Official NFL team logos; 1 col.; 46.5 mm
FLOWERY BRANCH — Before the NFL draft began, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff knew his team would not create a national buzz.
Last year’s first pick for Atlanta, receiver Julio Jones at sixth overall, caught everyone’s attention.
The first selection this year — No. 55 overall — was an offensive lineman from Wisconsin who can play both center and guard.
Dimitroff easily summed up the Falcons’ approach.
“Let’s just get some solid football players who can fit into roster spots of need,” Dimitroff said Saturday night.
A day after picking guard-center Peter Konz in the second round and Southern Mississippi offensive tackle Lamar Holmes in the third, the Falcons fleshed out their draft with a potential successor to fullback Ovie Mughelli and adding depth to their defense.
Bradie Ewing, a fifth-round pick from Wisconsin, could replace Mughelli as the starting fullback. The Falcons could decide to release Mughelli, a respected team leader and nine-year veteran, to create room under the NFL salary cap.
Seven spots after picking Ewing, Atlanta added Troy pass rusher Jonathan Massaquoi in the fifth round. The Falcons chose Mississippi State strong safety Charles Mitchell in the middle of the sixth round and South Carolina defensive tackle Travian Robertson late in the seventh.
Mughelli was named to the Pro Bowl two years ago, but his 2011 season ended with a Week 7 knee injury. Despite the many roles he plays on Atlanta’s special teams, Mughelli could become expendable because Ewing played a similar role at Wisconsin.
Atlanta also has Mike Cox on the depth chart at fullback. Cox signed a two-year contract as a free agent after Mughelli was injured. Mughelli’s contract this year will count $3.7 million against the NFL salary cap.
“I don’t want to comment on our financial situation and our cap situation publicly,” Dimitroff said. “That’s what we discuss back in our offices. Suffice it to say, we feel like this opens up competition at the position. We feel like we have three solid fullbacks here that we hope will compete very strongly for the job.”
After walking on at Wisconsin, Ewing became an offensive captain as a senior and contributed heavily to the Badgers’ coverage and return units on special teams.
According to information released by the university, Ewing’s blocks resulted in 30 touchdowns last season. He caught all 28 passes targeted to him in his four-year career. He was a Wisconsin teammate of Peter Konz, an offensive lineman drafted by Atlanta in the second round Friday.
“Obviously, drafting me as a fullback, I can block, I can catch, I can split out as a receiver,” Ewing said. “I think it’s my versatility and I’m just excited to get down there.”
Massaquoi, a cousin of Cleveland Browns receiver and former Georgia standout Mohamed Massaquoi, left Troy after his junior year. He started 25 games and finished his Trojans career with 19.5 sacks.
When Atlanta begins its mandatory, three-day mini-camp June 19, Massaquoi will work behind starting ends John Abraham and Ray Edwards and compete for snaps with Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury.
Massaquoi grew up as a Falcons fan in the Atlanta suburb of Lawrenceville, where he played at Central Gwinnett High School. He spent the 2008 season at Butler (Kan.) Community College, helping the school win a junior college national title.
“I have a non-stop motor,” he said. “I want to get to that ball no matter the depths of the field, and I believe the Atlanta Falcons see my relentless spirit and how bad I want to get to the quarterback.”
Massaquoi hopes to follow in the footsteps of other former Troy standouts that became NFL stars.
“With them producing Osi Umenyiora, DeMarcus Ware and now me, hopefully I can be put into that conversation of our powerful tradition,” Massaquoi said. “Only time will tell.”
The Falcons, who will work under new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan this season, upgraded their secondary Wednesday by trading for cornerback Asante Samuel.
The only starter not returning from last year’s defense is middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, who signed with New Orleans.
Mitchell, who graduated in December, played in all 50 games of his career and was a senior team captain with Mississippi State. He likely will compete with reserve safety Shann Schillinger for a roster spot, but must show Atlanta coaches that he can contribute heavily on special teams.
Mitchell credits his success at safety with understanding how to watch film and break down opponents’ strengths and weaknesses.
“I’m a pretty physical guy,” he said. “I pride myself on making tackles and I always try to be around the ball.”
Robertson, a compensatory pick, was the 242nd player chosen. He will compete with Peria Jerry, Atlanta’s first-round pick from 2009, and Vance Walker, a former undrafted free agent, for snaps behind starting defensive tackles Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters.
Atlanta’s defense finished 18th in points allowed and 20th in total yards last season.
Colts make Harnish final choice of 2012 draft
INDIANAPOLIS — Mr. Irrelevant suddenly has a whole new meaning for Chandler Harnish.
The Northern Illinois quarterback who was taken with the 253rd and final pick of the draft Saturday didn’t just get a title and a vacation. He got a chance to play for his favorite NFL team and potentially to be a backup for Andrew Luck.
First, he’ll make the trip to Disneyland, appear in the Irrelevant Week parade in Newport Beach, Calif., and put his Colts license plate back on his car. Hey, it’s OK -- he’s an Indiana native.
“I’m happy to be wanted by a team and I’m happy to be an Indianapolis Colt because that’s been my favorite team all the way through,” he told local reporters on a conference call shortly after the selection was announced.
For the Colts and the NFL, it was a historic first.
Indianapolis opened the draft by taking Luck, the Stanford quarterback, with the No. 1 overall selection and ended the draft by taking another quarterback in Harnish. It was the first time since 1967 that a non-expansion team had the first and last picks in the draft and only the third time in league history.
Neither of the previous teams, Houston in 2002 and Philadelphia in 1949, chose a quarterback with both picks.
Paul Salada, who founded Irrelevant Week in 1976, made the announcement and held up a blue-and-white Colts jersey with No. 253 on it.
One thing is already certain: Unlike Luck, who was handed a No. 12 jersey with his name stitched on the back, Harnish will not wear No. 253 when he reports to next weekend’s rookie mini-camp.
And for a guy who grew up playing at Norwell High School in northeastern Indiana, this was no joke, either.
“It’s complete elation. It’s surreal,” Harnish said. “I’m so happy I’m a Colt. I’m really, just speechless.”
Harnish set 30 school records at Northern Illinois, was a two-time all-Mid-American Conference selection, a three-time academic all-league choice and was chosen as the league’s MVP. He led the Huskies to the league title and their fourth straight bowl game in 2011.
He finished his career with 8,944 yards passing, completed 61.9 percent of his passes with 68 touchdowns and 26 interceptions. He also ran for 2,238 yards and 24 TDs and his 11,927 yards in total offense rank third all-time in league history.
That was enough to persuade the Colts to take him, even at draft’s end.
“It is relevant because otherwise you wouldn’t burn a pick on somebody,” new general manager Ryan Grigson said. “This person we took had tremendous success in the Mid-American Conference. He’s got ability, and he was higher on our board than where we took him.”
Plus, the Colts need him.
Until Thursday night, the only quarterbacks on Indy’s roster were career backup Drew Stanton, who was acquired in an offseason trade with the New York Jets, and Trevor Vittatoe, with one year of pro experience. Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne couldn’t even remember his name and simply chose to call him “V.”
The selection of Luck altered the depth chart, and the selection of Harnish gives the Colts another young quarterback to groom as a backup to Luck.
Harnish, who is 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, couldn’t have asked for a better situation.
“I was right there at the end, still hoping for the best and preparing for the worst,” he said. “My agent and I were thinking we’d be looking into free agency.
“It looks like I have a little vacation and they tell me I have a parade,” he added. “I don’t know much else about what happens, but I’m excited to find out.”
Harnish and the Colts weren’t the only winner.
Team owner Jim Irsay also ran a contest on Twitter, offering $5,000 to the person who chose the name of the last of Indy’s 10 selections this weekend. Shortly after the draft, Irsay tweeted that the winner was Billy Cardwell from Kokomo, Ind.