Drafting in the Dimitroff era

It doesn’t take a great draft every year to build a potential champion. We can look back to the Falcon draft classes of the mid to late 70’s, and see how they propelled the Falcons to their first Division Championship (1980), and a postseason in which they were picked by pundits to win the Super Bowl. The 1975 draft (Steve Bartkowski, Fulton Kuykendall, Jeff Merrow) and 1977 draft (Warren Bryant, Wilson Faumuina, R. C. Theilemann, Billy Ryckman) retrospectively look like winners, and clearly helped us to our first playoff appearance (1978).

In 1978, the Falcons drafted Mike Kenn, clearly the best left tackle the Falcons ever had, early in the first round. But in possibly one of the best deals in Falcons history, they plucked Tom Pridemore out of the ninth round. Pridemore went on to be a premier safety for nine years.

In the 1979 draft, the Falcons finally overcame a long litany of average to poor running back picks since the ’74 draft (Vince Kendrick, Monroe Eley, Doyle Orange, Ralph Powell, Woody Thompson, Mike Esposito, Brad Davis, Dave Farmer, Ricky Patton, Ray Strong and two notable picks named below). They drafted James Mayberry and William Andrews in the third round, and Lynn Cain in the fourth, setting the stage for their 1980 success.

The 1976 draft, however, was clearly a monumental bust. The Falcons spent their first two picks on running backs Bubba Bean (#9 overall) and Sonny Collins (#36 overall), a remarkable goof, then spent their next 15 picks on guys that, while they may have been marginal contributors, never became a household name, even in Atlanta. That shows that several reasonably good drafts can result in success, even with a real clunker thrown in.

It takes at least a couple years to begin to evaluate a draft, so it’s going to be a while before we know just how good the 2012 Falcons draft class is; though by some assessments, it was substantially gutted by the blockbuster 2011 draft trade. But with a little perspective, perhaps we can begin to assess the 2011 draft and certainly start to qualify entries from the prior four years. My opinion on the Dimitroff -era draft selections begin after the jump, beginning with 2011.

I had just settled in, waiting for a long night of selections before the Falcons’ 27th pick when I was shocked by the announcement that the Falcons had traded five picks to take Julio Jones with the 6th overall pick. In addition to the swap of first round picks, the Falcons included 2nd and 4th picks from the 2011 draft and 1st and 4th round picks from the 2012 draft. You might not like the trade, but you gotta love Julio, and the potential he brings to the team. In his rookie year, he finished first in the rookie class for touchdowns (8), and second in the rookie class (behind AJ Green in both categories) in receptions (54) and yards (959). 3rd round pick Akeem Dent isn’t proven yet, but he’s expected to compete for the starting middle linebacker spot this season. Jacquizz Rodgers was hailed by many as a steal in the 5th round. He’s contributed, and early indications show that he can assume an expanded role in the offense. While the selection of Matt Bosher, as a punter/kicker, in the 6th round was panned by many (including me) and he started poorly (almost halfway through the season he was the 33rd ranked punter in a league of 32 teams), he still improved considerably late-season. 7th rounders Andrew Jackson (OG) and Cliff Matthews (DE) haven’t distinguished themselves, but they are still on the squad and figure to enter the mix for at least backup roles this season. With the whole class still on the roster, all with good prospects to make the team this year, I would label this draft a qualified success.

In 2010, the Falcons selected linebacker Sean Weatherspoon with the 19th overall pick, and he delivered 42 tackles and one sack in his rookie year. After increasing those totals to 115 tackles and 4 sacks last year, he appears to be turning into a beast. The Falcons had traded their 2nd pick to the Chiefs for Tony Gonzalez (not a bad move), then used their 3rd round pick on DT Corey Peters. After making an immediate impact in his rookie year, starting 15 games, Peters solidified his hold last year and racked 26 tackles, 3 sacks and 1 interception. With the last pick in the 3rd round (a compensatory pick) the Falcons selected OG Mike Johnson. Sidelined by injury last year, he still figures to make a run at training camp for a starting spot on a challenged offensive line. With the 4th round selection, the Falcons took C/G Joe Hawley. He played in all 16 games last year on that uncertain offensive line, and could be in the mix for some spot. The Falcons selected Dominique Franks early in the 5th round, after swapping picks with St. Louis. After a quiet rookie year, he contributed on special teams and even started two games in 2011. Unlikely to crack the starting lineup in a deep cornerback position, he will likely make the team this year as a developing backup and special teams contributor. Drafted late in the 5th round (another compensatory pick), WR Kerry Meier spent his rookie year on injured reserve after injuring his knee in the 2nd preseason game. He came back last year and played in twelve games but did not record a catch. Drafted early in the 6th round in a pick they received from Detroit (remember Chris Houston?) Safety Shann Schillinger has had two relatively uneventful years on special teams. Though both Meier and Schillinger appear to be on the bubble to make the team this year, the selections of Weatherpoon, Peters, Johnson, Hawley, and Franks (don’t forget to add Tony Gonzalez) makes 2010 look like a seriously good draft year.

2009’s 1st round pick Peria Jerry (DT), after being on injured reserve most of his 2009 rookie season, appeared not to have fully recovered in 2010, losing the starting spot to the rookie Peters. After being outplayed again by Peters in 2011, Jerry has been flirting with the “bust” label, and fans are losing faith that he can seriously contribute. 2nd round pick William Moore (S) spent significant time on IR in 2009 for a hamstring injury, but was a reliable starter at strong safety in 2010. He was injured again in 2011, appearing in 12 games, 11 as a starter. He’s the odds-on pick to win the starting strong safety spot this year, but his injury history is a concern. 3rd round pick Christopher Owens (DB) has great speed, but seems to have difficulty grasping his role and has not met his potential after three seasons. He will still likely make the team as a backup. Perhaps this year 4th round pick Lawrence Sidbury (DE) will shed his “project” status, after recording 4 sacks last year. He is expected to platoon at the end position in passing situations. The Falcons traded their 2007 3rd round pick, Laurent Robinson (WR) for upgrades in the 5th and 6th rounds of this draft. Their first 5th round selection William Middleton (CB) was waived in preseason. Their second 5th rounder, Garrett Reynolds (OT), is still trying to find a spot on a mediocre line. 6th rounder Spencer Adkins (LB) will fight for the last backup linebacker spot on this year’s roster, and 7th rounder Vance Walker (DT) looks to make this year’s squad in a backup role. With their first round selection as a backup, at best, and questionable roles for everyone else but Moore, this would appear to be a lower than average draft though it may have some potential upside.

With eleven picks in seven rounds, including the third and twenty-first picks in the first round, the 2008 draft class started with great potential. After picking Matt Ryan (QB) and Sam Baker (OT) in the 1st round, they followed up with Curtis Lofton (LB) in the 2nd. Lofton’s now gone to the Saints and Baker has his detractors, for sure. Coming off back surgery and claiming to be “completely healthy,” perhaps Baker can do a better job of anchoring the left tackle position. Ryan’s contribution is obvious. With three picks in the 3rd round, the Falcons consecutively selected Chevis Jackson (CB), Harry Douglas (WR) and Thomas DeCoud (S). Though Jackson was released in the final cut of 2010, Douglas has shown flashes of brilliance in a slot receiver role and DeCoud has proven to be a great pick as a free safety starting all 16 games in 2009 and 2010, and 15 in 2011. As the second 5th round pick, Kroy Biermann (DE) has shown improvement and been very productive on special teams. The earlier 5th rounder, Robert James (LB), was waived during the 2010 season, resigned and, as highlighted in a recent column by Dave, is a real enigma. The remaining 6th and 7th round picks, Thomas Brown (RB), Wilrey Fontenot (CB) and Keith Zinger (TE) never made a splash with the team. But with the selection of Ryan, a couple good years out of Baker and Lofton, and the continued contributions from Douglas, Decoud and Biermann, the 2008 draft class could be considered a good draft.

Determining the contribution of each player in various drafts is subjective, but it appears, at this snapshot in time, that the 2010 draft was very good, with the 2011 and 2008 drafts not too far behind. The 2009 draft was disappointing, but not necessarily a clunker. If 2012 pans out, we could have that potential champion. Your thoughts?

<em>This FanPost was written by one of The Falcoholic's talented readers. It does not necessarily reflect the views of The Falcoholic.</em>

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