The needs at outside linebacker are obvious for the Falcons, with Keith Brooking and Michael Boley both out the door, but when Falcon Insider publisher Doug Farrar picked with the 24th selection in the first round, the news was not good. The best 4-3 outside 'backers were off the board -- USC's Brian Cushing to Detroit at 20 and Cushing's teammate Clay Matthews to New England at 23 (drat!), and the next wave of players at SAM or WILL -- Virginia's Clint Stintim and Connecticut jack-of-all-trades Connor Barwin -- would have been reaches in the late first round (Both players went in the early second round in our mock). In the real world, a trade up or down might have been in order, but the Scout.com mock's first rule was: No trades!
Therefore, Doug's imaginary Falcons were presented with a conundrum. Matthews would have been the pick at 24, because need and BPA would have intersected and you always love when that happens. But with the departure of Dominique Foxworth to the Baltimore Ravens in the offseason, the needs in the secondary are just as glaring -- they're just not talked about as much.
So, with the 24th selection in the first round, the Atlanta Falcons select … Cornerback Darius Butler, UConn. Butler is a four-year starter and two-year team captain whose interception totals decreased in his junior and senior years only because teams were throwing the other way -- the surest sign of respect for any defensive back. The 5-11, 183-pound South Florida native was overlooked by his local colleges comeing out of high school, so he headed north and started making all the big schools regret that recruiting mistake.
"I was probably overlooked because I was so small coming out of high school," Butler told Doug in a recent exclusive interview. "I played quarterback and safety, and I was light, coming out at 165 pounds. More than anything, it was growing up in the area of South Florida -- there are so many [talented athletes], it's hard to find all the good ones. "Coming out of high school, it put a chip on my shoulder. But now, I'm over it. Coming out, though, it was definitely a driving force -- it lit a fire under my butt."
Butler, the cousin of Baltimore Ravens running back Willis McGahee, has also been used as a pitch option and as a receiver in various packages, and he's a dangerous kick returner. Atlanta offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey will have a blast with Butler in various "Dirty Bird" option looks, when the Falcons' first pick isn't frustrating enemy receivers.
At least, that's the way we see it going in the Scout.com 2009 Mock Draft. Stay tuned to find out of the Falcons snapped up a linebacker in the second round…
Other considerations: Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew went to Philly at 21. Illinois cornerback Vontae Davis was taken by Minnesota at 22, but Butler's intelligence and character probably would have had the Falcons taking him anyway -- there are some unresolved questions marks about the hyper-athletic Davis and the Falcons need a cornerback who can make a difference right away. Utah cornerback Sean Smith (taken by Miami at 25) and Missouri defensive tackle Evander "Ziggy" Hood (selected by the Colts at 27) would have been in the running as well. After the showing he made in his Pro Day, Hood probably would have been the pick had Butler been off the board.