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Falcons draft another Alabama receiver, Calvin Ridley

Source: MGN Online Source: MGN Online

AP Sports Writers

The Atlanta Falcons went with another Alabama receiver for their offensive arsenal, picking Calvin Ridley with the 26th overall pick in the NFL draft on Thursday night.

Ridley will join Julio Jones to provide an additional deep target for quarterback Matt Ryan in an offense that dipped in production last season after leading the NFL in scoring in 2016.

While defensive tackle was a priority, Atlanta couldn't pass up the chance to grab the 6-foot-1, 189-pound Ridley, who managed to stand out even while playing in a run-oriented offense on Alabama's national championship team. As a junior, he had 63 receptions for 967 yards and five touchdowns.

The last time the Falcons picked a Crimson Tide receiver in the first round, it certainly worked out just fine. In 2011, the team traded up to select Jones at No. 6 overall.

He has developed into one of the league's top pass catchers, including 88 catches for 1,444 yards last season.

In an interesting twist, the final game of Ridley's college career was at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the home of the Falcons. In January, it was the site of the national championship game, in which Alabama defeated Southeastern Conference rival Georgia in an overtime thriller.

While the Falcons had no overly pressing needs after their second straight trip to the playoffs, they were looking to bulk up the interior of the defensive line. Dontari Poe was lost in free agency, signing with division rival Carolina to leave a hole in Atlanta's run defense.

It was a change of philosophy from the last three years.

Since Dan Quinn came aboard as coach in 2015, defense had been the No. 1 priority. The last three first-round picks were all from that side of the line: defensive end Vic Beasley Jr. in 2015, safety Keanu Neal in 2016 and defensive end Takkarist McKinley a year ago.

After losing Dontari Poe in free agency to division rival Carolina, Atlanta also was looking to bulk up at defensive tackle. Florida's Taven Bryan was available when the Falcons' turn rolled around, but they decided to go with Ridley instead .

Bryan didn't last much longer, snatched up by Jacksonville three picks later.

It was the first time since 2014 that Atlanta selected an offensive player in the first round.

The Falcons then bolstered their secondary in the second round of the NFL draft Friday night, selecting Colorado cornerback Isaiah Oliver with the 58th overall pick.

Still needing a defensive tackle after Dontari Poe left as a free agent, the Falcons decided instead to focus on cornerback, a position that was thinned after Jalen Collins, a second-round pick in 2015, played less than two full seasons after violating drug-testing rules.

Oliver will slot in behind starting corners Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. Named first-team All-Pac 12 despite missing two games with a leg injury, Oliver had two interceptions and 15 passes defended.

Under first-time coordinator Marquand Manuel last season, the Falcons' defense was better than the year before, moving into the top 10 in scoring and total yards for the first time at the end of the regular season the 1998 Falcons advanced to the Super Bowl.

The difference came in giving up less explosive plays. Atlanta improved 15 spots to rank No. 8 in passes allowed of at least 20 yards and went from 25th to No. 2 in runs allowed of at least 20 yards.

The Falcons also bolstered their offensive depth by selecting running back Ito Smith and wide receiver Russell Gage in the draft.

The Falcons traded two seventh-round picks to the Rams for the sixth-round selection used for Gage. Atlanta closed its draft by selecting Yale linebacker Foye Oluokun later in the sixth round.

Smith, a fourth-round pick from Southern Mississippi, is expected to back up Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. The Falcons did not re-sign Terron Ward, who was the team's No. 3 running back in 2017.

Gage, from Louisiana State, was Atlanta's second receiver of the draft.

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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