By CHARLES ODUM
AP Sports Writer
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) – The Atlanta Falcons have continued their relentless effort to overhaul their defense by moving up in the first round to select defensive end Takkarist McKinley of UCLA with the No. 26 pick.
The Falcons traded the No. 31 overall pick and this year’s third- and seventh-round picks to Seattle on Thursday night to move up in the draft for McKinley.
The Falcons, who started four rookies on defense in 2016, have made defense their draft emphasis with coach Dan Quinn. Atlanta used its first- and second-round picks on defensive in each of the first two drafts with Quinn the last two years.
McKinley had 10 sacks and 18 tackles for loss in 2016.
McKinley (6-2, 250) will be paired with 2016 sacks leader Vic Beasley, the team’s first-round pick in 2015, to lead the Atlanta pass rush.
Following the pick, an emotional McKinley held a large photo of his late grandmother, saying this fulfills a promise he made to her. He used expletives in the live interview on the NFL Network.
Deion Sanders, who was conducting the interview, seemed taken back by the outburst from McKinley.
The Falcons selected safety Keanu Neal and linebacker Deion Jones with their first two picks last year and leaned heavily on rookies in their starting defense as they advanced to the Super Bowl.
Following the trade, the Falcons are left with only a second-round pick on Friday and only fourth- and fifth-round picks on Saturday. They traded their sixth-round pick last year when acquiring left guard Andy Levitre.
The addition of McKinley leaves right guard as a top need to be addressed. Starter Chris Chester has retired.