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Tuesday, May 6, 2014
Falcons need to find their safety net

By Vaughn McClure

When Atlanta Falcons safety William Moore and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon addressed the media recently, both had no problem lobbying for the team to draft top safety prospect Calvin Pryor.

But in all reality, the Falcons have to address their need for an offensive tackle and pass-rusher first, so Pryor is unlikely to be part of the first-round discussion -- unless some scenario evolves where the Falcons miss out on all targeted tackles and pass-rushers in the first five picks and decide to trade down from the sixth overall spot.

Louisville's Pryor and Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix are touted as the top two safety prospects, and the Falcons entertained both players during the pre-draft process. Again, it seems unlikely for them to target either in the first round.

However, there is an intriguing safety prospect who has had the Falcons' attention from the outset. Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward impressed the team with his showing at the Senior Bowl. He made one of his pre-draft visits to Atlanta.

The 5-foot-11, 193-pound Ward might not be the ideal size, but his versatility, range and toughness make him an intriguing option for a Falcons team in desperate need of a free safety next to starting strong safety Moore.

Another reason to keep an eye on Ward is his draft stock coming off foot surgery. He was projected as a possible first-rounder and probable second-rounder before undergoing the procedure. He didn't work out at the combine and did not have private workouts with any teams due to the surgery, which occurred after his pro day. Ward is supposed to be on track for a 100 percent recovery before the start of the season and the procedure was labeled a "simple fix'' by those close to him.

Ward might be tempting in the second round, although the Falcons seem likely to target a tackle in the first round then a pass-rusher in the second. The best-case scenario for the Falcons would to still see him on the board in the third round, which seems unlikely. But anything is possible.

The void at free safety was created when the Falcons decided to release one-time Pro Bowler Thomas DeCoud, who signed with the Carolina Panthers. The team somewhat addressed the issue by signing veteran free safety Dwight Lowery, but Lowery could be a stopgap just for a season if the Falcons can't address the position in the draft.

Another option might be waiting to see if a capable veteran safety gets released after the draft.