Over the next few weeks, I'm going to take a look back at the draft classes of the new Falcons era, in anticipation of the 2013 draft. We'll take a look at the picks made, how they've performed, and consider their production against their draft position. We'll start with the 2008 class.
3rd pick - Matt Ryan - QB - Boston College
It's easy to see that this pick was an obvious great one, but at the time much debate was given over whether the Falcons should use their pick on Ryan or Glenn Dorsey. Many fans wanted the Defensive Tackle, and to opt for a QB in the second round - with many thinking that Flacco might be available then. The Falcons opted to draft Ryan - making him the successor to the highly volatile Vick era - and the rest has been history.
Given his draft position, the expectations for Ryan were high. I think it's safe to say he's lived up to them. He won rookie of the year and in his first five years, he has: 1) Been selected to 2 pro-bowls 2) Broken almost every single season Falcons QB record 3) Been in the top 3 QBs all-time for most wins in his first 5 seasons 4) Set a record for most 4th quarter/overtime comebacks by a QB in his first five years 5) taken the Falcons to 4 post-seasons in 5 years 6) Been the only Falcons QB to have back-to-back winning seasons 7) Have the second best winning percentage of any QB since 2008 (second only to Tom Brady).
If that's not a strong enough case for Ryan as a successful draft pick, I'm not sure anything else I can say will convince you.
21st pick - Sam Baker - LT - USC
Until last year, fans were lamenting this pick as a bust. Many felt Baker was a reach in the late first, really belonging as a second round pick. Dimitroff made the leap back into the late first to grab Baker due to a run on Tackles in the draft, and the dire need to find a franchise LT to protect Ryan.
Most fans tend to remember his disastrous 2011 season - hampered by persistent back injuries - but we tend to forget he was a capable starter from 2008 to 2010. And with the confidence of the coaching staff behind him - and some good health to boot - Baker bounced back admirably in 2012, earning another deal that will make him our starter at LT for the 2013 season and likely beyond.
Has Baker lived up to his draft position? Barring the 2011 season, he's been a solid starter. He's not a pro-bowler, but he has been a consistent starter for nearly 5 years. He also had a very strong 2012 season in which Ryan was able to pass for 32 TDs and over 4700 yards. He may not be a "franchise" left tackle, but Baker has been a reliable starter for most of his time - making him a sensible, if not particularly spectacular pick.
37 - Curtis Lofton - LB - Oklahoma
Falcons fans would do well to forget the 2012 season when evaluating Lofton. Watching "The Police" cross the lines to play for the Saints was hard enough. But we shouldn't let it cloud our judgement of what kind of player Lofton has turned out to be.
Put simply: Lofton is a tackling machine. He lead the Falcons in tackles when he was here, and he was a key piece of a Falcons defense that was stout against the run. His tackling prowess was missed in the 2012 season, when the Falcons defense was regularly gashed by the running game. However, it was clear that Lofton was not a true three down linebacker, which partly lead to his departure.
For where he was drafted, Lofton was a good pick. He was never a pro-bowler, but he was an instant starter and played very well while in a Falcons uni. From 2008 to 2011, Lofton was the leader of our defense and a key piece of the turnaround.
68 - Chevis Jackson - CB - Louisiana State
A defensive back with some upside, many fans were hoping Jackson would turn out to be a sleeper pick. While the Falcons would get a sleeper pick in this round, it wouldn't be Jackson. Jackson would only be on the Falcons roster for two years, and never quite developed into the player we were hoping for.
It's hard to call this pick anything other than a miss, but one wonders how Jackson may have developed under a coach like Mike Nolan.
84 - Harry Douglas - WR - Louisville
Douglas was scouted as a fast receiver with some physicality and good special teams value. The thought turned out to be right, as Douglas was inserted as a kick returner and punt returner and performed well in those roles. He was also used in the slot, where he performed well in his first year. Douglas blew out his ACL in 2009 and though he played in 2010, he was clearly limited by his ongoing recovery.
While Douglas is still on the roster, and still our starting slot receiver, questions have come up about how effective he truly is in that role. However, as a consistent starter with value as a blocker and fourth receiving option, Douglas has played up to his third round draft status.
98 - Thomas DeCoud - S - California
Another home-run pick in this draft, DeCoud has had some ups and downs while with the Falcons. However, under DC Mike Nolan, both DeCoud and William Moore have truly come into their own - with both earning their first pro-bowl berths in the 2012 season.
DeCoud has been a consistent starter on the team, and after making his first pro-bowl last year, it's clear that the jokester was a great find in the third round of 2008.
138 - Robert James - LB - Arizona State
For being a fifth rounder, James has found a way to hang around the Falcons roster consistently for the past 5 years without really doing too much on the field. He's been a contributor on special teams primarily, and now stands as one of our few linebackers on the bench. He's shown flashes of potential in the preseason, but has never shown much more than that.
As a fifth round pick, James was not really expected to contribute that much and has lived up to the billing. If he's on the 2013 roster, it will be purely as depth. Give him credit for his ability to hang around for what seems like forever.
154 - Kroy Biermann - DE - Montana
An undersized 4-3 DE, Biermann really projected better as a 3-4 OLB. While he's not turned in amazing numbers, Biermann has been a great contributor on special teams and seems good for 3 to 5 sacks per year. Mike Nolan clearly loved the high-motor Biermann, lining him up everywhere on defense - sometimes even swinging him out into safety positions.
For being a fifth round pick, the Falcons found another great value in the 2008 draft. Biermann is currently slated as a starter for 2013 and has been a solid starter/contributor since he joined the team in 2008.
172 - Thomas Brown - RB - Georgia
Never made the roster
212 - Wilrey Fontenot - CB - Arizona
Never made the roster
232 - Keith Zinger - TE - Louisiana State
Played in 15 games. Nothing significant to note.
Based on this draft, it's easy to see why Thomas Dimitroff won executive of the year. This draft clearly set the foundation for the success that would follow, as the Falcons found a franchise QB, a pro-bowl safety, a starting slot receiver and a QB for their defense. We also found great special teamers and eventual defensive starters.
If the Falcons can find the same kind of hits in the 2013 draft as they did in 2008, this franchise will be in great shape for years to come.