Falcons go with defense in 2nd, 3rd rounds of draft
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Falcons coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff turned their focus to defense in the second and third rounds of the NFL draft Friday night, adding depth with cornerback Isaiah Oliver and bringing aboard a potential starter in 300-pound tackle Deadrin Senat.
Defensive tackle was the team’s biggest need heading into the second day after Dontari Poe left as a free agent last month for Carolina, but Atlanta decided first to go with a cornerback, a position that was thinned after Jalen Collins, a second-round pick in 2015, played less than two full seasons after violating drug-testing rules.
Oliver, chosen in the second round at 58th overall out of Colorado, will slot in behind starting corners Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. Named first-team All-Pac 12 despite missing two games with a leg injury, Oliver had two interceptions and 15 passes defended last season.
“We think that he has some of the best ball skills in the draft, hands down,” Dimitroff said. “He’s a very talented, all-around versatile athlete.”
Oliver worked out for the Falcons last month at Colorado and felt he impressed the team.
“I would say it’s just my athleticism along with my refined technique,” Oliver said. “That’s something I’ve always worked on these last three years, especially just the little things — at the line of scrimmage, where I have my eyes, where I have my arms. I just try to make those things as crisp as possible to help me out on game day.”
Atlanta used the 90th overall pick to get an interior pass rusher. Senat, a 6-foot-1, 314-pound senior from South Florida, had six sacks in 12 games. He will compete with veteran Jack Crawford for the starting job alongside defensive line leader Grady Jarrett.
“We’re going to put him at nose tackle,” Quinn said. “He’s got really good quickness for a big guy.”
Under first-time coordinator Marquand Manuel last season, the Falcons’ defense was better than the year before, moving into the top 10 in scoring and total yards for the first time at the end of the regular season the 1998 Falcons advanced to the Super Bowl.
The difference came in giving up less explosive plays. Atlanta improved 15 spots to rank No. 8 in passes allowed of at least 20 yards and went from 25th to No. 2 in runs allowed of at least 20 yards.
The Falcons’ first-round pick, former Alabama receiver Calvin Ridley toured team headquarters earlier in the day, taking pictures with Quinn and Dimitroff and showing off his new No. 18 jersey.
Ridley, drafted No. 26 overall, was the second receiver picked in the first round, two spots after Maryland’s D.J. Moore went to Carolina.
Ridley insists his chief concern was getting drafted by a team that will let him fit in quickly, but he’s also ready to prove that a lot of clubs were mistaken to pass him up.
“I definitely can play in and outside,” Ridley said. “I just want to prove the doubters wrong, you know, that I am the best receiver in the draft, that I am a great player and that I can walk into any situation and be a great player.”
Ridley gives the passing attack fills a big need — a second deep threat to pair with Julio Jones, a two-time All-Pro and a five-time Pro Bowl selection. Mohamed Sanu is a strong veteran presence as a possession receiver, but Atlanta wants to take some pressure off Jones while wearing down a secondary.
Quinn believes Ridley has just the right mix of game-changing speed and underestimated strength at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds.
“The main reason is he can really get lateral,” Quinn said. “He can really break. He’s hard to press because of that ability, but he’s more wiry strong than small. He’s not little. He’s not big. He’s just strong.”
The offense needed a spark after dropping from first to 15th in scoring last year as opponents held Jones to just three touchdowns and the running back tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman missed time with concussions.
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL