Falcons eyeing Johnson, but can they move up again in draft? Print
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Tuesday, 24 April 2007 05:57
NFL Headline News

 ATLANTA (AP) -The Falcons want to turn Michael Vick into one of those regular quarterbacks, a guy who looks to throw the ball instead of just running with it.
Of course, the transformation would be a whole lot easier if Vick had a go-to receiver on the other end of his passes.
Hmmm, wonder where the Falcons could find that sort of player?
They don't have to look very far.
Calvin Johnson, who grew up in the Atlanta area and spent the last three years at nearby Georgia Tech, sure would look good wearing that odd-looking bird on his helmet. But the Falcons have no chance of landing the all-world receiver unless they jump a few more spots in Saturday's draft.
``Moving up is one of those things that sounds good,'' general manager Rick McKay said. ``Obviously, we've got a local player who is not a good player - he's a great player. So, there will be a lot of speculation with respect to that, but it's not easy to accomplish.''
The Falcons already traded away Vick's highly touted backup, Matt Schaub, just to advance a couple of spots in the draft, moving from 10th to eighth (along with a few other goodies) as part of their deal with the Houston Texans.
There's no way, however, that Johnson will still be available at No. 8, so the Falcons would have to pull off another trade to land the local star, who looks to be one of the best receivers to come along in years.
Johnson towers over opposing cornerbacks (6-foot-4, 237 points), ran one of the fastest times at the combine (4.35 seconds in the 40-yard dash) and has such amazing hands that one college opponent dubbed him ``Spider-man.'' He put up stellar numbers for the Yellow Jackets despite playing all three seasons with a mediocre quarterback, Reggie Ball.
Without question, Johnson is the most jaw-dropping talent in the draft - and it's not a stretch to say he could go No. 1 overall. Not even a report that he admitted to using marijuana is likely to hurt his status.
Johnson, who was raised in Atlanta's southern suburbs, met with the Falcons during the combine but didn't sound as though he was itching to stay at home any longer.
``I just want to become the best player I can as a professional,'' he said.
Maybe that lack of enthusiasm stems from Vick's passing numbers. Last season, No. 7 became the first quarterback in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards but ranked near the bottom of the quarterback ratings.
``I don't know enough about the Falcons to say whether it would benefit me or them,'' Johnson said. ``I believe I'm good enough to help any team win, but that doesn't mean I'd fit perfectly with every team. I really don't know enough about them to say one way or the other.
Vick's lack of success in the passing game is not entirely his fault. The Falcons have not exactly surrounded him with a stellar group of receivers.
Former first-round picks Michael Jenkins and Roddy White have yet to win the quarterback's confidence, with good reason. Atlanta signed 35-year-old Joe Horn to add a veteran presence to the receiving corps, but he's been plagued by injuries and is clearly on the downside of his career.
``They all have to step their game up, everybody,'' Vick said. ``That is the rule around here: You have to step up your game and take it to another level. That is our motto now. Those guys are working hard in trying to catch every ball they can. We are just trying to get better.''
The Falcons fired Jim Mora and brought in Bobby Petrino largely because they felt the new coach would have more success in developing Vick's passing skills. Petrino certainly ran a dynamic college offense at Louisville, but it's not known if he can have the same success at the pro level.
Besides, there's plenty of holes to fill beyond receiver. The Falcons need lots of help on the offensive and defensive lines. They want to get younger and more athletic at safety. There are plenty of prospects - LSU's LaRon Landry (safety), Penn State's Levi Brown (offensive tackle), Clemson's Gaines Adams (defensive end) - who could still be around when Atlanta picks at No. 8.
None of them would likely have Johnson's immediate impact, but McKay downplayed the idea of leaping even higher in the draft. If anything, he said, the Falcons will likely consider dropping back down before they move up any higher.
The Falcons picked up an extra second-round pick in the deal with Houston, which certainly makes it easier to land another spot in the opening round. That way, Atlanta could address several concerns instead of one glaring weakness.
``Moving up in the first round is very difficult,'' McKay said. ``I think it is more likely to move down than to move up. In our case, we've got a number of players we like up there.''
But one player really stands out.
That guy who's been playing in Atlanta all his life.
 

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