FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Taking another step to beef up their defense, the Atlanta Falcons selected Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon with the 19th overall pick of the NFL draft Thursday night.
The Falcons also coveted Florida offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey, but he was taken one pick earlier by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Georgia Tech defensive end Derrick Morgan, another player who would've filled a major need, was taken 16th by the Tennessee Titans.
General manager Thomas Dimitroff insisted the Falcons got the guy they had targeted all along.
The 6-foot-1, 239-pound Weatherspoon should step up the production at outside linebacker, and the Falcons are counting on him to be a productive player right away. He could take over for either Stephen Nicholas or Mike Peterson, who will be 34 at the start of next season.
"If (Pouncey) had been sitting there at the same time as Sean," Dimitroff said, "we would've picked Sean."
A second-team All-American as a senior, Weatherspoon had 4.5 sacks, 14.5 tackles for losses and 111 tackles overall. He put up even more impressive numbers as a junior — 155 tackles, 18.5 stops behind the line and five sacks.
The Falcons have addressed two defensive holes during the offseason, also signing free agent cornerback Dunta Robinson to a six-year, $57 million contract after ranking 28th in the league in passing yards allowed.
"We were very excited to have the opportunity to take an outside linebacker who's going to ramp up our speed, our enthusiasm, our athleticism," Dimitroff said. "In our minds, this guy is going to be a four-down player for us."
Weatherspoon has already envisioned settling in beside middle linebacker Curtis Lofton and rejoining a former Missouri teammate, safety William Moore, a second-round pick of the Falcons a year ago who never got on the field because of injuries.
"Curtis is a real up and comer," Weatherspoon said. "I look forward to playing beside him and making some noise."
Weatherspoon got a chance to hook up again with Moore during a pre-draft meeting with the Falcons.
"I told him, 'We're going to feed off each other. We're going to be poppin' down there,'" Weatherspoon said. "He's going to be able to help me with so many things — the location, the playbook. He's a guy I can definitely lean on."