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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons bolstered their secondary in the second round of the NFL draft Friday night, selecting Colorado cornerback Isaiah Oliver with the 58th overall pick.
Still needing a defensive tackle after Dontari Poe left as a free agent, the Falcons decided instead to focus on cornerback, a position that was thinned after Jalen Collins, a second-round pick in 2015, played less than two full seasons after violating drug-testing rules.
Oliver will slot in behind starting corners Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. Named first-team All-Pac 12 despite missing two games with a leg injury, Oliver had two interceptions and 15 passes defended.
He worked out for the Falcons last month at Colorado and felt he impressed the team.
“I would say it’s just my athleticism along with my refined technique,” Oliver said. “That’s something I’ve always worked on these last three years, especially just the little things — at the line of scrimmage, where I have my eyes, where I have my arms. I just try to make those things as crisp as possible to help me out on game day.”
Under first-time coordinator Marquand Manuel last season, the Falcons’ defense was better than the year before, moving into the top 10 in scoring and total yards for the first time at the end of the regular season the 1998 Falcons advanced to the Super Bowl.
The difference came in giving up less explosive plays. Atlanta improved 15 spots to rank No. 8 in passes allowed of at least 20 yards and went from 25th to No. 2 in runs allowed of at least 20 yards.
The Falcons chose Alabama receiver Calvin Ridley in the first round.
Ridley, drafted No. 26 overall out of Alabama, was the second receiver picked in the first round, two spots after Maryland’s D.J. Moore went to Carolina.
Ridley insisted his chief concern was getting drafted by a team that will let him fit in quickly, but he’s also ready to prove that a lot of clubs were mistaken to pass him up.
“I definitely can play in and outside,” Ridley said as he toured the Falcons’ complex Friday afternoon with his mother, Kassna Daniels. “I just want to prove the doubters wrong, you know, that I am the best receiver in the draft, that I am a great player and that I can walk into any situation and be a great player.”
Ridley gives the passing attack fills a big need — a second deep threat to pair with Julio Jones, a two-time All-Pro and a five-time Pro Bowl selection. Mohamed Sanu is a strong veteran presence as a possession receiver, but Atlanta wants to take some pressure off Jones while wearing down a secondary.
Coach Dan Quinn believes Ridley has just the right mix of game-changing speed and underestimated strength at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds.
“The main reason is he can really get lateral,” Quinn said. “He can really break. He’s hard to press because of that ability, but he’s more wiry strong than small. He’s not little. He’s not big. He’s just strong.”
The offense needed a spark after dropping from first to 15th in scoring last year as opponents held five-time Jones to just three touchdowns and the running back tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman missed time with concussions.