Falcons pick RB, CB, 3 LBs on final day of draft
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) General manager Thomas Dimitroff believes the NFL draft gave the Atlanta Falcons just what they needed.
More protection for quarterback Matt Ryan. More space to move for running back Steven Jackson and more pressure coming from their defensive front.
''We were active in many ways and a lot of research and extra work down the stretch,'' Dimitroff said Saturday night. ''I'm really pleased with what we ended up with after three days of serious evaluating and acquiring.''
Dimitroff began the draft Thursday by choosing Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews No. 6 overall. On Friday he selected Minnesota defensive lineman Ra'Shede Hageman in the second round and Wisconsin free safety Dezmen Southward in the third.
In picking Florida State running back Devonta Freeman with the third spot of the fourth round Saturday, the Falcons hope they can revive a rushing attack that ranked last in the NFL.
''He's a versatile back,'' Dimitroff said. ''He's a strong guy. He runs with some authority and some anger to his style. He can catch the ball well. For us we thought he was just a real versatile addition to our running back group.''
Atlanta took Purdue cornerback Ricardo Allen early in the fifth, but the rest of its picks Saturday were spent on linebackers.
Notre Dame's Prince Shembo was selected late in the fourth, Syracuse's Marquis Spruill late in the fifth and Connecticut's Yawin Smallwood and South Dakota's Tyler Starr both late in the seventh.
Atlanta traded a sixth-round pick and one of three seventh-round picks to Minnesota to move up and choose Spruill.
Freeman averaged nearly 5.9 yards on 173 carries to become Florida State's first 1,000-yard rusher since former Falcons star Warrick Dunn did it for his third straight year in 1996.
Freeman said he doesn't shy from being compared to Dunn, now a minority owner with the Falcons.
''I want to be great like he was,'' Freeman said. ''I want to give to the community. I want to speak to the community. I'm just happy to be a part of the Atlanta Falcons, but I just want to follow his footsteps.''
Atlanta needed to bulk up both sides of the line of scrimmage after going 4-12 last year and enduring its first losing record in six seasons under Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith.
Ryan was sacked a career-high 44 times and pressured 203 times, most in the NFL.
The defense fared no better, ranking last in third-down efficiency, second-worst against the run and third-fewest in sacks.
Atlanta's new linebackers give the team some insurance in case Sean Weatherspoon gets hurt again. Weatherspoon, the team's lone three-down linebacker, has missed 12 games over the last two years.
Dimitroff said the Falcons made sure that Shembo fits the team's character criteria despite concerns stemming from his freshman year with the Irish.
Shembo, 22, said he spoke at length with the Falcons about an alleged sexual misconduct incident in 2010 that involved him and Lizzy Seeberg, a St. Mary's College student who later committed suicide.
Shembo, who did not face charges, spoke publicly about the tragedy for the first time two months ago at the NFL combine.
On Saturday, Shembo tried to keep the focus on his future with the Falcons.
''Pretty much it was an unfortunate event,'' Shembo said. ''My name was pretty much cleared. It's behind me now. I just want to focus on playing football for the Falcons.''
Shembo, speaking on a conference call with reporters, added that he feels badly about the situation.
''Oh, of course,'' he said. ''I have a lot of remorse for the girl. Any time someone experiences death or dies, it's always very sad, but I told you what I had to say before.''
Dimitroff was adamant that Atlanta made the right move in picking Shembo.
''We're very, very aware of the seriousness of the incident and obviously it's a sad situation for the young lady involved,'' Dimitroff said. ''We've done a lot of research on many levels from our security standpoint, and from all the research we did at Notre Dame, he was never charged, never suspended from the team or the school.''
Spruill, a team captain with the Orange, started all 13 games and had 14.5 tackles for minus yardage.
Shembo had 26 solo tackles and 5.5 sacks for the Irish and started all 13 games.
Allen holds the Purdue record with four interceptions returned for touchdowns.
Smallwood led UConn with 118 tackles. Starr tied South Dakota's career record for sacks with 27.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL