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Falcons draft a balanced class
Atlanta Falcons first round draft pick, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, left, addresses the media as Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff looks on during an NFL football news conference on Friday, April 23, 2010, in Flowery Branch, Ga.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — The Atlanta Falcons achieved the balance they sought in the NFL draft by adding immediate help at outside linebacker and future help on the offensive line.

The Falcons, however, did not draft a defensive end, another top need.

First-round pick Sean Weatherspoon of Missouri will be expected to made an immediate impact at outside linebacker, possibly replacing starter Mike Peterson on passing downs this season.

Weatherspoon might even win a full-time starting job as a rookie.

"In our minds, this guy is going to be a four-down player for us," said general manager Thomas Dimitroff of Weatherspoon.

Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith added defensive tackle Corey Peters of Kentucky in the third round before spending the team's next two picks on offensive linemen, starting with offensive guard Mike Johnson of Alabama.

The Falcons opened Saturday's final day of the draft by picking center Joe Hawley of UNLV in the fourth round. They then traded up in the fifth round to select cornerback and return specialist Dominique Franks of Oklahoma.

Atlanta's final picks were Kansas wide receiver Kerry Meier in the fifth round and Montana safety Shann Schillinger in the sixth round.

Atlanta needs a defensive end to join John Abraham on the four-man front. Jamaal Anderson, the team's 2007 first-round pick, has only 2 1/2 sacks in three years and is bulking up in the offseason as he is targeted for playing time at defensive tackle.

Kroy Biermann, who had five sacks as a backup last season, could have a chance for a more prominent role at defensive end.

The Falcons need a center as the future replacement for 33-year-old starter Todd McClure. Hawley (6-3, 297) started at guard and center at UNLV. Johnson (6-5, 312) played guard and tackle at Alabama and was a first-team AP All-American.

Franks (5-11, 194) had 60 tackles and six interceptions in three seasons at Oklahoma. Franks, who entered the draft as a junior, may make his first impact as a return specialist. He returned kickoffs and punts at Oklahoma.

"Mr. Dimitroff said there is a possibility I could be returning kicks as well," Franks said in a telephone interview.

The Falcons, who finished 28th in the league against the pass last season, signed free-agent cornerback Dunta Robinson to a six-year, $57 million deal last month.

The Falcons traded a lower fifth-round choice and their last of two sixth-round picks to the Rams for the fourth pick of the fifth round, No. 135 overall, to select Franks.

Peters (6-3, 300) was a three-year starter at Kentucky. He had 49 tackles, including 11 for losses, and four sacks as a senior. He also had four sacks as a junior.

The Falcons did not have picks in the second or seventh rounds.

Smith said Weatherspoon boasts the athleticism needed to stop the run and cover tight ends and running backs on pass defense.

"You've got to have athletic type linebackers who can match those kinds of athletes," Smith said. "Sean definitely has those skills."

Weatherspoon said he is looking forward to playing with safety William Moore, a former Missouri teammate who was a second-round pick last year. Moore missed the 2009 season with injuries.

"We feed off of each other," Weatherspoon said. "I know he didn't get off to the best foot like he wanted last year, but I know he's excited. He's stoked about this season. I've been talking with him and he's been putting in so much work and to have me come out here with him, it will just be great for us to get back together."

Dimitroff selected defensive players with seven of eight picks last year and said he hoped to have a more balanced draft class this year.