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Smith focuses on D on last day of 1st draft as Falcons coach

Smith focuses on D on last day of 1st draft as Falcons coach

Atlanta Falcons coach Arthur Smith watches players during Georgia Tech's Pro Day football workout in Atlanta. AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

ATLANTA — Arthur Smith's first draft as Atlanta's coach helped to prove he's taking an even-keeled approach to building the Falcons' roster.

Sure, the first pick for Smith, the former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator and tight ends coach, was a tight end.

But after Kyle Pitts was the No. 4 overall selection, Smith and first-year general manager Terry Fontenot made sure to pay attention to the Falcons' defense as well.

“It’s fun to be a part of it,” Smith said. “... It’s fun to have to get to worry about the whole team.”

The proof came on Saturday, when four of the Falcons' final six picks were defensive players – cornerbacks Darren Hall of San Diego State and Avery Williams of Boise State and defensive linemen Ta’Quon Graham of Texas and Ade Ogundeji of Notre Dame.

Overall, five of the nine picks in the draft came on defense.

“The cool thing about Arthur is that’s his mindset,” Fontenot said of Smith's balanced emphasis.

The Falcons also drafted Stanford center Drew Dalman in the fourth round and Arizona State wide receiver Frank Darby in the sixth round.

Williams counts as a defensive player, but he is an accomplished return specialist. Smith said Williams also could be given a look on offense.

On Friday, the Falcons targeted an obvious need by making UCF’s hard-hitting safety Richie Grant their second-round pick. Atlanta, faced with salary cap restrictions, lost veteran safeties Ricardo Allen, Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee in free agency.

Versatile offensive lineman Jalen Mayfield of Michigan, who could compete at left guard, was added in the third round.

New number for Pitts

Pitts knows his place as a rookie looking to fit in. Pitts, only 20, impressed the Falcons with his maturity as well as his unusual athleticism that allows him to play like a wide receiver at tight end.

The maturity immediately showed when Pitts, who wore No. 84 at Florida, saw that veteran Cordarrelle Patterson had that number with the Falcons.

As a high-profile player, Pitts probably could have pushed the issue with Patterson. Instead, Pitts avoided a potentially awkward negotiation, a decision likely to earn respect in the locker room.

“He’s a vet so I didn’t want to pay for that,” Pitts said Saturday with a laugh while making his first visit to the Falcons' practice facility.

Pitts instead settled on No. 8, taking advantage of the NFL's new rule allowing single digits to be worn by players at more positions.

Childhood Falcons memories

Dalman's father, Chris, started 64 games in seven seasons as a center and guard for the San Francisco 49ers from 1993-2000. Chris Dalman was the Falcons' assistant offensive line coach from 2005-06, providing young Drew, then in elementary school, an opportunity to have his first look at his future NFL home.

“I definitely remember running around those fields, probably causing a little mischief,” Drew Dalman said. “I have great memories of being around the facility there and being around the team.”

No depth for QB, RB in draft

The Falcons didn’t select a quarterback or running back. Each position needs depth even after the Falcons signed free agent A.J. McCarron to serve as quarterback Matt Ryan’s backup.

Former Carolina backup Mike Davis appears to be a lock to open the season as the starter at running back.

Center of attention

Dalman (6-3, 295) most prove his ability to handle bull rushers after fielding questions about his size during the draft process.

“It’s definitely a natural thing to want to inquire about, but I feel really good about myself,” he said. “I’m confident in my abilities and I think I’m going to do well.”

Drew Dalman could compete with 2020 third-round pick Matt Hennessy at center after the Falcons lost Alex Mack in free agency. Hennessy also is listed at 295 pounds.

From walk-on to All-American

Williams had no scholarship offers and was a walk-on at Boise State before developing into a third-team All-America selection as an all-purpose player. He led all FBS players in combined return yards while returning two punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns.

“I knew my work ethic would carry me far in my life,” Williams said. “Being a walk-on is something I wouldn’t change. Definitely has motivated me.”

Williams said special teams is “my passion.”

“That’s definitely what has driven me this far and I’m looking to continue that,” he said.

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