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Versatility the key to understanding the Atlanta Falcons' draft strategy

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Kyle Pitts made history on Thursday night going to Atlanta. What that (0:58)

Kyle Pitts made history on Thursday night going to Atlanta. What that might mean for the Falcons. Video by Michael Rothstein (0:58)

Arthur Smith joked that he didn’t want to say the word again. So often over the three days the Atlanta Falcons drafted, the first-year head coach used the same description. Didn’t matter which player he was talking about. Didn’t matter the position. Didn’t matter the round.

The word: versatility.

If there was an overarching theme to how the Falcons drafted players in the first go-round for Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot, it was that. Adding players with the ability to play multiple places, if not different positions entirely.

“I keep hitting that buzzword,” Smith said. “How about this? We’ll say multiple spots.”

Smith was talking about cornerback Avery Williams, whom the team drafted in the fifth round, but he could have been discussing nearly anyone from their nine-man draft class. Williams could play corner. He’s accomplished as a returner. Smith even floated the idea of him playing offense because of his skill set.

Defensive lineman Ta'Quon Graham (fifth round) said he played almost every spot on the defensive line. Safety Richie Grant (second round) said he believed he was a free safety, but Smith said he could play either safety spot and Grant has played some cornerback, too. Darren Hall (fourth round) can play corner or safety, if need be. First-rounder Kyle Pitts, who is a tight end, can line up in-line, in the slot or out wide.

The offensive linemen the Falcons took -- Jalen Mayfield in the third round and Drew Dalman in the fourth round -- both can play multiple spots: Mayfield at guard or tackle and Dalman at center or guard.

“We’ll have an open competition and the best player will play,” Smith said. “And the ones that don’t, they've got to have versatility if you want to get a helmet on game day.”

Smith said this in reference to the offensive line, but it really could apply to almost any position on the roster.

Fontenot, in explaining what the team was looking for, pointed to character and then -- you guessed it -- versatility. Guys who can play multiple positions.

If their newest players can’t do that on offense or defense, they need to be able to carve out a special teams role, like receiver Frank Darby (sixth round) or edge rusher Adetokunbo Ogundeji (fifth round) might have to do in order to make the team.

By drafting with versatility at least in mind, it gives players more paths to roster spots and gives the Falcons more options with a team that is climbing out of a cap conundrum left by former general manager Thomas Dimitroff.

Before making decisions on which players to draft, Fontenot said they wanted to make sure they had a plan for the player.

“If there’s not a vision for him either being a contributor or developing into helping you on Sundays, Mondays, Thursdays, whenever we play,” Fontenot said. “If we don’t have a clear vision for them helping you at some point then they are not players that you want.

“But I will say that every player that we drafted, we do have visions for those players developing into contributors or starters.”

What those roles will be, other than Pitts', who is likely going to have a massive role for the Falcons from the start, remains to be seen. There will be jobs won and lost, roles taken and surrendered. But the Falcons' plan was to take as many players as possible who can do as many things as possible to give them the best chance to find some spot for them on the roster.