FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — The Atlanta Falcons spent the past couple NFL drafts filling in the gaps for a team with championship aspirations.
This time around, they're coming off a hugely disappointing season that turned up the heat on coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff.
The Falcons' first pick in the draft that starts Thursday night will be No. 14 overall — their earliest selection since 2015, when they took Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley Jr. at No. 8.
Despite a 7-9 record in 2018, which led to the ouster of all three coordinators, Dimitroff insists there is no greater sense of urgency than other drafts. Just two seasons removed from a trip to the Super Bowl, he still believes the Falcons have the nucleus to regain their position as one of the league's better teams, especially after addressing some of the most pressing needs in free agency.
"We're going into the draft in a really good place," Dimitroff said. "We don't feel the same amount of pressure going into the draft having to get all these depth areas taken care of. That's a good feeling."
This is the fifth draft together for Dimitroff, the Falcons' GM since 2008, and Quinn, who came aboard as head coach in 2015. The two take a collective approach to making their choices, which seems to work well for both.
"We all have our hands in it," Dimitroff said. "This is not an organization where you have one guy pounding their fist on the table."
Dimitroff loves to wheel and deal on draft day, and he has extra picks to work with in the fourth and fifth rounds, a total of nine selections in all.
The Falcons' success on the first night may be determined by how many quarterbacks are selected in the first 13 picks. Oklahoma's Kyler Murray, Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins and Missouri's Drew Lock have all been mentioned as potential top-10 selections.
Atlanta, of course, is set at quarterback with 2016 NFL MVP Matt Ryan and veteran backup Matt Schaub. Quinn jokingly lobbied for other teams to gobble up as many quarterbacks as possible before the Falcons get their turn.
"This is one of the best quarterback classes I've seen since 1983," Quinn said, with tongue planted firmly in cheek. "It's really, really something to behold."
Having options is no joke in the NFL, though.
After a devastating rash of injuries gutted their lines on both sides of the ball last season, the Falcons learned the hard way there's no such thing as too much depth. Even though they signed offensive guards Jamon Brown and James Carpenter in free agency and brought back defensive end Adrian Clayborn, the Falcons will be looking for more big bodies this week.
If Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins or Alabama offensive tackle Jonah Williams fall their way, it would be hard to pass up — especially on the offensive side, where the Falcons must do a better job of protecting Ryan.
"It's a big year for offensive linemen," said Dimitroff, who thinks as many as 10 could go in the opening round. "It's not only a big year for number of tackles, but this is a year when several guards could fall in the first round as well."
Another priority position for the team is cornerback. Atlanta parted ways with three of its top four from 2018, including longtime starter Robert Alford. The Falcons always seems to select a player from LSU, so Greedy Williams could be on their radar. Georgia's Deandre Baker could be of interest as well.
"It's not necessarily a fast group," Dimitroff pointed out. "That said, there are some really good corners. Just because their (40-yard) times are in the (range of 4.5 seconds) doesn't mean they won't be effective in this league."
With starting safeties Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal both coming off major injuries, Quinn acknowledged the team might be looking to build depth in that area.
"That's an important position, and it's evolved more," said the coach, who has taken on the added duty of defensive coordinator. "People are using a third safety more than they have in the past."
Running back Devonta Freeman has endured two straight injury-plagued seasons, and the Falcons no longer have insurance policy Tevin Coleman, who left in free agency to sign with the San Francisco 49ers. Atlanta will likely be looking for another running back on the second or third day of the draft.