The experts, and the amateurs, have weighed in on the Falcons acquisitions through the 2013 NFL Draft, and, in general, the results are pretty consistent.
Mel Kiper, Jr., a definitive leader in draft analysis and hairstyle choices, gave the Falcons a B. Chris Burke and Rob Rang also gave the Falcons Bs. Nate Davis from USA Today gave the Falcons a B. An overwhelming 61% of Falcoholic readers who responded to Dave's poll gave the Falcons a B.
Do grades issued immediately following the draft really matter? Not really. They're all based on conjecture, and teams that consistently draft players who pan out tend to get the benefit of the doubt in the grades issued immediately after a draft. Are the Falcons one of those teams? Let's look at the post-draft grades in the Dimitroff era, and adjust them based on performance.
In 2012, Kiper gave the Falcons a C immediately following the draft. NFL.com analyst Chad Reuter also gave the Falcons a C. Of course, the Falcons did not have a first round pick in 2012, thanks to the blockbuster trade in 2011 to acquire Julio Jones, so that was a factor. The Falcons ended up going 13-3 in the regular season, winning the divisional playoff at home against the Seahawks, and advancing to the NFC Championship Game, where they fell just a few offensive yards short of the Super Bowl.
With their second round pick in 2012, the Falcons selected Peter Konz, a center out of Wisconsin. Konz started 10 games for the Falcons in 2012 at right guard, Konz allowed five sacks, eight hits and 16 hurries on Matt Ryan, so there's room for improvement, but you can't ignore the versatility of a player who was drafted as a center and was able to step up as a guard following a season-ending injury to Garrett Reynolds.
The rest of the players drafted by the Falcons in 2012 have yet to see much playing time. Tackle Lamar Holmes, a third round selection, played just seven snaps last season. Fifth rounder Bradie Ewing, a fullback, landed on injured reserve prior to the start of the season. Defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi and safety Charles Mitchell, fifth and sixth round choices, respectively, both contributed on special teams but saw limited action on defense. Travian Robertson, the tremendous defensive tackle the Falcons took in the 7th round, played just 47 snaps on defense all year.
It's still too early to effectively tell how much impact the 2012 draft selections will have on the Falcons long-term, but they drafted their center of the future, knowing Todd McClure's days were numbered, and they also drafted safety depth and projects along the defensive line.
In 2011, Kiper basically hated the Julio Jones pick. He cited Jones' durability as a factor. He gave the Falcons a C+, which put them near the bottom of the league in Kiper's view. Fans were also generally apprehensive about the Julio Jones pick, but with 2,462 total receiving yards and 20 touchdowns in two seasons with the Falcons, plus a Pro Bowl appearance following the 2012 season, I'd say he's doing alright. The Falcons also selected linebacker Akeem Dent out of Georgia, who was thrust into a starting role in 2012 following an injury to Lofa Tatupu prior to training camp in 2012, and Dent did alright. Not great, but alright. He did seem to get better as the season progressed and he adjusted to the speed of the game. Fifth round running back Jacquizz Rodgers has proven to be a versatile offensive threat, whose size doesn't stop him from trucking over Earl Thomas at will. Kicker Matt Bosher--I'll be honest, I hated this pick at the time--got off to a rough start, but has evolved into a solid, very consistent kicker, which is truly an asset. Defensive end Cliff Matthews has contributed on special teams, and did alright in limited snaps on defense. Again--not great, but alright. The only player drafted by the Falcons in 2011 who is no longer on the roster is offensive guard Andrew Jackson.
Kiper gave the Falcons a C- for their efforts in the 2010 NFL Draft. The Falcons took linebacker Sean Weatherspoon in the first round, and Spoon led the team in tackles in 2012, and was second on the team, behind Curtis Lofton, in tackles in 2011. Defensive tackle Corey Peters was the third round selection, and although Peters was sidelined by injury early in the 2012 season and seemed to not quite get up to speed after he returned, he was solid in 2010 and 2011. The Falcons selected offensive lineman Mike Johnson in the third round, and he hasn't played many snaps since. Center/guard Joe Hawley was the team's fourth round selection, and he has been able to fill in at both positions as needed. Cornerback Dominique Franks, Atlanta's fifth round selection, was cut by the team prior to the 2012 season, but then re-signed. Franks played his best when he was forced to fill in at safety, as opposed to cornerback. He was not a fan favorite as a punt returner. Let's just leave it at that. Wide receiver Kerry Meier, recently released by the Falcons, was a fifth round pick who never panned out, and Shann Schillinger, a safety, spent last season on injured reserve and saw some special teams action in 2011 and 2010.
Mel Kiper, Jr. gave the Falcons a B for their 2009 draft, and so did Larry Weisman from USA Today Sports. Defensive tackle Peria Jerry, the team's first round selection, was hailed as an excellent choice from both Kiper and Weisman, and Jerry--mainly because of injury--has not lived up to the expectations that invariably accompany a first round pick. Atlanta's second round selection, safety William Moore, has been an impact player for the Falcons, and turned out to be quite a value for Atlanta. The Falcons selected defensive back Christopher Owens in the third round, and lost Owens in free agency to the Cleveland Browns this offseason. Of the remaining five picks in 2009, only one is still on the roster. Fourth round selection, defensive end Lawrence Sidbury, couldn't wait to exit Atlanta as a free agent. I completely forgot about fifth round pick William Middleton. Right guard Garrett Reynolds, also a fifth round pick, recently re-signed with the Falcons through 2015. Linebacker Spencer Adkins didn't do much with the Falcons, and defensive tackle Vance Walker had a great season in 2012, but departed in free agency to become an Oakland Raider.
2008 is a memorable draft year for the Falcons, as it was Thomas Dimitroff's first draft as general manager, and the Falcons acquired a new starting quarterback and face of the franchise in Matt Ryan.
Kiper gave the Falcons a B in 2008, and was surprised they didn't select Glenn Dorsey in the first round. A lot of people were surprised by that, honestly. Larry Weisman from USA Today didn't have a lot of confidence in Matt Ryan, and gave the Falcons a C-. Matt Ryan has more than proven that selecting him third overall was an astute choice. Kiper thought left tackle Sam Baker was a bit of a reach, and many Falcons fans would agree. The Falcons took linebacker Curtis Lofton--now a New Orleans Saint--in the second round. Third round choices were cornerback Chevis Jackson, who never panned out, wide receiver Harry Douglas and safety Thomas DeCoud, now a Pro Bowler. Fifth round selection Robert James, a linebacker, hasn't seen much playing time on defense, playing only seven snaps in 2012. Defensive end Kroy Biermann has been solid as a situational pass rusher. The teams sixth and seventh round picks--running back Thomas Brown, cornerback Wilrey Fontenot and tight end Keith Zinger--are no longer with the Falcons.
To adjust the grades for each draft year based on performance, we need some kind of objective criteria. To that end, let's go with win/loss record, the average per-player number of games started for the Falcons for each draft year, how many draftees from that particular season are still on the active roster, and the number of Pro Bowl appearances from players in each draft year.
The Falcons finished the season 11-5 in 2008, and lost to Arizona in the wildcard round. Out of eleven selections in 2008, six players are still on the roster. The remaining players have started in 243 games for the Falcons, and the departed players started in 70 games for the Falcons. That's an average of 28.45 games started per player, or 5.7 games per year. From that draft year, Matt Ryan has two Pro Bowl appearances, and Thomas DeCoud has one. Kiper gave the Falcons a B in 2008, and Larry Weisman from USA Today gave them a C-, and considering the way that Matt Ryan exceeded expectations right out of the gate, plus three Pro Bowl appearances from two players, plus the fact that five out of six players retained see significant playing time, I give this draft an A in retrospect.
The Falcons did not make the playoffs in 2009, but finished the season 9-7. Out of eight players drafted in 2009, only three remain on the roster. The remaining players have started 70 games for the Falcons, and the departed players started 27 games for the Falcons, for an average of 12.13 games, or just over three games per year. Only William Moore has a Pro Bowl appearance from this group. Kiper and Larry Weisman from USA Today both gave this draft a B; for Peria Jerry not living up to first round billing and Spencer Adkins and Lawrence Sidbury never panning out, I would adjust this grade to a C. It would be a C-, but the William Moore pick has proven to be a wise one.
Atlanta finished the 2010 season 13-3, securing the top seed in the NFC and a first round bye, then lost to Green Bay at home. Of seven players drafted in 2010, six remain on the roster. The 2010 draftees have started 96 games for the Falcons, for an average of 13.7 games total, and 4.6 games per season per player. There are no Pro Bowlers from this draft year yet. Mel Kiper gave the Falcons a C- for this draft. Corey Peters had a Pro Bowl-caliber year in 2011, and had Sean Weatherspoon not been injured in 2012, it's very possible that he might have been a Pro Bowler last season. Based on the number of players who remain on the roster, and two solid starters from the Falcons first and third round selections, I would adjust this draft grade to a B-.
The Falcons finished the 2011 season 10-6, and lost spectacularly to the New York Giants in the wildcard round. Only one of the six players drafted is no longer on the roster. This group has started 46 games for the Falcons, for an average of 7.67 games total, or 3.8 games per year, but this group also includes Matt Bosher, who does not get counted as a starter although he has played in every game, and Jacquizz Rodgers, who, though not a starter, has had an impact. Julio Jones was selected to the 2012 Pro Bowl roster. Kiper gave the Falcons a C in 2011, and he didn't like the Julio Jones pick at all. Two of these players--Jones, Dent--are starters, two--Quizz, Bosher--are significant non-starting contributors, and one--Matthews--is a rotational guy who gets some special teams action but has a shot to get into the rotation at DE this year. In retrospect, I give this draft an A.
The Falcons finished 2012 13-3, with a divisional playoff win and a trip to the NFC Championship. All six of the players drafted in 2012 are still on the roster, with ten total starts. There are no Pro Bowlers from the 2012 draft class yet. The experts gave the Falcons a C, but Peter Konz was able to step into a starting role at guard when necessitated by injury. I would adjust that to a B-, with a caveat: it remains to be seen how the rest of that draft class will impact the team.
Overall, the trend that emerges is that Thomas Dimitroff is a good evaluator of talent and drafts wisely in general. The other thing that stands out in looking at draft results in the Dimitroff era is, despite occasional criticism from the experts for being too focused on winning it all right now, the Falcons have consistently selected young talent to develop, which points toward more of a long-term strategy.
How would you adjust draft grades for the Falcons for 2008-2012?
2013 Falcon Draft Class
First Round: CB Desmond Trufant
Second Round: CB Robert Alford
Fourth Round: DE Malliciah Goodman
Fourth Round Compensatory: TE Levine Toilolo
Fifth Round: DE Stansly Maponga
Seventh Round Compensatory: S Kemal Ishmael
Seventh Round Compensatory: S Zeke Motta
Seventh Round Compensatory: QB Sean Renfree