Originally created 04/18/99

Falcons draft Kerney; trade top pick in 2000



ATLANTA -- Looking at two primary needs, Dan Reeves made two primary moves in the NFL draft Saturday afternoon.

The Atlanta Falcons' head coach and executive vice president initially coveted Wisconsin's Aaron Gibson and attempted to improve his team's spot in the first round so he could pick the massive offensive tackle.

That was not to be.

Forced to stand pat, the Falcons used their first-round pick -- 30th overall -- to select Virginia defensive end Patrick Kerney.

While that move offered no surprise, Reeves then pulled a shocker. The Falcons traded their first-round choice of 2000 to acquire Baltimore's second-round pick -- 42nd overall -- and selected the first tight end of the day in Mississippi State's Reginald Kelly.

"Defensive end and tight end are two positions that are traditionally very tough to fill through the draft," Reeves said. "What we want to do in every instance is upgrade the level of competition at each position."

By choosing Kelly, Reeves clearly was making two pronouncements. One, he believes the Falcons again will be a Super Bowl contender and thus are in no danger of plummeting in the standings and earning a high first-round pick next year.

Two, Reeves showed that he values his running game over his passing attack. Expected to seek a speedy receiver to replace the departed Tony Martin, the Falcons instead positioned themselves to bruise the opposition with a physical, two-tight end set that features Kelly and O.J. Santiago.

"It's rare that you can find a (rookie) tight end who can truly block," Reeves said. "This guy (Kelly) can move the pile. He's almost like the Gibson kid, who can cave in the whole side of the (defensive) line.

"He's not an H-back-type tight end like (Atlanta's) Brian Kozlowski. He can catch the ball, sure. But we liked him because of his ability to block."

With the Falcons' third selection and 92nd overall, Reeves continued honing his running game with the selection of fullback Jeff Paulk of Arizona State. Paulk will compete with starter Bob Christian, who is coming off reconstructive knee surgery.

The Falcons, who enter the 1999 season having to replace Martin, linebacker Cornelius Bennett, backup safety Devin Bush and reserve defensive ends John Burrough and Antonio Edwards, also wanted to match moves made by their NFC West rivals.

New Orleans traded its immediate future Saturday to select Heisman Trophy running back Ricky Williams, and St. Louis last week acquired former Pro Bowl running back Marshall Faulk from Indianapolis.

Reeves insisted the Falcons would continue to explore other opportunities to improve their draft standing in rounds four through seven today.

"You're always trying to move up and get good football players," said Reeves, whose team owns the 31st spot in each remaining round. "That's always the case."

The selection of Kerney was greeted with enthusiasm in Charlottesville, Va. Kerney is coming off an All-American senior season that was highlighted by an outstanding Peach Bowl performance.

"I know a lot of (Atlanta's) defensive line after this season will be free agents," said Kerney, who totaled 24 sacks in his four years. "And I think they're thinking that it's going to be difficult to keep them all. So I hope they're bringing me there to see a lot of action my first year."

Beaten out by Cleveland Saturday in their attempt to sign free agent defensive tackle Derrick Alexander of Minnesota, the Falcons are expected to announce today an agreement with Pellom McDaniels, a free agent defensive end from Kansas City.

Kelly wowed Atlanta scouts at the NFL combines earlier this year in Indianapolis. The All-SEC selection caught only 29 passes in his four years at Mississippi State but he averaged 16.3 yards a catch. Kelly also helped clear the way for the Bulldogs' James Johnson to lead the SEC in rushing.

"I'm pretty surprised, to be honest with you," said Kelly, who made the SEC's academic honor roll for three straight years. "But I can't wait. I'm really excited."