FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Having parted with two players this offseason who had started at cornerback for them during their playoff runs, the Atlanta Falcons traded up from 30th overall to No. 22 on Thursday and selected cornerback Desmond Trufant of Washington in the first round of the NFL Draft.
To get Trufant, the Falcons sent this year’s third-round and sixth-round picks, along with the 30th overall pick to St. Louis. The Falcons entered the draft with 11 picks, four of them in the seventh round. They received a 2015 seventh-round pick from St. Louis in return. More significantly, the Falcons held on to their second- and fourth-rounders this year, as they have other holes to fill, potentially at linebacker, defensive end and offensive line.
General manager Thomas Dimitroff described Trufant, who has two older brothers who are cornerbacks in the NFL, as having the “urgent athleticism” that the Falcons look for in a defensive back.
“We look for people who can get their hands on balls,” Dimitroff said.
Dimitroff went on to praise Trufant’s time in the 40-yard dash — he ran 4.38 at the NFL Scouting Combine — along with his jumping ability. He also liked that Trufant was a team captain and described the player as “driven.”
Trufant said he has learned a lot from his brothers, who are considerably older. Marcus, who has played with Seattle his entire 10-year career, is 32, and Isaiah, who plays for the New York Jets, is 30. (Head coach Mike Smith said Desmond will come to the Falcons with more experience than a normal NFL rookie because of his brothers.)
“I learned so much just watching them over these past 11, 12 years,” Desmond said. “They’ve had success at the highest level. I pick their brains, look for strengths, weaknesses and what I can apply to my game.”
Smith said he thought that Trufant could come in and win the job for a starting spot, which is absolutely necessary for the Falcons’ hopes. The Falcons interviewed Trufant at the combine and at their headquarters in Flowery Branch while also having him do a private workout.
Smith called Trufant “very technique-sound.”
“He runs below 4.4 and plays with good technique,” Smith said. “When you have that, you’re going to have a good football player.”
St. Louis’ general manager is Les Snead, who formerly worked for the Falcons until after the 2011 season. Dimitroff referred to Snead as “an old friend” and said the trust factor was important in doing the deal. Dimitroff said in working with Snead, he knew he would not be “jerked around.”
“You know there’s going to be honesty there, as much as possible,” Dimitroff said.
Selecting a cornerback was a virtual necessity for the Falcons, who will enter this season with a “Super Bowl or bust” mentality — as proclaimed by wide receiver Roddy White on national television — after losing to San Francisco in last season’s NFC championship game. Brent Grimes, a Pro-Bowler in 2010, departed via free agency to sign with Miami. Dunta Robinson was cut for salary cap reasons. Those moves left a gaping hole on the depth chart. Furthermore, Chris Owens, a depth cornerback who had started some games both at the nickel position and in the base defense, signed with Cleveland.
This is not the first time that Dimitroff has gone to the Pac-12 to pick a defensive back. Thomas DeCoud, who made the Pro-Bowl at safety last season, was drafted in the third round out of Cal in 2008.
With Asante Samuel being a relatively small corner on the left side for the Falcons, Trufant brings some size at 6-feet, 190 pounds. At Washington as a junior, Trufant had two interceptions and 14 pass breakups. As a senior, Trufant registered one interception with eight passes defended, a forced fumble and a blocked kick. He set a school record with 33 career pass break-ups.
Trufant was asked whether he is ready to start in the NFL.
“They got a lot of great players,” he said. “They were 10 yards away from going to the Super Bowl. I’m just going to come in and be ready to work. Asante is one of the best in the game. I’ve been watching him since I was young. I’m going to learn as much as possible from him.”
Dimitroff explained how the fact that Trufant has two brothers in the NFL played into the Falcons’ evaluation.
“The fact that he was raised to be a football guy in the NFL for us is something that is very intriguing,” Dimitroff said. “He’s a smart football guy. That is something that played into our consideration … We’ve seen his brothers play. They play with a lot of urgency.”
Smith said it was a “very important factor” that Trufant “has experience in NFL before he’s gotten here.”
“He’s been able to live that through his two brothers,” Smith said. “It’s a very close family. I think he will have experienced things other rookies have not experienced because of the two brothers that have gone before him to play in the NFL.”
Last season, the Falcons defeated Marcus’ Seahawks in the playoffs. During the offseason, Seattle, along with the Falcons and 49ers, have waged an arms race to try and win the conference. Trufant was asked about that idea of competing against his brother in that way. (Incidentally, Trufant will play both of his brothers’ teams during the regular season in 2013.)
“It’s big,” said Trufant, a native of Tacoma, Wash. “You know, I’ve been watching my brother, I’ve been at the Seahawks games for the last 10 years. Now that I’m actually about to be out there and we can be playing against each other, that’s a big thing. It’s a great team. I’m just so excited, so thankful. I’m blessed and I just can’t wait to get down there.”
He is expected to meet the Atlanta media at 3 p.m. on Friday at the team’s headquarters here.