The Atlanta Journal-Constitution did a good job covering the Falcons over the weekend at the Combine, providing us with some good quotes from both coach Mike Smith and GM Thomas Dimitroff.
But it is interesting that beat writer D. Orlando Ledbetter published on Monday that among the five things we learned from the Combine, one of them was that the team would not be selecting a pass rusher in the first round.
I think it certainly is possible that the Falcons could pass on a pass rusher with their top pick. But I doubt it has much to do with the fact that the team believes that Peria Jerry’s return the lineup suddenly fixes their defensive end position, which is what the quote from Thomas Dimitroff given to Ledbetter seems to imply.
Now, since I was not in Indianapolis to hear the exact context and content of his conversation with Dimitroff, I can’t be sure. But judging from the statement released in the paper, Dimitroff’s quote doesn’t seem to rule out the team drafting a defensive end. Here is the exact quote released:
“My feeling is this, last year we drafted Peria Jerry in the first round,” Dimitroff said. “Unfortunately for us he was injured. He was really coming along well. He was going to help create some pass rush up the middle. Obviously, he was going to free something up on the outside. We felt John Abraham was going to continue to get up field, as well as Kroy Biermann and some of our other young guys on the outside.”
What is interesting to me is that in his comments to the media a few days before, Smith seemed to indicate that addressing the pass rush would be a priority. Here is Smith’s quote:
“We’ve spent a major part of our offseason evaluating what we do. Watching the cut ups. I felt that as the season wore on, we got better and better on defense. We finished against the run No. 10 in the league. I felt that was something that we improved on immensely as the season went on. We did not play the pass as well as we’d like. It’s something that we definitely have to address. Statistically we were not close to where we need to be or want to be. I think that’s twofold. One, we address the pass rush and number two, is that we improve our secondary play. Those are areas that we definitely will want to address.
I’m pleased with our young corners. Brent Grimes had six interceptions this season. Christopher Owens had an opportunity to play when our starter went down. I think that we have three young corners that can play and can continue to grow, but they are very, very young.”
It’s interesting that following that answer, a reporter asked him if addressing the pass rush, then secondary would be the order of priority, and you could tell from Smith’s reply that he might have been backtracking a bit in order to better mask the Falcons intentions. And it doesn’t seem coincidental to me that Dimitroff comes out with quotes two days later indicating that the Falcons won’t be addressing their pass rush, or at least interpreted that way.
It’s all the more interesting in that ESPN NFC South beat writer, Pat Yasinskas has continuously stated since the end of the season, that in his conversations with the top brass in Atlanta, that addressing the pass rush will be their biggest priority this off-season.
Now back to whether the Falcons will actually use a top pick on a defensive end. If the Falcons pass on a pass rusher, I don’t think it’s because they “like” their current group of ends. If the Falcons take a player at another position, it will likely have more to do with them liking that player than them liking their current group of ends.
I think there is a relatively high probability that the Falcons take an outside linebacker (e.g. Sean Weatherspoon) or cornerback (e.g. Kyle Wilson) with their top pick. But I think if they choose either player/position it will not be because they aren’t pass rushers, but instead feel both players are very good fits schematically and character-wise for what the Falcons are looking for at both positions and with their first pick.
I think in the chance that a player like Georgia Tech’s Derrick Morgan is available at the 19th pick, I think it would be very difficult for the Falcons to pass on him because you could say the exact same about him. As for the other defensive ends, I’m not sure any of them are as good fits as Weatherspoon, Wilson, or someone else might be. In the end, I think the Falcons will think whomever they deem to be the best player, that happens to play either defensive end, linebacker, or cornerback.
So in the end the Falcons might pass on a pass rusher in the opening stanza of the 2010 draft, but it won’t because they believe Peria Jerry is a cure-all for their defensive line. It’ll be because they don’t think the best pick/value plays that position.