FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons pulled off another significant deal in the opening round of the NFL draft, moving up to land Washington cornerback Desmond Trufant on Thursday.
The Falcons worked a trade with St. Louis to acquire the 22nd overall pick. Atlanta swapped the 30th selection and gave up its third- and six-round picks, while acquiring a future seventh-round pick from the Rams.
“This was our targeted pick,” general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “This is who we focused on all throughout the offseason.”
The 6-foot, 190-pound Trufant, who timed at 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash during the combine, fills a major need for the Falcons. The team lost three cornerbacks during the offseason as Dunta Robinson was cut in a cost-cutting move, while Brent Grimes and Christopher Owens signed with other teams in free agency.
There were only four cornerbacks on the roster — one of them a practice-squad player — before Atlanta selected Trufant.
“He’s a guy who just seems to find the football,” coach Mike Smith said, who expects the newcomer to compete right away for a starting job.
Trufant follows two older brothers into the league. Marcus has been a starting cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks since being picked in the first round a decade ago, while Isaiah worked his way through two lower-level leagues before getting a chance to play corner with the New York Jets the past two seasons.
“They’re here with me watching the draft,” Desmond said on a conference call late Thursday. “Now, I’m going to try to make a name, make an impact in the league. I’m ready to come in and work hard from day one.”
Dimitroff has become known for his bold moves on draft day, most notably landing Pro Bowl receiver Julio Jones in a blockbuster trade with Cleveland in 2011. The deal with the Rams had been in the works for a few days, as Dimitroff took advantage of his relationship with St. Louis GM Les Snead, who used to work in the Falcons’ personnel department.
“There were a lot of discussions up and down,” Dimitroff said. “Everything worked out really well. We were able to secure a trade with our old friend, Les Snead. We walked away with someone we feel will be a nice addition to our team.”
In an interesting twist, the Rams used the 30th pick to land Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree.
Knowing that Minnesota also was in the market for a cornerback, the Falcons felt they had to move up to make sure they got the player they wanted. As it turned out, the Vikings did take a corner with the 25th choice, Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes.
Dimitroff was willing to make a deal as long as he didn’t have to give up a second-round pick.
“When we’re focused on going after something, we’re not afraid to be aggressive with it,” Dimitroff said. “We could not take the risk of not having a guy like this on our team. That’s why we made the move.”
Trufant had six interceptions and broke up 33 passes during his four years with the Huskies.
“Desmond has the skill set we’re looking for,” Smith said. “He can run, he can jump, he can find the football. Plus, we really like his work ethic.”
The Falcons interviewed Trufant twice — once at the combine in Indianapolis, then again on a visit to Atlanta — and came away impressed. The team believes that having two brothers already in the league gives him a major edge over other rookies.
“It’s very important that he has experience in the NFL before he’s gotten here,” Smith said. “He’s been able to live that through his two brothers. They’re a very close family. We think he’s experienced things that other rookies have not experienced because two older brothers have gone before him in the NFL.”
Trufant also looks forward to working with Asante Samuel, the only big-name cornerback remaining on the Atlanta roster after the offseason purge.
“I’ve been watching him since I was young,” Trufant said. “I’m going to try to learn as much as possible from him.”
The rookie will be joining a team that came up 10 yards shy of the Super Bowl, losing to San Francisco in the NFC championship game after winning its second division title in three years. He figures to have plenty of balls thrown his way in the NFC South, going twice a year against Drew Brees of New Orleans, Cam Newton of Carolina and Josh Freeman of Tampa Bay.
“It’s a great organization, a great team,” Trufant said. “This is the perfect place for me.”
The schedule worked out, too.
The Falcons host the Jets on Oct. 7, and Seattle visits Atlanta on Nov. 10, meaning Trufant may get a chance to go against both brothers in his very first season.
“I’ve learned a lot from watching them the past 11 or 12 years,” the rookie said. “They’ve had success at the highest levels. I’ve watched them, picked their brains and tried to learn that I can from them.”
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Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.