said. "I can suggest everyone reading between the lines on that. People that are going to make big-time plays, both offensively and defensively."

The Falcons need another big-play receiver to join Roddy White. Kentucky's Randall Cobb and Maryland's Torrey Smith are receivers who could be available late in the first round.

The team also lacks speed at running back.

Starter Michael Turner and backup Jason Snelling are productive, powerful runners. Jerious Norwood, who is supposed to be the speedy complement to Turner, has been slowed by injuries.

The lockout has kept Dimitroff from talking with his players, including three starting free agents on the offensive line: guards Justin Blalock and Harvey Dahl and right tackle Tyson Clabo, who made the Pro Bowl last season.

Center is another question as starter Todd McClure is 34.

Another position to watch might be tight end. Tony Gonzalez, 35, has said a long lockout could affect his plans to play another year.

The Falcons' playoff loss to Green Bay highlighted the team's lack of depth in the secondary. Aaron Rodgers passed for 366 yards and three touchdowns against Atlanta.

"We know we need to continue to strengthen our secondary," Dimitroff said.

"I think as the dust settles a little more, you realize as a team that it's not like we need to make drastic wholesale changes, obviously. Does it bring to light some of the shortcomings we do have? No question about it."



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