Alford, from Southeastern Louisiana, joined Washington’s Desmond Trufant in an unusual first two days for the Falcons’ draft: two picks and two cornerbacks.
Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said there was an urgent need to add more than one cornerback after the team released Dunta Robinson and had Brent Grimes and Chris Owens leave as free agents. When Alford fell to the Falcons’ selection late in the second round, Dimitroff said his decision was easier.
“As much as we have other needs on our team, we thought it was the best interests of our team, not only today but in years to come here, that we continued to fortify this secondary,” Dimitroff said. “We lost three this year and we think it’s very, very important to make sure we’re solid with our secondary going forward.”
The Falcons traded up in the first round Thursday night to make Trufant the No. 22 pick overall. Atlanta sent St. Louis its third-round pick as part of the trade, leaving the Falcons with only one selection Friday night.
Alford said he didn’t expect Atlanta would take another cornerback with its second pick.
“To tell you the truth, I didn’t think they were going to draft another cornerback, but I’m glad to be here,” Alford said in a telephone interview. “I want to battle just like any other player on the field. I’m coming in and I’m just going to compete for a starting spot.”
Alford impressed scouts at the Senior Bowl after recording 10 interceptions, including four in the 2012 season, at Southeastern Louisiana. Alford also returned punts and kickoffs in 2012, taking advantage of his 4.39 speed in the 40-yard dash.
The Senior Bowl was Alford’s chance to prove he could compete with major college players. Dimitroff was convinced.
“What I was really, really impressed by was he came in there and his eyes weren’t wide from fear or worry,” Dimitroff said. “They were wide because he was fired up to show everyone that he could hang with anyone in that Senior Bowl and he did a fantastic job there. He was knocking balls down. He was running on everyone’s hips.”
Each of the Falcons’ draft picks have older brothers who played in the NFL.
Alford’s older brother, Fred Booker, played cornerback for the New Orleans Saints in 2005.
Trufant has two older brothers with NFL experience. Marcus Trufant is a free agent after playing 10 years with Seattle. Isaiah Trufant played in nine games with one start for the New York Jets in 2012.
Dimitroff said Alford (5-10, 188) may be the Falcons’ fastest player. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds in the NFL combine.
“He has this catch-up speed that in my mind is not matched by many in this draft,” Dimitroff said. “He has the ball skills to get up and battle and he is a feisty football player. Like Desmond Trufant, both of these guys are coming in here with a feisty way about them that we are very intrigued by.”
In order to move up in the first round and draft Trufant, Atlanta gave St. Louis the No. 30 pick and third- and sixth-round selections. The Falcons also obtained a 2015 seventh-round pick from the Rams.
Atlanta will have seven picks today, including two fourth-round picks and four seventh-round picks.
Dimitroff said the Falcons may look for more defensive help today.
“I know there will be questions about the defensive front,” he said. “That’s something we will continue to monitor as well.”
The Falcons signed two notable free agents before the draft, running back Steven Jackson and defensive end Osi Umenyiora. They also re-signed left tackle Sam Baker and safety William Moore.
Still, the team had significant needs entering the draft after cutting defensive end John Abraham, running back Michael Turner, offensive tackle Tyson Clabo and Robinson. Also, longtime starting center Todd McClure retired.