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Falcons taking a very close look at quarterbacks

Quarterback issues consumed Atlanta at this time last year, and they are doing the same this year.

Last year, Atlanta traded Matt Schaub to Houston and watched Michael Vick get convicted in a dogfighting ring.

This year, Atlanta is judging quarterbacks in a different way. They are getting up close and personal with candidates to be Their Quarterback of the Future.

The Falcons highest-ranking officials –- team owner Arthur Blank, general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith -- spent a good part of their weekend in Boston visiting with Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan.

On the same weekend, Falcons officials also worked out Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm.

But Falcons representatives in attendance in Boston provided a hint as to how important the third overall pick will be. Ryan will be the first quarterback drafted on Saturday, April 26, and the Falcons could be the first team to draft a quarterback. If they don't, then surely Kansas City at No. 5 or Baltimore at No. 8 will.

But Atlanta is doing everything it can to get to know Ryan. Falcons officials spent part of this weekend in Boston, with Ryan, interviewing him and learning as much as it can about him. Atlanta is being tight lipped about its meetings with Ryan, but there is next to no chance the Falcons did not come away impressed.

Ryan carries himself off the field much like Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning -– personable, knowledgable, polite, diplomatic. The image-conscious Falcons owner Arthur Blank, in all probability, knows how important Ryan could be for his franchise.

Many believe Blank will be rooting for his team to draft Ryan, though the ultimate decision will belong to Dimitroff, whose role in the coming draft will be vital.

Dimitroff also will review the reports his team compiled at a private workout this weekend in Louisville with quarterback Brian Brohm. Many consider Brohm to be the second best quarterback in the upcoming draft.

Ultimately, the Falcons must decide whether they would be better served drafting Ryan with the third overall pick, and then others players at positions of need with the 34th, 37th and 48th overall picks in the second round, or whether they would be better off drafting a defensive lineman such as Glenn Dorsey with the third overall pick, and then opting for a quarterback such as Brohm later in the draft.

These will be the most important decisions that Dimitroff makes this offseason.

Oakland's full backfield

Overlooked in Lane Kiffin's hour-long interview with the media at the annual meetings last week in Palm Beach were his comments on the Raiders' biggest need heading into the draft.

It is not, in Kiffin's opinion, running back, which could knock Arkansas' running back Darren McFadden out of consideration in Oakland. It is defensive line, which means Ohio State's Vernon Gholston, LSU's Glenn Dorsey, USC's Sedrick Ellis or Florida's Derrick Harvey will be on the Raiders' radar with the fourth overall pick.

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Asked for his evaluation of McFadden, Kiffin said: "Well, he's a phenomenal player. Running back is really not a need for us. We have three running backs that rotated for us last year all coming back (Justin Fargas, Dominic Rhodes, LaMont Jordan), and then we also have Michael Bush, who kind of redshirted for us this last season."

Kiffin then was asked if he thought defensive line was the area he thought his team should go.

"Yeah, I do," Kiffin said. "It's definitely an issue we talked about before - with DeAngelo Hall, how does that help you when you're averaging 32nd in the league in rushing yards allowed per play? Well -- we can play nine in the box now instead of eight in the box on every down, I guess.

"But to go out and get a defensive linemen or a tackle that can really play the run, that would really help us a lot."

Now granted, Kiffin is not expected to make the ultimate choice. Raiders owner Al Davis is expected to make the call, and Davis could fall for McFadden's game-breaking abilities. But Kiffin also did not rule out the idea that the Raiders would trade out of the fourth overall pick and pick up extra picks later in the draft.

"More than ever, that's something to look at because of not having a second round pick, or a third or fifth," Kiffin said. "We could trade down. More than ever, because of having so few picks, if a certain player isn't there I think you really have to look at that."

Action for Jackson

With the second overall pick, St. Louis has debated drafting Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long, Virginia defensive end Chris Long, and Dorsey as well.

But one player the Rams have debated drafting, at least internally, is McFadden. It's hard to see how the Rams could opt for a running back when they have such glaring needs on the offensive and defensive lines. But the Rams recognize that their Pro Bowl running back, Steven Jackson, has one year remaining on his contract.

Drafting McFadden would provide St. Louis some leverage in negotiations with Jackson, as well as valuable insurance in the event of an injury to their returning standout running back.

Again, it's a longshot scenario. But it is an idea the Rams have debated, and will continue to debate.

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