There's a lot of criticism lobbed Thomas Dimitroff's way. A lot of it is overstated, in my opinion, and some of it is flat-out wrong. By and large, he's been an effective general manager for the Falcons, and we wouldn't be here today without him.
That doesn't mean he's without fault, however, and his track record when it comes to cornerbacks is decidedly mixed.
It's not hard to see this, if you really look. Out of the six cornerbacks on the team's roster in 2011, three were either drafted or scooped up off the UDFA wire by Thomas Dimitroff. Until Kelvin Hayden got injured, they were the bottom three cornerbacks on the depth chart for all intents and purposes. There's promise there, but given that the team has spent four years trying to cultivate corners, that does stand out a little.
What I'd like to take a look at as I build my case here is who Dimitroff has drafted over the last four years or signed to the practice squad and what they managed to do while in Atlanta, as well as in their careers after leaving the city. I hope it'll get a good discussion going, at the very least.
Chris Owens: A third-round draft pick in 2009, Owens has played in 46 of a possible 48 regular season games in three years. During that time, he's mixed truly awful games (Green Bay in the 2010 playoffs) with average-to-good ones. He seems to play outside better than in the nickel, at least anecdotally, but he's been okay. A success in the sense that he's going into his fourth year on the team and could step in and start in a pinch.
He's still just 25-years-old and has shown enough to be valuable as a reserve cornerback, at the very least. I hoped he'd be starting eventually given the team's third-round commitment to him, but it probably won't happen unless Dominique Franks crashes and burns and Dunta Robinson goes elsewhere.
Dominique Franks: A high-upside young corner who has produced when called upon and got better as 2011 went on. Franks has good size for a corner, tackles better than most of the guys on the roster and has shown a knack for coming up with the ball in limited snaps. While he's blocked by Dunta Robinson and (probably) Grimey for now, I could see him starting down the line. Probably Dimitroff's best pick at the position.
Darrin Walls: Hard to know what we've got with Walls, but he appears to have talent and a nice skill set for cornerback. He received very limited snaps last year, but he's already done more than your average UDFA. Stay tuned on this one, but I think he's got promise.
Chevis Jackson: The first cornerback selected by Dimitroff in the third round in 2008, Jackson proved to be a pretty major bust. He was supposed to be a tough, physical presence in a cornerback corps missing one, but the LSU product struggled in coverage and was out of Atlanta after two seasons. He hasn't amassed any stats in the three years since, and was a pretty poor use of a third round pick.
Wilrey Fontenot: Seventh-round draft pick in 2008. Quickly cut, never played in a regular season game, is now out of the NFL. It's tough to waste a seventh round pick, but I think you can argue this one was.
William Middleton: Drafted in the fifth round in 2009. Middleton has gone on to become a decent cornerback in Jacksonville, so it's fair to wonder if Dimitroff evaluated him correctly and the coaching staff couldn't get it out of him. Still, not a success for the Falcons, since he didn't do a thing for the team.
So that's three successes—and some of you will quibble with Owens as a success, so tailor your numbers accordingly—versus four failures. That's not an unreasonable rate given that we're dealing with mid-to-late round cornerbacks, but Jackson and Middleton were big misses for different reasons.
Given the relatively average track record here and the fact that the Falcons have enough corners under contract—presuming Grimes eventually signs his franchise tender or winds up back here on a multi-year deal—I just don't think the team should touch the position in the 2012 draft.
There's enough talent in-house to get the job done—I hope Dunta plays better this year, though—and the Falcons will likely have north of $12 million invested in the position. There's nothing in TD's record to suggest he's going to hit a home run picking one. They stayed away from it last year and I hope they continue in 2012.
You're welcome to disagree, of course. Do you?