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. Next up is the 2009 class.
24th pick - Peria Jerry - DT - Mississippi
Arguably one of the greatest picks of the 2009 draft ... or, not so much. Any Falcons fan that has followed the birds for the last few years knows the ballad of Peria Jerry. When drafted, the hope was that we had found a pass-rushing DT to help disrupt the pocket alongside the USS Babs. Fitting the Dimitroff/Smith mold of a smaller, more athletic DT, Jerry had several knocks against him when he was drafted - though he WAS projected as a first rounder by most analysts. First, PJ had some injuries in college that hampered his first few years. Second, Jerry was really only good in the 3 tech, but was being drafted to replace someone in the 1 tech (Grady Jackson).
The big hopes for Jerry were destroyed when his knee was blown-up early in the 2009 season. The nature of the injury has never been revealed, but it was understood to be pretty major. Although he returned in the 2010 season, he lost the starting position to Corey Peters. While many thought 2011 would be his true bounce back season from the knee injury, Jerry proved again to be mostly ineffective. The 2012 season didn't prove to be any better, with Jerry serving in a primarily rotational role.
Looking back, this pick was obviously a bust. However, the pick itself made sense, as Peria was considered the second best defensive tackle in the draft behind BJ Raji. It was also a position of need for the Falcons. What hurts with this pick is that two picks later, the Packers took Clay Matthews. This serves as salt on this gaping wound. Had Jerry been selected in the mid-rounds, his production would be acceptable. But for being a first round pick with big promise, this is undoubtedly one of the biggest disappointments of the Dimitroff era.
55th pick - William Moore - S - Missouri
Sadly, when Falcons fans think about the 2009 draft, the stench of Peria Jerry fills their memories. It's unfortunate, because it's also the same draft that gave us one half of our pro-bowl safety tandem. Moore was considered a lock for the first round coming out of his monstrous junior year. He was a fast ball hawk who created turnovers and could hit like a truck. Had he come out after his junior year, he would have easily gone top 20. However, his senior season wasn't as good and his draft status fell somewhat. When the Falcons snagged him at 55 in the second round, many analysts believed they may have found a steal - and they sure did.
While he didn't start immediately, once Moore was on the field, his propensity for big plays flashed. Though he's had injury issues since he entered the league, when he's been on the field he has been the definition of a play maker. Under the guidance of Mike Nolan, Moore finally had his breakout season in the 2012 season, grabbing 4 interceptions and forcing 2 fumbles on his way to his first pro-bowl.
As a second round pick, Moore has more than played up to his draft position. The fact that the Falcons made him their priority free agent signing for the 2013 off-season tells you what you need to know about this player.
90th pick - Chris Owens - CB - San Jose State
Most Falcons fans have one lasting image of Owens in their minds: Aaron Rodgers turning Owens into cornerback flambe during the 2010 playoff disaster. What most people don't realize is that Owens was battling back injuries in that game and it was not indicative of his entire career with the Falcons.
In fact, after his redeeming 2012 season, many fans were hoping to see Owens return to the roster. He was often brilliant on special teams and played very well when he got his opportunities in the 2012 season. In what seems to be a recurring theme, Owens played far better under new DC Mike Nolan, performing admirably off the bench in both the nickel and outside slots.
While he never quite developed into a true starting caliber CB, Owens provided good depth for the Falcons and played well when called upon, 2010 playoff game not withstanding.
125th pick - Lawrence Sidbury - DE - Richmond
The next few years will ultimately close the book on this pick, but rest assured, no fourth round pick has generated as much hope/controversy as this one. When Sid was selected, he was pegged as a potential sleeper pick for the Falcons. A high-motor, fast DE, Sidbury had tremendous upside that if properly coached, could turn him into a great starter - maybe even capable of double-digit sacks at the next level.
The fact that Sidbury barely saw the field in his four years with the Falcons was a source of constant frustration, especially since he always seemed to flash in the preseason. In fact, players like Sidbury has caused some fans to posit that Smitty has a "Player Protection Program" similar to the FBI, in which players are put on the roster never to be seen again. In what was no surprise, Sidbury took the first train out of Atlanta this off-season, hoping to finally get his opportunity elsewhere.
138th pick - William Middleton - DB - Furman
Fitting the "Falcon mold" of cornerbacks, Middleton was an undersized, but fast and athletic corner whose athleticism promised to make him a good corner at the next level. Unfortunately, he never made the Falcons roster. He's been with the Jaguars since 2009 and has been with them - even starting quite a few games - through the 2012 season.
156th pick - Garrett Reynolds - OL - North Carolina
A right tackle with three years of starting experience, Reynolds was another pick that had some potential, but mostly as a depth player or emergency starter. The fact that the Falcons grabbed him in hopes of plugging him in at guard caught some by surprise. While many remember his horrible 2011 season (replaced midway through by Hawley), his 2012 season should be the one to pay attention to. Reynolds was actually playing decently at RG - having beat out Peter Konz and Mike Johnson for the position - and was positively graded by PFF before he went on IR. Reynolds is still in competition to get back to that RG position in 2013, which makes this fifth round pick a decent one.
176th pick - Spencer Adkins - LB - Miami
A perennial special-teamer, Adkins never delivered much for the Falcons in his three years with the team.
210th pick - Vance Walker - DT - Georgia Tech
Quite possibly the best seventh round pick of the Dimitroff era, Swagger Vance was not only able to stay on the roster - hard enough for a seventh rounder - but he also managed to become a regular to the rotation of tackles. In 2012, he out-performed draft-mate Peria Jerry, notching 3 sacks and 1 forced fumble. In a move that disappointed many Falcons fans, Walker hit free agency this offseason and took a one year deal with the Oakland Raiders. Swagger Vance easily outplayed his draft position, and was a nice pick in this otherwise underwhelming draft.
The 2009 draft is a strange one. While the Peria Jerry pick rings in the ears of Falcons fans to this day, it's also the same draft in which we grabbed our play making strong safety. We also found some great value in picks like Walker and Reynolds, while players like Owens and Sidbury never quite did what fans hoped they would.
While this draft class is ear-marked by fans as the worst of the Dimitroff era, it's not the total disaster some would make it out to be.