I know you get tired of hearing this question. If you're a Falcon fan you'd know that this question is brought up every time the Falcons' name comes up in a discussion. The Falcons' were sitting at the 2011 draft with the 27th pick without a real need at any particular position. Most thought wed just sit there and draft a DE, WR, or a TE. Any other year we probably would draft the best player available, but this year was different; we were in the lockout. The lockout prevented free agency before the draft, so unlike the usual off season we didn't know our true needs going into the draft. Thomas Dimitroff wanted to get " explosive " so we went out and traded 5 picks (2011 and 2012 first round picks, a 2011 second round pick and both 2011 and 2012 fourth round picks) with the Cleveland Browns. We didn't benefit from the lock out because we could not trade players, only draft picks. The Falcons finished out the 2011 season with a 10-6 record and the 8th ranked passing offense. After the jump I'll break down the possible draft picks Atlanta could of made as well as their production this season. The picks I choose are based off what we needed this season. ( ex. pass rush, pass blocking )I have to start with our very own, Julio Jones. Julio finished out the year starting 13 games with 54 catches for 959 yards. He led all rookie WRs with 8 touchdowns and he didn't even record his first career touchdown until week 9 in a blow out win against Indianapolis. Julio was a great player for Atlanta this year but if you look at his stats he really didn't show up all 13 games. He had 6 games where he had less than 4 catches. Yes 2 of those games he went for 104 and 131 but it was off of big receptions. Take away his 80 and 75 yards touchdowns and he had a horrible game. Overall I think Julio was a great pick even with all the draft picks it took getting him. Julio Jones was a game changer.
Next on the list is Aldon Smith the DE/OLB that got drafted after Julio (7th). I understand we only really traded up for Julio Jones but maybe we could of traded less to get to the 7th pick, considering Cleveland did draft Julio, and draft Aldon Smith. Smith played in all 16 games racking up 37 tackles, 14 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. In San Francisco Smith played in the 3-4 system and played OLB. In college Smith played DE. The Falcons struggled getting a consistent pass rush this year and he would of definitively fixed this problem. Atlanta's best pass rush came from John Abraham but he only had 9.5 sacks this year. The next best only had 4 sacks. Now just think how great our defense could of looked with the Predator and Aldon Smith rushing the passer. A good pass rush makes the corners look good and could of unfortunately kept BVG a job here as our DC. I think we would of traded around 4 picks again to get up to the 7th pick. Overall Aldon Smith would of been the pass rusher we needed and eventually stopping us from signing Ray Edwards.
Nate Solder is 6'8, 319 pound tackle that Atlanta could of really used this season. Solder was picked 17th in the draft which was right between the Falcons original pick (27th) and the pick Atlanta traded up for (6th). Its hard to consider this a player Atlanta could of drafted in stead of Julio because who would of knew about the injuries our offensive line would of had and Sam Baker having such a bad season . We also didn't really know where we stood as far as free agency. We had 3 offensive lineman looking for big money. Solder started 13 games for New England and only allowed 3 sacks the entire season. That is huge considering how much New England passed the ball. Another big stat I saw that he only had 5 penalties called on him all season. Atlanta fans know that our offensive line, mostly Sam Baker, had a hand full of penalties. Solder would of been a nice piece to add to our offense and to play many games protecting Matt Ryan.
Next on the list is Greg Little. The main reason Im saying his name is because he was available 27th in the SECOND round of the draft. Little played in all 16 games but only started in 12. He finished out the year with 61 catches and 709 yards. Little struggled to find the end zone with only 2 touchdowns but so did the entire team. There were only 16 total passing touchdowns all year from a Browns QB. Not to mention the horrible offense he was in. Greg Little and Julio Jones basically match up both 220 lbs and Jones is an inch taller. Little might have not been as explosive as Jones but we could of saved our 4 draft picks and built our team better.
This list might increase within the next couple of years or it might decrease. I think Julio is an exceptional player and I honestly think we got our guy. This post was made to just make you think. I support all the decisions made by the Atlanta front office and I trust our GM, Thomas Dimitroff. Heres just a quick comparison of the 2010 and 2011 season:
The Atlanta Falcons' decline