Lelie adds more speed to already-fast Falcons
ATLANTA » An Atlanta Falcons offense already built for speed gained more than one set of fleet feet in Tuesday's trade with Denver for receiver Ashley Lelie.
The three-team trade, which sent burly running back T.J. Duckett to the Washington Redskins, also opens playing time for rookie running back Jerious Norwood as Warrick Dunn's top backup.
Norwood posted the fastest 40 time (4.33 seconds) of the running backs at the NFL Draft combine and is seen as a better fit than Duckett for the Atlanta offense.
Hawaii alumnus Lelie is expected to have his first practice with quarterback Michael Vick and the Falcons today. He arrived in Atlanta late yesterday afternoon, and the Falcons were awaiting results from his physical before making a formal trade announcement.
Lelie will be the No. 3 receiver and give the team perhaps its best deep threat since Tony Martin on the 1998 Super Bowl team.
Lelie had 54 receptions for 1,084 yards and seven touchdowns for Denver in 2004. He led the league with an average of 20.1 yards per catch.
Last season, he made 13 starts and dropped off to 42 catches for 770 yards and one touchdown. He was a training camp holdout and fined $14,000 a day by Denver after the Broncos acquired receiver Javon Walker.
Falcons officials evaluating the trade concluded that even in Atlanta's run-first offense, the No. 3 receiver plays a more important role than a backup running back.
Duckett's primary value was as insurance if Dunn suffered an injury. Lelie has more immediate value.
"For T.J. the issue was going to be how much playing time could we bring him," Falcons general manager Rick McKay said yesterday. "If we had an injury or two he was going to get a lot of playing time. Without an injury, he wasn't going to get as much."
The Falcons led the NFL in rushing each of the past two seasons. Dunn said the addition of Lelie should open more running room as defenses have to respect Lelie as a deep threat.
"I think everybody who plays us usually plays eight or nine in the box," Dunn said. "By getting another speed guy in Ashley, we will be able to spread the field out a little bit."