Guerry Clegg commentary: Smart draft picks will benefit Falcons

sports@ledger-enquirer.comApril 27, 2013 

I don't know if Desmond Trufant and/or Robert Alford will be the next Deion Sanders or the next Charles Dimry or somewhere in between those two terminal points on the competence spectrum of Atlanta Falcons cornerbacks.

Truth be told, no one does. Not Mel Kiper Jr., Todd McShay or any of the others who get paid to make such assessments. Not even Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff or head coach Mike Smith, men far more qualified to make such judgments, and the ones that bear the weight of such decisions.

But this is what we do know. The Falcons had NEVER produced consecutive winning seasons in their 43 seasons of existence before Dimitroff and Smith were hired. They've produced five consecutive winning seasons since their arrival. Their 56 regular season wins is the most in the entire NFL over that period. They are the antithesis of the Ken Herock-Jerry Glanville feud that cost the franchise Brett Favre. This is the tandem that elected to build around Matt Ryan, that traded for Michael Turner and signed Tony Gonzales, and that boldly traded up to get Julio Jones.

That's not to say they haven't made mistakes. Ray Edwards and Dunta Robinson were high cost, low return free agent signees. Peria Jerry, their top pick in 2009, hasn't been the player they expected, especially considering that Clay Matthews went to the Packers two picks later. But all in all, Dimitroff and Smith and the rest of the Falcons organization have demonstrated they know what they're doing.

The most encouraging thing is this: Soon after they lost the NFC Championship Game to the 49ers, the Falcons developed a smart plan for improving the defense without compromising the offense. With the possible exception of having to cut offensive tackle Tyson Clabo in a salary cap move, they have executed that plan to absolute perfection.

The selections of Trufant and Alford were the final big pieces. They wanted to get younger and better -- and free up valuable cap space -- at running back, defensive end and cornerback. The first step was to release Turner, defensive end John Abraham and Robinson. Then, in a move as critical as any, they convinced Gonzalez to put off retirement and certain Hall of Fame induction one more year. Then they signed running back Steven Jackson and defensive end Osi Umenyiura, both of whom are younger and more productive than their predecessors.

That freed up the Falcons to focus on cornerback. Here again, they made a smart decision. They deemed it too expensive to trade up in the draft to get Alabama's Dee Milliner. Instead, they focused on identifying the next best cornerback in the draft. After Milliner, there were four to five cornerbacks bunched together.

The best of that bunch, they determined, was Trufant. When the Raiders took D.J. Hayden at No. 12, the Falcons deemed it too risky wait and hope Trufant would still be available at the 30th pick. So they surrendered their third-round pick to swap places with the Rams and move up 10 spots. That's a small price to pay to land a probable starter.

Adding Alford in the second round is intriguing in a couple of respects. It gives them depth and competition for Trufant. Alford played at Southeastern Louisiana, so he was hard to gauge. But he impressed everyone at the Senior Bowl. He also thrived in position workouts, seeming to relish the opportunity to prove himself against the best cornerbacks in the draft.

"Both of those guys come in with a feistiness about them that we're intrigued by," said Dimitroff.

Whatever immediate contributions the Falcons get out of their late-round picks Saturday will be a bonus. But this much seems evident. A team that was one play away from reaching the Super Bowl appears to be measurably better.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. Write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com.

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