JUDGE: Price gives Falcons new dimension

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Clark Judge

When you have a franchise quarterback, you try to find him a franchise wide receiver. Atlanta hopes it just did by trading for . The move is a necessary one for Atlanta because the absolutely, positively had to find quarterback someone other than to go deep. Sure, the surrendered their first-round draft pick to , but when you're drafting 23rd tell me where you find a wide receiver to step in and make an immediate difference. You don't. The top two receivers in this year's draft, 's and the University of Miami's , will be gone with the first five picks, and could be gone with the first three. Florida's won't last long, either, which means maybe, just maybe, you get a shot at 's Kelley Washington. But the weren't willing to take that gamble, and, frankly, they shouldn't have. Instead of counting on a rookie to make an impact — and, let's face it, few do as wide receivers — the got smart and went for a proven pass catcher. In Price, they gain a 26-year-old coming off a career season, with 94 catches, 1252 yards and nine touchdowns. Contrast that to what Finneran, Atlanta's top receiver, did a year ago — 56 receptions, 838 yards and six TDs — and you understand why the had to pull the trigger. "The guy has good hands and is a good route runner," said one AFC scout. "Plus, he¿s got quickness and moves well after the catch. He¿s better than anyone they could have gotten at that position because he can help you right away. He¿s ready to step in now, whereas a rookie would have had to catch up to the team. And that might have taken two years." A year ago there were three wide receivers taken in the first round — all of them in the top 20 choices — and only the ' Donte Stallworth had an impact, catching 42 passes and scoring a team-high eight receiving touchdowns. That's not to say Denver's or Green Bay's won't be valuable. They could, especially Lelie, but it will take time. And time is what Atlanta doesn't have. The reached the divisional round of the playoffs last season with no wide receivers of consequence. The acquisition of Price changes all that, though there's something that's important to remember here: In Price was the ' No. 2 receiver, opposite Pro Bowl choice ; now he's the premier target, with Finneran as the second receiver. That could be a tough adjustment for Price. It was for Alvin Harper, the No. 2 wide receiver in Dallas until he took the money in 1995 and ran to Tampa. The only problem was that he should have taken Michael Irvin with him. Without him, he was lost. "That will be a question," said an AFC personnel director. "Is good enough to be the No. 1 receiver? I guess we're about to find out." We're also going to find out something about . With Price gone, the make their second wide receiver and gain the first-round pick they sacrificed a year ago when they traded for quarterback . Had they not made the move, the would have had the 14th choice in this year's draft. Now, they have the 23rd pick. A good move? You tell me. Essentially, they dealt Price for Bledsoe, and it might be easier to find a Montreal Expos' season-ticket holder than someone to criticize that trade. The had too much money tied up in the wide-receiver position to keep Price. The had so little at wide receiver they couldn't afford to pass on him. This trade makes sense ... from both sides. Clark Judge can be reached at his e-mail address,
Tagged: Falcons, Bills, Broncos, Packers, Michael Vick, Brian Finneran, Drew Bledsoe, Michigan State, Buffalo, Florida, Oklahoma State, Josh Reed, Javon Walker, Ashley Lelie

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