According to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Falcons have decided that Smith's unwillingness or inability to block consistently takes him off the list when it comes to Mike Mularkey's run-first offense. If that is the case, and it's not about contract drama, Brandon Pettigrew, the top-rated tight end in the 2009 draft class, may have just received a bump from the NFL.
He ran a slow 40 at the Combine, and was unable to run at his Pro Day, but the experts believe that Pettigrew is more than the sum of his drills and stats. Why is a tight end who racked up 112 receptions for 1,450 yards and nine touchdowns in his NCAA career at the top of the list? Because he blocked so much early in his time at Oklahoma State as the team looked to other targets, and because his skill set is rare in an era where most college tight ends are either big receivers, or small tackles. Not many can catch and block at an elite level, and it appears that's what the Falcons are looking for.
"Atlanta talked to me a lot at the Combine," Pettigrew told me in a recent interview. "I talked to about 16 teams there. I talked to five or six teams at my Pro Day, but a lot of teams had already broken me down at the Combine."
He strained his right hamstring while running practice 40-yard dashes at Michael Johnson Performance, where he's been training since before the Combine, but Pettigrew and his agent have confirmed that he will run in late-March/early April if need be. Because he's more about game film than drill times, he may not need to -- and the Falcons, in turning away a current NFL tight end because he can't block, may have tipped their hand toward Pettigrew.
Doug Farrar is the Publisher of FalconInsider.com. You can also find his work on Football Outsiders, ESPN.com, the Washington Post, and the Seattle Times. Feel free to contact Doug here.