Continuing our series on the draft classes in the new Falcons era, this time we're going to take a look at the controversial 2011 draft. For those who are new fans, or were in complete comas during this timeframe, this is the infamous draft in which Thomas Dimitroff made a very agressive move to go from picking 26th overall to the #6 spot.
6th pick - Julio Jones - WR - Alabama
Undoubtedly the most controversial pick in the new Falcons era, GM Thomas Dimitroff made his boldest and riskiest move since coming to Atlanta when he traded away quite a few picks to jump up to #6 in this draft. On top of the 26th pick, the Falcons also gave up their 2011 2nd and 4th picks, as well as the 1st and 4th out of the 2012 draft. For those who have read the book War Room, you'll note that Dimitroff had his eye on Jones as a potential pick even during the 2010 season. He saw Jones as a potential game-changer and relished the idea of having a 1A and 1B receiver for the offense.
The verdict? In just two years, Julio has been as good as advertised, if not better. An incredibly fast, large and powerful man, Jones is a nightmare for defensive coordinators across the league. He has the speed to beat any defender, the strength to clear any jam attempts, and the athleticism to fight for any ball. While he hasn't been perfect - often struggling to pull in easier catches - he has definitely changed the composure of the Falcons offense. Teams regularly dedicate two defenders to stopping him, opening up opportunities elsewhere. And even with those double-teams, he has still managed to put together two great years of play - including his first Pro-Bowl berth in 2012. Along with draft-mate A.J. Green, Julio has proven to be one of the best receivers to come out in several years.
The real question for Falcons fans, though, is whether the trade was worth it. No doubt, a lot of picks were given up and the 2011 season showed we had more holes than we thought. Some fans note that there were other decent receivers we could have picked in 2011/2012, while others note what the Browns did with the picks they got. And while both sides of the argument have merit, I think this question won't be settled for a while. Ultimately, if Julio can be a key factor in this franchise bringing home the Lombardi trophy, the trade will look like a winner. If not, it will serve as more fuel for the skeptics who hated it when it happened.
91st pick - Akeem Dent - LB - Georgia
When this pick was made, many Falcons fans were left scratching their heads. With three solid starters at LB, the Falcons didn't appear to have a need here - especially with Lofton and Spoon being very good linebackers, and Nicholas being somewhat underrated as well. Fast forward one year, and it's clear why Dent was brought in - he was seen as Lofton's eventual replacement.
Through the 2011 season, Dent didn't see much time on the field as a linebacker. However, he quickly proved his value as a key contributor on special teams, earning national praise for his play in this capacity. When Lofton left for the Saints in 2012, Dent ultimately took the starting MLB position (partly due to the injury to Lofa Tatupu). However, Dent's first year at the Mike wasn't good, though he did get better as the season progressed. Dent shows good instincts and is a good tackler, but he often struggled with shedding blocks.
If Dent can build off of the finish to the 2012 season, he will be a solid starter as a 2 down linebacker. He doesn't appear to be a great coverage LB, but in a limited role, he's a good enough piece on the Falcons defense. As a third round pick, that seems to be decent value.
145th pick - Jaquizz Rodgers - RB - Oregon State
A very interesting pick, Rodgers was largely overlooked due to his small stature - standing all of 5'6". However, what you'll often hear about 'Quizz is that while he is "short," he is definitely not "small." Weighing in around 195 pounds of sheer, angry muscle, Rodgers has proven that he belongs in the NFL. Since joining the team, he has quickly become part of the lineup and has proven to be a far more versatile back than people realized.
Quizz has proven to be very elusive, showing the ability to turn on a dime and leave defenders embarrassed. He's also quicker than his 40 times indicated, though he doesn't quite have breakout speed. He's also a very good receiver out of the backfield. What we didn't expect, though, was that he would be such a good blocker early in his career, and that he could run with power as well. The blocking is key, as it makes him a true 3 down back - and someone the coaching staff can trust to help protect our franchise QB. His power was also surprising, as he would often break tackles and power through the line to turn negative runs into positive gains.
As a fifth rounder, Rodgers was a great pickup. Though he's not a starter, he is a big contributor on the offense and figures to be a important piece for the foreseeable future.
192nd pick - Matt Bosher - P - Miami (FL)
Anytime a team drafts a punter, there are likely to be cries from the fanbase. Even more so when that punter is picked in the sixth round. When said punter performs terribly in his first several games - and the fans want his head on a stick - it is made all the worse. However, the coaching staff stayed the course and Bosher rewarded their faith. After being absolutely dreadful for his first 4 to 5 games, Bosher settled in and has become a very solid punter for the Falcons. He shows good accuracy as well as a powerful leg. He's also been incredibly consistent since he settled down. While his kickoffs aren't the stuff of legend, he has been a solid pickup for the team. Was it worth it to use a sixth rounder on a punter? Fans will never say yes, but at least this pick has panned out.
210th pick - Andrew Jackson - OL - Fresno State
Before the 2011 football season, Jackson was a prospect who figured to go in the fourth round before injury shortened his 2011 year. As a seventh round pick, Jackson has mainly spent time on the practice squad. There was some hope that reuniting with former college coach Pat Hill (offensive line coach for the Falcons) would help, but as of yet, Jackson has been unable to get onto the 53 man roster.
230th pick - Cliff Matthews - DE - South Carolina
Known more for his run stopping skills than pass rushing, Matthews has been a pleasant surprise. He's seen plenty of time on special teams, becoming a solid contributor in that capacity and when John Abraham went down with injury in the 2012 playoffs, he took a large number of snaps. He's not considered a sack specialist, but he does appear to be a solid guy to have in the rotation - and is someone the coaching staff seems very high on going into the 2013 season.
No doubt - this draft will forever be remembered for the trade that landed Julio Jones. The reality though is that this was a solid draft for the Falcons. Dent has become a starter and Rodgers an important offensive weapon. Bosher has settled into being a good punter and we found some value in the seventh round with Matthews. None of our top-round picks has been a bust, and only a seventh rounder has yet to contribute in some way. All in all, it was a very solid draft - from a personnel standpoint - and one the Falcons may look back on as one of their better scouting efforts down the road.