Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Draft approach.
General manager Thomas Dimitroff is one of the few executives in the league who won’t give the tired answer about drafting the “best athlete available." He freely admits the Falcons draft mainly on need, although ability is certainly a factor. The Falcons are extremely committed to building the core of their team through the draft and they’ll look to continue that this year. Dimitroff is particularly looking forward to this draft because he has flexibility that hasn’t been there before. The Falcons went almost all offense in the first year Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith were together and focused heavily on defense last year. While defensive end and outside linebacker top the list of needs, the Falcons won’t be limited to one side of the ball in this draft.
There’s always a lot of talk about how conservative general manager Marty Hurney and coach John Fox are. That’s true in a lot of ways, but it’s misleading when talking about their recent drafts. Hurney’s done more wheeling and dealing than a lot of general managers and made big trades to get Everette Brown and Jeff Otah in the last two drafts. Getting Brown last year cost the Panthers their first-round pick this year. The Panthers aren’t slated to pick until the middle of the second round, but don’t rule anything out. They might not have a lot of currency, but you might see them package a few later picks to try to move up if a player they really want is available late in the first round or early in the second.
General manager Mickey Loomis has final say with lots of input from coach Sean Payton and the scouting department. You can’t question their success since this group came together. The 2006 draft by New Orleans -- which included Reggie Bush, Roman Harper, Jahri Evans and Marques Colston -- is shaping up as one of the most outstanding classes in recent history. Loomis isn’t afraid to go against popular opinion. He traded up to get Thomas Morstead in the fifth round last year. The move outraged some fans, but Morestead ended up being an important part of the Saints’ march to the Super Bowl title. Loomis is in a different situation this year because the Saints have the last pick in the first round and don’t have a lot of glaring needs other than depth. The Saints haven’t been players in free agency, so don’t be surprised if Loomis tries to add some picks during the draft to get more depth.
Rip on general manager Mark Dominik and coach Raheem Morris for a turbulent first year in power, but you can’t really criticize their first draft. They got a franchise quarterback in Josh Freeman, a surprise seventh-round contributor in receiver Sammie Stroughter and a few other players who showed some promise. Dominik is quite proud of the fact he’s stockpiled 11 draft picks and he could look to add more. This whole youth movement the Bucs are going through hasn’t been very popular with the fans, but the team remains very committed to building through the draft. The failure to do that caused the downfall of Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen and it has been a painful process to watch their collection of veterans getting cut and busted draft picks over the last year or two. But this draft is a chance for the Bucs to put some life back into the franchise.