Falcons stay focused on defense in NFL draft
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff had two major goals heading into the NFL draft — get a starting cornerback and bolster his reserves on defense.
Trading up eight spots in the first round to select cornerback Desmond Trufant solved the Falcons’ biggest need, but Dimitroff used five of Atlanta’s next seven picks to give the defensive roster some depth.
“We feel like we accomplished a lot of our needs,” Dimitroff said. “We got down and dirty and got after some people, and we think we’ve acquired a number of people through the draft that are going to help us and make this football team. All in all, it was a big success for us at this point.”
After picking Trufant and cornerback Robert Alford in the first two rounds, Dimitroff kept his focus on defense Saturday, picking defensive end Malliciah Goodman of Clemson in the fourth round and Stansly Maponga of TCU in the fifth.
In the seventh round, the Falcons used consecutive compensatory picks on safeties Kemal Ishmael of Central Florida and Zeke Motta of Notre Dame.
Atlanta used a pair of compensatory picks to bolster the offense, taking Stanford tight end Levine Toilolo in the fourth round and Duke quarterback Sean Renfree in the seventh.
But Dimitroff’s mission the last three days was to help a defense that ranked 24th in total yards last season and lost four key players during the offseason.
Defensive end John Abraham, the NFL’s active sacks leader, and cornerback Dunta Robinson were released in moves to relieve salary cap space. Not long after, cornerbacks Brent Grimes and Christopher Owens left as free agents.
Atlanta filled Abraham’s job at right end by bringing in longtime New York Giants star Osi Umenyiora as a free agent, and the team re-signed strong safety William Moore, but depth was an issue on the line and in the secondary before the draft.
Goodman (6-foot-4, 276 pounds) started the last two years at Clemson. He said that coach Mike Smith told him he will compete for the starting job at left end.
Sixth-year veteran Kroy Biermann took over at left end last November when high-priced Ray Edwards was surprisingly released. Biermann might retain the job, but he is valuable on special teams and has best helped the defense in past years with limited snaps.
Goodman and Maponga will join the depth chart at end alongside Jonathan Massaquoi, a fifth-round pick last year, and Cliff Matthews, a seventh-rounder in 2011, behind Umenyiora and Biermann.
At Clemson, Goodman learned his position under Da’Quan Bowers, a second-rounder in 2011 for Tampa Bay, and Andre Branch, a second-rounder for Jacksonville last year
Goodman, who had seven sacks last season and whose eight career forced fumbles rank third in Clemson history, set a single-season school mark two years ago by playing 767 snaps in 14 games.
“It was a little rough from a legs point of view, but I managed through that and didn’t have any injuries through that,” Goodman said. “I kept my body healthy and had a pretty productive year.”
To get Maponga, the Falcons swapped fifth-round spots with Chicago and sent the Bears a seventh-round pick.
Maponga said he’s fully recovered from left foot surgery last month. The 6-foot-2, 256-pounder missed two of 11 games last season at TCU, finishing with four sacks and 6.5 tackles for negative yardage. He was named first-team All-Big 12.
“He’s got nice speed, nice ability to turn the corner,” Dimitroff said. “He’s your prototypical pass rush specialist. We’re confident he’ll be ready to go full speed when the season begins.”
Maponga said that NFL scouts projected him as both an end and an outside linebacker, but the Falcons drafted him to play the right side behind Umenyiora as a designated pass rusher.
“I’m ready for that,” Maponga said. “I’m ready to come in and show off my skills.”
The 6-foot-8, 260-pound Toilolo (pronounced Toy-lo-lo) was Atlanta’s first offensive player of the draft. He will have a chance to be mentored by 13-time Pro Bowl selection Tony Gonzalez, who put off his retirement plans to return for the 2013 season.
Toilolo had 24 catches for 393 yards and four touchdowns in 2012. He had 10 career touchdown catches.
Renfree’s stock dropped in the draft because of shoulder injury he sustained in the postseason Belk Bowl, keeping him out of the NFL combine and Duke’s pro day.
But that setback didn’t hurt the 6-foot-5, 225-pounder in Dimitroff’s mind, particularly considering that Renfree completed 297 of 442 passes for 3,113 yards, 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last year.
Renfree provides needed depth at quarterback behind Pro Bowl starter Matt Ryan. Dominique Davis, a former undrafted college free agent who did not take a snap last season as a rookie, is the only other QB on the roster.
Last year’s No. 2 quarterback, Luke McCown, signed as a free agent with New Orleans. The Falcons are likely to sign a veteran primary backup to Ryan before the start of training camp.
Dimitroff said that Motta will compete with Shann Schillinger for snaps behind starting strong safety William Moore and added that Ishmael will compete with Charles Mitchell for snaps behind starting free safety Thomas DeCoud.