GM Dimitroff keeping Falcons' draft plans close to the vest
APR 30, 2014 10:09p ET
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- It's a bit unexpected, perhaps surreal, to observe an entire pre-draft press conference -- just eight days before crunch time -- without once hearing the surname Clowney.
That was the case on Wednesday, as Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff handled his final media session before next week's draft (May 8-10) with thoughtful, attentive answers ... but none of any revealing substance.
Oh sure, Dimitroff -- who's orchestrating his seventh draft with Atlanta -- acknowledged having "interesting" communications with clubs drafting higher (1 through 5) and lower than the Falcons (7 through 32).
He even spoke highly of the consensus top-three O-tackle prospects -- Auburn's Greg Robinson, Texas A&M's Jake Matthews, Michigan's Taylor Lewan -- praising each for being "big" and "strong" and "athletic" ... you know, standard physical traits with blue-chip linemen.
In the end, though, it was a simple, respectful rap session of decisive, but measured responses, relaying how the club "won't sit on (their) hands" or how they'll "continue to be very aggressive" when it comes to landing the best players or most attractive fits for the organization.
"This is a very good draft ... this top 10 is a top-notch top 10," said Dimitroff, who cut his personnel teeth mainly with the Browns and Patriots before joining the Falcons six years ago. "Rarely are you sitting at No. 6 (overall) and not looking for a franchise quarterback" -- alluding to Atlanta's existing connection with QB Matt Ryan (23,472 yards passing, 153 TDs).
Dimitroff then added: "It's very encouraging. We're excited to be (in this spot) ... it's a very accomplished top 10."
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Here's the beauty of these pre-draft events: This is the only time of the NFL season when coaches and GMs can (and will) be extremely vague, or even deceptive, about certain prospects or trade scenarios, and the public at-large -- fans, media -- seldom calls 'em on it.
It's the ultimate "silly season" for executives who would rather sit through a time-share condo pitch than divulge their actual draft plans to the media.
And everyone's OK with it.
After all, what would be Dimitroff's motivation for dropping hints about his club's interest in the No. 1 overall pick (currently held by the Houston Texans) -- presumably to grab Jadeveon Clowney, the premier prospect and possible savior for a Falcons defense which ranked 27th in points allowed (27.7 per game) and 29th in sacks (32) last season?
Even the fickle media and hungry-for-info fans/draftniks understand it's Dimitroff's understated job, when submitting to high-stakes trade talks with other clubs, to publicly play his cards close to the vest.
Besides, if any reports surface of Atlanta's desire to secure the top draft choice, it surely wouldn't be revealed at a local press conference. It would come in the form of a stealth news leak to a national media outlet, or one in based in Houston -- as a means of best grabbing the Texans' attention.
The same holds true for the Falcons' prospects of trading down in Round 1, although Dimitroff doesn't foresee a lot of teams with high picks trading out of the top 10.
The elasticity within this group is fluid ... but also limited.
"A lot of people have been talking about a lot of movement in this year's draft," says Dimitroff, who credits the 2014 elite prospects as "more versatile" than the 2013 gems.
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Here are Dimitroff's most noteworthy draft moves as the Falcons' top-ranking executive. The GM certainly has an affinity for moving up ... more than down (or even standing pat):
**Drafted QB Matt Ryan at No. 3 overall
**Traded back into Round 1 (No. 21 overall) to draft left tackle Sam Baker -- a trade that allowed the Falcons and Redskins to stick with three picks apiece
**Traded WR Laurent Robinson and two draft picks (160, 196) to move up 22 spots in Round 5 (William Middleton)
**Wisely sacrificed a 2010 second-round pick for future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez (five seasons with Atlanta)
**Traded up from 27th to 6th overall to land WR Julio Jones (surrendered three picks in 2011/two picks in 2012)
**No 1st-round pick (Julio Jones trade)
**Traded down seven slots in Round 3 with Ravens (picked up an extra 5th)
**Traded up in Round 1 (with Rams) to draft CB Desmond Trufant
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It's been speculated the Falcons privately favor University of Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack over Clowney, but likely wouldn't admit that in public -- given the South's fascination with Clowney, who elicits comparisons to Hall of Fame defensive end Bruce Smith, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1985 draft (Buffalo Bills).
If that's the case, from a public relations standpoint, trading up to the No. 2 slot (St. Louis Rams) may be more palatable for the Falcons, who could then choose between Mack or a top-shelf O-tackle (Robinson, Matthews, Lewan) -- without Clowney being an issue.
As history dictates, Dimitroff will occasionally move heaven and earth to land potential superstars in the draft.
Just three years ago, the Falcons gave up a bevy of high draft picks (three in 2011, two in 2012 ... including two first-rounders) for the right to snag Julio Jones at No. 6 overall.
At the time, it was perhaps the NFL's boldest draft move of the last 10 years (and beyond); and in hindsight, it's perhaps the singular reason why the Falcons are expected to rebound from last year's 4-12 disappointment.
Looking back, "I'm completely at ease about adding one of the most explosive players in the league," says Dimitroff of the Jones/Atlanta megatrade with Cleveland, incredibly moving up 21 slots in one fell swoop.
With Jones (2,737 yards receiving, 20 TDs) recovered from last October's season-ending foot injury, the Falcons are again loaded at the wideout slots (Jones, Roddy White, Harry Douglas).
Throw in the elite-level arm of Ryan (three-year averages: 4,600 yards passing, 29 TDs) and capable legs of tailback Steven Jackson (six TDs in his final six games last season) ... and it's easy to envision Atlanta harboring a top-five offense.
That is, unless the offensive line -- a source of contention in 2013 -- has leaky production again this fall, after allowing 44 sacks and 100 QB hits last season.
"We feel comfortable that we'll go into the draft and make the right decision, given our analytics" and overall strength of the organization, says Dimitroff.
Nothing silly about that.