Falcons coach Dan Quinn discusses cornerbacks as the NFL draft approaches. Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter.
Photo: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Cover 9@9: Quinn always on the lookout for corners and pass rushers

There are good offensive and defensive linemen available.

The wide receiver and cornerback groups are not very impressive. 

“It’s always the same excitement and enthusiasm as we go through the draft because that’s still the lifeblood of it,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “That’s where you’re going to build so much of your team and your roster.” 

Listened to the Falcons pre-draft presser several times.

Went back over it and just listened to what co-team builder/head coach/defensive coordinator Quinn had to say.

It’s pretty clear the Falcons are going to take a cornerback, offensive linemen and defensive end at some point in the draft.

The top pass rushers will be gone and it’s looking like 14 is too high for LSU cornerback Greedy Williams, who’s talented, but doesn’t play with the physicality that the Falcons like.

After the picks are made, we are going to hear a lot of “competitive toughness.” Williams just doesn’t have it.

The Falcons know that the cornerback group is not strong and have targeted all of the bigger corners like Kentucky’s Lonnie Johnson, Vanderbilt’s Joejuan Williams and Houston’s Isaiah Johnson. 

“Yes, there are some good corners in this draft,” Quinn insisted. “It is definitely something that you always want to keep your eye on. There are certain spots based on the amount of passing that the league is in, it’s over 60 percent. Rushers and corners are always at the front of your thinking. You better keep thinking that way.”

The Falcons let three of their top four cornerbacks walk and didn’t replace them in free agency. They are elevating Isaiah Oliver and moving Damontae Kazee back to his natural spot. 

“You’ve seen the speed of the receivers,” Quinn said. “You’ve seen some of the size of the receivers. What you often times think about, who would match up and guard different styles of players.

“When you’re playing a zone defense, you’re not playing man to man where the same thing is happening. You’re not in the guy’s face when you’re playing him man-to-man, you’re following this guy all over the field. Even as you’re going through the draft, you try to look at who would excel in certain things.”

The cornerback class is slow as a group. Not a good match for the fast receivers. Williams was the lone sub 4.4 cornerback at the combine.

“It would be awesome if everybody was ideal in everything, but you try to feature the players in the best ways and there are some good corners in this draft as well,” Quinn said. 

The Falcons added nine linemen in free agency. One thing that would make sense would be to get Alex Mack’s eventual replacement at center.

“We were as specific as we could be through free agency to find what we felt were the best fits for us, style, identity and physicality that we were looking for,” Quinn said. “It was a pretty specific goal in mind from the free agency side.” 

The Falcons know that offensive line is one of the strengths of this draft.

“I would say that we are gaining traction to where we’d like to be and the identity that we’d like to have,” Quinn said of the free agents offensive linemen signed. “But, by no means are we finished in the development of that position (group). 

“I think it’s always one that you’re constantly trying to churn into and so because of the nature of having five guys. It’s the biggest position generally on your team in terms of depth and finding the big humans on the earth who can really move and get after it, that’s hard.

There will be a run on linemen in the draft, it’s just a matter of when.

“So, the supply and demand is there,” Quinn said. “It’s nice to know that in this class there are some guys (who can play). Maybe over the past couple of years, the numbers weren’t quite as high.”

The Falcons will fill their needs in the draft. They will not go best-player available.

“As you’re going through it, you’re just trying to find the best fits for the team,” Quinn said. “That’s what it always come back to, the team. How do we constantly push the team to see how we can improve. 

If it works that player that you are going to select in that window can help the team, the best at that moment, then you let it rip.”

Quinn is ready for this vital draft.

“Five years in, I have a better appreciation for the process than I’ve ever have,” Quinn said.

2. Garland to 49ers: Former Falcons reserve guard Ben Garland signed with the San Francisco 49ers on Tuesday.

Garland, who played in 46 games and made seven starts for the Falcons, was a free agent. 

Garland had signed a tender worth just under $3 million to play for Atlanta last season.

He was one of the six players to start at guard for the Falcons last season when the team gave up 108 quarterback hits and was ranked 31st in the league in stuffed-runs for no gain or losses. 

Garland, who played at Air Force, broke into the NFL in 2012, signing with the Broncos as a practice squad player. 

He originally was a defensive lineman for the Falcons.

3. Making moves. The Falcons are making moves right up until the start of the draft.

On Monday, the Falcons signed safety J.J. Wilcox, who played at Georgia Southern, and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett signed his $15.2 million franchise tag, while the team will continue to work on a long-term deal before the July 15 deadline.

Also, the negotiations with wide receiver Julio Jones are heating up and likely will be completed after the draft.

4. Picks: Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, who’s 10-for-10 on making trades during the draft, will enter this one with nine picks, including the 14th overall. 

The Falcons have three picks among the top 80.
Round 1, No. 14 overall
Round 2, No. 45 overall
Round 3, No. 79 overall
Round 4, No. 117 overall
Round 4, No. 137 overall (compensatory)
Round 5, No. 152 overall
Round 5, No. 172 overall (compensatory)
Round 6, No. 186 overall
Round 7, No. 230 overall

5. Draft board: The Falcons have been openly talking about the strength of the defensive and offensive linemen in the draft. 

Despite re-stocking the trenches in free agency with five offensive linemen (counting blocking tight end Luke Stocker) and four defensive linemen, the Falcons have heavily scouted the both groups.

But that could be a smoke screen as they have other needs. 

6. Bulldog nation. The Falcons appear set to draft a Georgia Bulldog for the first time since 2011. Cornerback Deandre Baker is projected to be on the board when they select 14th. 

Also, receiver/returner Mecole Hardman impressed them and could go as high as the third round.

Linebacker D’Andre Walker met with the Falcons, while defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter, running back Evander Holyfield, guard Lamont Gilliard, guard Kendall Baker, long snapper Nick Moore, tight end Jackson Harris, tight end Isaac Nauta, wide receiver Riley Ridley, wide receiver Terry Godwin, linebacker Natrez Patrick and wide receiver Jayson Stanley all were at the Falcons’ locals day. 

7. Trading record.  A closer look at Dimitroff’s trading record reveals that the Falcons  will try to trade up to get their player in the first round. They’ve made 10 trades to move up and four trades to move down under Dimitroff.

The Falcons have traded up in the first round four times; in 2017 to get defensive end Takkarist McKinley, in 2013 to get cornerback Desmond Trufant, in 2011 to get wide receiver Julio Jones and in 2008 to get offensive tackle Sam Baker. 

8. Falcons’ draft needs. Falcons coach Dan Quinn was open about the team needs when he said, “Defensive ends and corners, are always something, and in the secondary as well — adding depth at strong safety.” We took a look at the  teams’ needs in a five part series that concludes today with the cornerbacks. 

9. Depth chart. Here’s the updated depth chart heading into the draft: 

Offense

WR 11 Julio Jones, 14, Justin Hardy, 83 Russell Gage, 16 Christian Blake 
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 73 John Wetzel, 77 Matt Gono 
LG James Carpenter, 71 Wes Schweitzer, 60 Adam Gettis
C 51 Alex Mack, 71 Wes Schweitzer
RG 68 Jamon Brown, 65 Brandon Fusco, 64 Sean Harlow 
RT 74 Ty Sambrailo, 77 Matt Gono
TE 81 Austin Hooper, 88 Luke Stocker, 82 Logan Paulsen, 85 Eric Saubert, 87 Jaeden Graham, 89 Alex Gray 
WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 18 Calvin Ridley, 7 Devin Gray 
QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub, 6 Kurt Benkert
RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 25 Ito Smith, 32 Brian Hill, 38 Kenjon Barner, 43 Jeremy Langford
FB 30 Ricky Ortiz, 88 Luke Stocker 

Defense

DE 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 56 Steven Means, Chris Odom
DT 96 Tyeler Davison, 94 Deadrin Senat, Ra’Shede Hageman, 93 Michael Bennett, 79 Jacob Tuioti-Mariner 
DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 95 Jack Crawford, 79 Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, 92 Justin Zimmer 
DE 98 Takk McKinley, 99 Adrian Clayborn
WLB 54 Foyesade Olukon, 42 Duke Riley 
MLB 45 Deion Jones, 55 Bruce Carter 
SLB 59 De’Vondre Campbell, 36 Kemal Ishmael, 53 Jermaine Grace 
CB 20 Isaiah Oliver, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson
NCB 27 Damontae Kazee, 
CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 38 Taveze Calhoun 
FS 37 Ricardo Allen, 41 Sharrod Neasman, Afolabi Laguda 
SS 22 Keanu Neal, J.J. Wilcox, 40 Ryan Neal, Chris Cooper 

Specialists

K 4 Giorgio Tavecchio
KO 5 Matt Bosher 
P 5 Matt Bosher 
KR 38 Kenjon Barner, 14 Calvin Ridley
PR 14 Justin Hardy, 38 Kenjon Barner 
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 5 Matt Bosher

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About the Author

D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter is the Atlanta Falcons beat writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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