FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons added depth at linebacker on Friday night with only their second pick in the NFL draft.
Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said he had to be patient after moving up 21 spots to No. 6 overall and drafting Alabama receiver Julio Jones in the first round. After waiting 85 picks before finally picking again late in the third round, Dimitroff selected Georgia linebacker Akeem Dent.
“It was an interesting wait,” Dimitroff said. “You have to obviously have patience.”
Atlanta will have five picks, including three in the seventh round, in Saturday’s final day of the draft.
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“Now we get busy,” Dimitroff said. “We’re looking forward to it, no question.”
Dent, who played inside and outside linebacker at Georgia, provides insurance for the Falcons, who have Stephen Nicholas and 34-year-old Mike Peterson as free agents.
Dimitroff said Dent would play behind middle linebacker Curtis Lofton but also can provide depth at the two outside spots.
“He’s a tough, hard-nosed guy who fits our scheme as a (middle) linebacker but also can play all three,” Dimitroff said.
Dent, who played at Douglass High in Atlanta, said he grew up cheering for the Falcons. He listed linebacker Jessie Tuggle as his all-time favorite Falcons player.
“When I worked out with them, everything went well,” Dent said in a telephone interview on Friday night. “I just tried to do what I do.”
When the call came from the Falcons on Friday night, Dent said he recognized the local area code and knew the call was from his hometown team.
“Oh man, it was crazy,” Dent said.
Dimitroff said Dent also will be a key special teams player.
Dent (6-1, 233) led Georgia with 126 tackles and had 2½ sacks as a senior. He started 29 games and was a second-team All-Southeastern Conference pick as a senior.
The Falcons invested heavily to make Jones their first-round pick.
Using only a package of draft picks, the Falcons moved up from No. 27 to No. 6 to select Jones, the Alabama star.
The Falcons swapped first-round picks with Cleveland this year and gave the Browns their 2012 first-round pick. The Browns also acquired the Falcons’ second- and fourth-round picks this year and fourth-round selection in 2012.
The Falcons will pair the physical Jones (6-4, 220) with Pro Bowl receiver Roddy White. Jones and White will join tight end Tony Gonzalez as top targets for quarterback Matt Ryan.
Dimitroff said offseason analysis revealed the team’s need for more explosive players.
The Falcons won the NFC South with a 13-3 record last season despite having only 44 plays of 20 yards or longer. That total tied Carolina for the fewest in the NFL, according to STATS LLC.
The Falcons hope Jones can add big plays to the offense while also helping in other areas, including his blocking.
“The thing that was most impressive, when you talk to people, it’s not just him being a pass-catcher,” said Falcons coach Mike Smith. “It’s what he does when the ball is not coming to him.
“This guy is going to compete. He’s going to make everybody around him play harder. He’s going to help us not only in the passing game but in the run game as well.”
Added Dimitroff of Jones: “His skill set to me is unmatched in this draft.”
The trade up in the first round for Jones was a surprise to many who considered the Falcons a lock to draft a defensive end high in the draft.
The Falcons tied for 20th in the NFL with 31 sacks last season. Defensive end John Abraham had 13 sacks, but he will be 33 next season.