FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — The Atlanta Falcons have an advantage over most teams that have the No. 6 pick in the NFL Draft. The Falcons already have their franchise quarterback.
Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said he appreciates being free to consider talented options he can add to an Atlanta roster that already includes Matt Ryan.
“Rarely are you sitting at 6 when you’re not looking for a quarterback,” Dimitroff said. “The fact we have our franchise quarterback and we’re dabbling around in the top 10 is something that is very encouraging to me.”
Perhaps the most obvious option is to find better protection for Ryan by selecting one of the top offensive tackles in the draft. But Dimitroff said he also sees pass rushers, linebackers and wide receivers among the top 10 picks in the draft.
“It’s a very accomplished top 10,” Dimitroff said.
Ryan signed a $104 million extension before last season and then was sacked 44 times, a career high. The Falcons’ troubled offensive line couldn’t protect Ryan or improve the league’s worst rushing attack.
The Falcons could help protect the big investment in Ryan by drafting an offensive tackle.
Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews and Michigan’s Taylor Lewan may be available at No. 6. Most mock drafts have Auburn’s Greg Robinson being selected in the top five picks.
“They’re all big, they’re all strong, they’re all athletic, they’re all really good football players with upside,” Dimitroff said. “They all come to the table with something a little bit different.”
Here are five things to know about the Falcons’ draft:
BOLD MOVE: Dimitroff has proved he’s not reluctant to make bold moves in the draft. Perhaps his biggest gamble would be to pull off a monster trade with Houston, which has the No. 1 overall pick, to select South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. There is a definite need at the position after the Falcons had only 32 sacks last season, tied for the third fewest in the league.
The Falcons have 10 picks, so they could offer a package to Houston. But an Atlanta team coming off a 4-12 season may have too many needs to afford committing a significant part of the draft to one player, even one as talented as Clowney.
EXPECT A TRADE: Even if he doesn’t move up to the top overall pick, expect Dimitroff to be active. The Falcons have made a trade in each of his first six drafts with Atlanta. Usually the GM has moved up with trades. This year he could look to add even more depth to his draft by trading down – especially after the first round.
Dimitroff said being near the top of every round “is important for us.”
“We’ve rarely had that,” he said. “The opportunity to be at the top of (the second through fourth rounds) is something that could be very beneficial for us. Not only the opportunity to draft there but the opportunity to potentially move back because a lot of teams will be interested in messing around up in that area, so to speak.”
TOP 10 HITS: Dimitroff has had success in his only other chances to select a player as high as No. 6. In 2008, his first draft with the Falcons, Ryan was the No. 3 overall pick. In 2011, he traded a package of five picks to move up and select receiver Julio Jones, who made the Pro Bowl the following year.
Some say Jones’ season-ending foot injury in 2013 supported criticisms that Atlanta gave up too much for the receiver. Dimitroff said he remains “completely at ease” with the trade for Jones, who is expected to be ready for the 2014 season.
LOOKING FOR A RB: Backup running back Jason Snelling has retired. Starter Steven Jackson will be 31 at the start of the season and missed four games with a hamstring injury last season. Jacquizz Rodgers returns behind Jackson, but help is needed at the position.
NEW FACE IN DRAFT ROOM: Dimitroff has been reunited with Scott Pioli, the team’s new assistant general manager. The two began their careers together in Cleveland, working under coach Bill Belichick in the early 1990s. Pioli and Dimitroff also worked together on New England staffs that won Super Bowls in the 2003 and ’04 seasons. Pioli was let go as Kansas City’s general manager following the 2012 season.