The Atlanta Falcons made three key moves during free agency to fill some primary holes on their roster, leaving them with some interesting paths they could take in the early rounds of the draft.
Which path they take depends on how the Falcons weigh their remaining needs and when in the draft they could best address them. The ongoing debate where the draft is involved often comes down to whether or not a team should take the player it believes is the best available when it is picking, regardless of position, or whether it should approach the draft to fill specific needs on its roster.
Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff was asked Tuesday about that debate and his approach to the draft, and he utilizes a mix of both philosophies in an interesting way.
"We do believe, definitely, it is need and fit, that's important for us," Dimitroff said. "Best player on the board works into it, if you have two or three positions that you do need. Hopefully, you're going to go with the best player at that position, unless there is a completely disjointed set up. Meaning, if we needed a position exponentially more than another position, and we weren't going to go with the best player at another position."
So, the Falcons approach the draft seeking to fill positions of need with players who fit with their offensive and defensive schemes. If they have multiple spots on their roster they believe they need to address, they will then determine who is the best player available among those positions when it comes their time to pick. If, however, one roster need is so great, and they feel they may not be able to address the position later, they may choose to take a player at that position even at the expense of a higher-rated player at another position of need.
Dimitroff talks frequently about how he and his staff weigh the strengths and weaknesses of free agency against those of the draft. This helps give the organization a complete picture of where the best opportunities lie to strengthen its roster for both the short and long term.
With the moves made thus far in free agency, Dimitroff believes he's got a clear understanding of the work left to be done and how to accomplish that in the draft.
"We're really honed in on the positions that we still need, and we feel like there's some really good opportunities in the draft," Dimitroff told atlantafalcons.com digital managing editor Matt Tabeek. "I feel like it's not just one round in that certain position, you can still find value at different rounds and still pick someone who is going to be very helpful for the organization and provide us the proper depth."
How the Falcons rank their remaining needs is unclear, but the general consensus is that the team could use help at cornerback, the defensive line and linebacker. Atlanta's first pick in the draft is at No. 16, and the Falcons should be able to address any of those spots at the midpoint of the first round.
However, Dimitroff also seeks to get the most value for his pick, and he has never shied away from draft-day negotiations to accomplish that. Atlanta traded back into the first round of last year's draft to select offensive tackle Kaleb McGary in an effort to further solidify the offensive line after the selection of offensive guard Chris Lindstrom.
If Dimitroff again wants to move around the draft board, he likes where the Falcons are starting.
"I feel really good about it," Dimitroff said. "I feel this draft plays out well for us. Sitting at 16, again, I know you guys hear it every year from me, but it does give us an opportunity to move back into the 20s, it also gives us the opportunity to move forward. That is important for me."
No matter when the Falcons end up going on the clock, though, the team's approach will not change.
"It is need for sure, but it is best player at that position of need, which, again, could be more than one [position]," Dimitroff said.