Falcons choose cornerback Michael Booker of Nebraska in first round
SUWANEE, Ga. (AP) _ Early in the week, Atlanta coach Dan Reeves said defensive back would be a top priority for the Falcons in Saturday’s NFL draft. Then he addressed the need, selecting cornerback Michael Booker of Nebraska with the 11th pick in the first round.
``This was an excellent pick for us,″ Reeves said. ``He fits a need.″
The Falcons, 3-13 last season, had the third overall choice in the draft, but traded that pick away to Seattle as well as a third-round choice in exchange for the Seahawks’ picks in each of the first four rounds. Booker was the first of those picks, the 11th choice in the draft.
Overall, the Falcons had eight picks in the two-day draft, which ends Sunday, including four of the first 70 selections in the opening three rounds held Saturday.
The Falcons had two selections in the second round.
With their first pick in Round 2, the 32nd overall choice, the Falcons took defensive tackle Nathan Davis of Indiana, a 6-foot-5, 312-pounder.
Atlanta then took Texas Tech running back Byron Hanspard with its second pick of the round, acquired from Seattle, No. 41 overall. The 5-10, 198-pound Hanspard ran for 2,084 yards last season.
In the third round, Atlanta took O.J. Santiago, a 6-6, 267-pound tight end from Kent University. He caught 26 passes for 339 yards and two touchdowns last season.
``We thought about Hanspard with our second pick but there were other needs that had to be addressed,″ said Reeves.
When Hanspard was still available in the second round, Reeves had no choice.
``He was too good a back to to pass up,″ he said.
Booker, at 6-foot-1, 203 pounds was one of the bigger defensive backs available, which was something Reeves was seeking.
``He’s a quality defensive back,″ Reeves said. ``The great thing about him is his size and he can run (4.47 in the 40-yard dash). He can match up with the bigger receivers in the NFL.″
Atlanta, which will switch from the run-and-shoot offense to a more conventional one under Reeves, necessitating a tight end, thought about taking Tony Gonzalez of California in the opening round.
``It was close. But I just think from a need standpoint, we need defensive backs badly, and that was the major deciding factor,″ said Reeves.
The Falcons hope Booker can start at right cornerback with another newcomer, free agent Ray Buchanan, on the left side.
Buchanan, a four-year veteran from Indianapolis and Booker can hopefully bolster a secondary that was one of the worst in the league, giving up 3,953 yards and 26 touchdowns with only six interceptions.
``With the signing earlier of Ray Buchanan and drafting Booker we have two guys coming in who (can play),″ Reeves said.
Davis, who is one of the fastest down linemen in the country, had a down season as a senior, recording only 34 tackles and four sacks after 60 tackles and six sacks as a junior.
He admitted motivation and lack of desire was a problem due to playing on losing teams at Indiana.
``Yea. I hate to admit it, but it was a problem,″ said Davis, a cousin of Cincinnati shortstop Barry Larkin. ``After the season I had a chance to reassess what was wrong with my attitude.″
Booker, a two-year starter at Nebraska, was named the most valuable player on defense in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl victory over Florida for the national championship. He was involved in 62 tackles with four interceptions in 1995 and 1996 with the Huskers.
Booker expects to see extensive playing time as a rookie.
``I’m prepared to play. I’ve played too long to sit (on the bench),″ Booker said.
The Falcons took another Nebraska defensive back, Bruce Pickens, with their No. 1 pick in 1991 but he turned out to be a bust.
Will history repeat itself?
``No. It won’t,″ said Booker.