The Falcons’ first round trade has been three months in the making

Wide receiver Julio Jones of the University of Alabama stands with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected as the sixth overall pick by the Atlanta Falcons in the 2011 NFL football Draft in New York, April 28, 2011. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Heading into this year’s draft, the overall consensus was that the Falcons would use their first round pick (No. 27 overall) on defense after they gave up 48 points in an embarrassing Divisional Round loss to the Packers last January.

But that ugly showing inside the Georgia Dome that night must have showed GM Thomas Dimitroff that he had a more pressing need than defense. One that facilitated the biggest trade so far of the 2011 NFL Draft.

It was apparent in the Falcons’ loss to the Packers that they didn’t have another receiver opposite Roddy White to stretch the defense. In fact, the Falcons had an issue all season in gaining yards after the catch. Tight end Tony Gonzalez is still productive, but he’s lost a step over the years. Michael Jenkins comes up with a couple of clutch receptions every season and is a solid blocker in the run game (an important skill in Atlanta‘s offense), but he doesn’t threaten defenses with his speed. Slot receiver Harry Douglas does have good speed, but he’s been slow to recover from a knee injury that he suffered in training camp in 2010.

So Dimitroff packaged five picks (including his 2012 first round selection) in order to move all the way up to No. 6 (which was the Browns’ original pick) in order to select Alabama receiver Julio Jones in the first round on Thursday night. Jones is the ultimate blue-chip prospect. He can break tackles, make plays after the catch and yes, stretch defenses vertically. Assuming Jones isn’t a bust in the making, defenses won’t be able to double-team White and Matt Ryan now has even more weapons at his disposal.

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Report: Falcons wanted Green, but Bengals rejected trade offer

Wide receiver Julio Jones of the University of Alabama is greeted by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell onstage after being selected as the sixth overall pick by the Atlanta Falcons in the 2011 NFL football Draft in New York, April 28, 2011. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

The Falcons made the biggest splash in the first round on Thursday night when they traded five picks to the Browns in order to select Alabama receiver Julio Jones at No. 6 overall. What’s interesting is that Jones wasn’t even the player they wanted the most.

According to a report by the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Falcons attempted to trade with the Bengals at No. 4 in order to select Georgia receiver A.J. Green. But the Bengals, who had Green rated as the No. 1 player on their board, rejected the same offer that Atlanta turned around and handed to Cleveland for the No. 6 pick.

Granted, this doesn’t mean that the Falcons didn’t want Jones. Obviously they did or else they wouldn’t have traded five picks to the Browns, including their first rounder in 2012. But again, it’s interesting that Green was ahead of Jones and they wound up giving up a small fortune in picks to get the guy they had second on their board (or maybe Green was 1A and Jones was 1B – whatever, you get the point).

Either way, GM Thomas Dimitroff got the impact player that he coveted. He knows that the Falcons are built to win now and maybe they’re on the cusp of a Super Bowl. The Packers made it clear in the playoffs last year that the Falcons were lacking another receiver opposite Roddy White that could stretch the field and now they have one in Jones. Obviously if Jones is a bust, this could wind up setting the Falcons back for years. But teams assume that risk any time they make a trade like this. Jones was worth it to Dimitroff and Atlanta, so they paid the price to get him.

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