Charged with fixing the offensive line as the team’s No. 1 priority, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff will consider taking an offensive linemen in the first round of the draft with the 14th pick.
The Indianapolis Colts helped to stabilize their offensive line by selecting former Notre Dame guard Quentin Nelson with the sixth pick last season.
“Old-time theory is that you would never take a guard that early,” Dimitroff said Wednesday before working his 27th NFL scouting combine. “But now, we’ve talked about it. You’ve seen the change over the last 10 years where if an organization feels that player can be a top player for them for years to come and hopefully start from Day 1, they are more apt to go after someone at 15, 25 or 30 where they might not have before.”
The Falcons hold the 14th pick and picked up two compensatory picks in the fourth and fifth rounds.
The Falcons played six different guards last season and are hoping to upgrade the position. Andy Levitre, the starting left guard for the season opener, and Ben Garland, who started four games, will not return. Right guard Brandon Fusco is recovering from a broken ankle.
Dimitroff is open to considering a guard in the first round.
“I’m a lot more open to that now than I ever would have been,” Dimitroff said. “Just like the discussion about whether a receiver (and) should we move up 21 spots to go after a receiver. Things have changed.”
Dimitroff was referencing his trade up to get wide receiver Julio Jones in the 2011 draft.
“Most people understand that there are some really good linemen out there,” Dimitroff said. “If there are number of guards there or any position and a team thinks they can get them at a better value, maybe a little bit later in the second round or the middle of the second round, then that can be beneficial as well.”
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper believes that Alabama tackle Jonah Williams projects as a guard in the NFL because his arms are not even 34 inches long.
Other guard prospects include Florida’s Martez Ivey, Oklahoma’s Cody Ford, Boston College’s Chris Lindstrom, Kansas State’s Dalton Risner, Oklahoma’s Bobby Evans and Charlotte’s Nate Davis.
“There are some good bigs on both sides of the line in this draft,” Dimitroff said.
The Falcons’ draft board will come into better focus after free agency.
“We think there are a couple places there where we can improve our roster,” Dimitroff said. “I just do not want to get away from the importance of where we are with the draft.”
Dimitroff said one of the keys to the draft is Falcons coach Dan Quinn and his staff’s ability to get rookies ready to play.
“There is a lot of money on this roster,” Dimitroff said. “We have to be really strategic how we get everyone on the field that we want to get on the field. That takes a lot of time and effort on the college side so that we can pay people at good values. When their time comes, hopefully pay them and keep them around of course.”
Dimitroff knows that fixing the line will be key to the team returning to the playoffs after finishing 7-9 in the 2018 season.
“It is a really important part of my world,” Dimitroff said. “Especially, when you acquire a guy like Matt Ryan and you need to continue to build around him and make sure that the pocket is fortified, no question about it.
“This was a tough year for us, of course. We know that we need to continue to fortify, whether it’s in the draft or free agency, yes, it is important.”
The Falcons are fine with center Alex Mack and left tackle Jake Matthews. Both played in the Pro Bowl. They re-signed guard-tackle Ty Sambrailo and need to find two more starters, while seeing if Fusco can make it back from a broken ankle.
“There’s going to be a lot of competition across the (offensive) line,” Dimitroff said.
Scouting college linemen has become more difficult with teams playing a lot of spread formations and the shotgun. Some lines never get in three-point stances.
“(College) guys coming out in the draft, there is a long way to go and we have different work rules now,” Dimitroff said. “Let’s call it the way it is, it’s not like it was back in (2010).”
The Falcons will count on offensive line coach Chris Morgan and assistant offensive line coach Bob Kronenberg to get the players ready.
“The way (linemen) are going to continue to improve and expeditiously improve is being on the field,” Dimitroff said. “You can’t just tuck them away for a year. That’s in the past. That’s not how it works right now.”
While Quinn revamped the coaching staff, he left Morgan in place.
“I think Chris Morgan is a heck of a football coach,” Dimitroff said. “He continues to grow with these guys. He has a really good room.”
Background checks will be important for the new offensive linemen.
“One of things that is really important, you don’t just bring anyone off the street in my mind,” Dimitroff said. “I’m talking pro and college. That room is really important. I’m talking offensive line and sometimes, when we don’t go after a guy that you might like, there might be another reason there.”
Dimitroff is looking forward to the nine picks.
“We are in a really good place,” Dimitroff said. “This is a good year for us to have nine (picks). Where our focus is right now, we have a number of positions that we are really focused on.
“Contrary to what everyone thinks, it’s just not on one spot. We think that we can find some really good quality players where we are at 14 … but also as we start moving into those compensatory picks in the fourth and fifth- ounds. I think there is going to be a nice group of people to pick from.”