Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank made his expectations clear as his team approaches this year's NFL draft: find starters.
The Falcons are a little handcuffed with only five draft picks after losing their fifth-round pick for illegally piping crowd noise into the Georgia Dome and their sixth-round pick in a trade with Tennessee for left guard Andy Levitre. However, Blank believes losing two later-round picks can be overcome with shrewd decision-making.
"We have five picks, but we have the first four [rounds], which is critical," Blank told ESPN.com Monday. "That's where you expect your starters to come. I'd be disappointed if we didn't end up with at least three starters out of those first four picks."
Blank's words puts even more pressure on an organization with its share of draft misses under general manager Thomas Dimitroff. The entire 2012 draft class is no longer with the team, and only two of those six players -- tackle Lamar Holmes (Detroit) and outside linebacker Jonathan Massaquoi (Kansas City) -- are still in the league.
Last year during Dan Quinn's first year as head coach, only first-round draft pick Vic Beasley was a regular starter among the seven draft picks. Second-round draft pick Jalen Collins, the cornerback from LSU, was a major disappointment and started only three games. Third-round pick Tevin Coleman started the season at running back but lost his job to Devonta Freeman after suffering a rib injury. And fourth-round pick Justin Hardy showed promise in more of a reserve receiver role.
Going into the 2016 season, the Falcons have holes in the starting lineup at inside linebacker, strong safety and right guard, plus other key areas of concern (pass-rush help, pass-catching tight end, depth at cornerback).
"I think Thomas and Dan both have done a tremendous amount of work," Blank said. "I spoke to them independently on Saturday to get kind of their appraisals of where we are. I have formal meetings with them this coming week, at the end of the week. But their sense of needs and players was very compatible. So, I'm encouraged by that.
"I'm looking forward to the draft. Positions where we have needs, there seems to be some depth -- on both sides of the ball, but certainly on defense."
The Falcons have the option, of course, of trading down in order to gain more draft picks.
The NFL draft takes place April 28-30 in Chicago.
Quinn and Dimitroff are scheduled to hold their predraft press conference on Thursday.