Dimitroff seeks 'normal draft' for Falcons, keeps options open

ATLANTA -- Thomas Dimitroff is determined to make this a normal NFL draft for the Atlanta Falcons.

Lockout? No lockout? Dimitroff insisted Wednesday the league's labor unrest won't be a factor when he leads his fourth draft as the Falcons' general manager. Atlanta has the No. 27 overall selection in the first round Thursday night.

Dimitroff conceded it has been an unusual offseason. He hasn't been able to negotiate with free agents, and he said little is known about what will follow the three-day NFL draft.

He said he and coach Mike Smith agree it's more important than ever to make this a good draft for the Falcons, who are coming off a 13-win season.

"We're really approaching this draft like any normal draft," Dimitroff said. "We have to pick the players we think are going to continue to improve our depth. That's our drive.

"Obviously, we haven't been able to take care of certain things because of the situation right now. But we're just trying to keep a very narrow focus on the draft and not think outside of it. Again, we don't know what's on the other side of this right now. There's so much uncertainty. The only way I know, and Smitty and I have talked about this at length, is pick the players who are going to improve this football team."

Most draft experts predict Dimitroff will take a defensive end in the first round, but he emphasized he is looking for explosive players on both offense and defense.

There is some speculation the Falcons will try to move up in the first round for a wide receiver, perhaps Georgia's A.J. Green. That won't be easy, because Green is expected to be one of the first five players selected. Alabama's Julio Jones is rated as the other top receiver.

Dimitroff could wait and consider the second tier of receivers -- Kentucky's Randall Cobb and Maryland's Torrey Smith -- later in the first round.

The team also needs more big-play ability behind Michael Turner at running back. Alabama's Mark Ingram, rated as the top running back in the draft, could be an intriguing option. He fits Dimitroff's demand for explosive potential.

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It's easy to see why many mock drafts have the Falcons taking a defensive end in the first round. Atlanta tied for 20th in the league with only 31 sacks last season. The team's top pass-rusher, John Abraham, had 13 sacks last season; he will be 33 next season.

Among the ends who might be available: Ohio State's Cameron Heyward, Georgia's Justin Houston, Arizona's Brooks Reed, Iowa's Adrian Clayborn, Wisconsin's J.J. Watt and UCLA's Akeem Ayers.

The Falcons have one pick in each of the first six rounds and three picks in the seventh round.

Dimitroff's reward for three consecutive winning seasons with Smith has been having to wait longer for his first pick in drafts.

The Falcons had two first-round picks in 2008, including the No. 3 overall pick used to select quarterback Matt Ryan. Dimitroff picked offensive tackle Sam Baker later in the first round.

Defensive tackle Peria Jerry was Atlanta's first-round pick in 2009. Last year, Dimitroff took linebacker Sean Weatherspoon at No. 19.

As he looked at the team's No. 27 slot, Dimitroff couldn't help but compare the difference in draft position in four years.

"I was like, wow, what a change from 2008, when we were at the top," he said before adding 27 still isn't low enough. "I'd like to be down a little bit lower, to be honest with you."

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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