Since Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith were hired in 2008, the Falcons have mostly achieved the kind of sustained success Atlanta had been missing since the team became an expansion franchise in 1966. But when looking at the current regime's history, an unusual trend pops up. No, I'm not talking about the team winning more games in even-numbered years than odd-numbered ones (37 wins to 23); that's another story for another day. The trend we're looking at has to do with players drafted in the third round of the NFL Draft.
The Falcons have drafted eight players in the third round since 2008, at least five of them failing to live up expectations, while the other three are up for debate. That's not a very good hit rate in a higher round that has seen All-Pro and Pro-Bowl level players continuously overlooked and passed over by the Falcons.
Let's take a closer look at each player the Falcons selected and see what went wrong.
2008 Draft Class:
Jackson had a decent rookie year, picking off Drew Brees and returning it 95 yards to the house. That was about the only noise Jackson made in his entire career. The Falcons cut their losses with Jackson before the 2010 season after he failed to show any sort of improvement, and the third-round curse claimed it's first victim.
Somewhat of a pariah among the fan base, Harry Douglas finally had a "breakout" season in 2013 with his first 1,000-yard season. But you have to wonder if Douglas' numbers were a direct result of Julio Jones and Roddy White being injured for nearly the entire season. Before last year, Douglas had never surpassed 500 yards or grabbed more than one touchdown in a season. As a player, Douglas himself is somewhat "cursed", his knack for coming up short in the most crucial of times leaves the fan base with a bad taste in it's mouth. Douglas isn't horrible, but when compared to other third-round receivers such as James Jones, Mike Wallace, Eric Decker, Emmanuel Sanders, T.Y. Hilton, Terrance Williams, and Keenan Allen, Douglas doesn't stack up very well.
Depending on who you ask, Thomas DeCoud could either be the guy who provided the Falcons with plenty of turnovers for six years, or the guy who provided plenty of headaches - I tend to think he's a bit of both. DeCoud was an average starter for the Falcons before being named a Pro Bowl alternate in 2012, but he played like a Pop Warner alternate in 2013. DeCoud had one of the worst seasons I've personally ever seen from an NFL safety. DeCoud never seemed to improve much from his rookie year, and his performance fell off a cliff in his last season in Atlanta, forcing the Falcons to cut ties and find an upgrade.
2009 Draft Class:
This was the classic head-scratcher pick. You could almost hear the collective "who?" cries from the fan base as the Falcons selected Owens over more talented players such as Henry Melton, T.J. Lang, Brian Hartline, and Keenan Lewis. Owens was touted as an undersized-technician coming out of San Jose State, but never could show he belonged on a NFL field. Owens' failure came full circle with a complete dismantling by Green Bay Packers' quarterback Aaron Rodgers in a 2010 playoff disaster. Owens has bounced around the league since parting ways with the Falcons including stints with Cleveland, Miami, and currently Kansas City. Nothing more than a reserve player, Owens never came close to living up to his third-round draft status.
2010 Draft Class:
The best player out of this third-round group, Peters has never made the Pro Bowl, or achieved any other notable accolades to this day. Not that that's the only way to measure success, but when the Falcons take a guy like Peters over superstars NaVorro Bowman, Geno Atkins, Jimmy Graham, Kam Chancellor, and Greg Hardy, it's hard not to dislike the pick. Peters won't ever be on the level of those aforementioned players, but he does provide a good mix of run-stuffing ability and some pass rush. Peters has a bit of an injury history, most recently suffering an achilles tear at the end of the 2013 season, and it remains to be seen if he will bounce back from it.
Johnson's development has been stunted by his inability to remain healthy for an entire season. It's hard to know what could've been if he would have avoided injury, but nevertheless, the Falcons missed on this pick. Johnson will likely serve as depth for the Falcons in 2014, but for a third-round pick, Atlanta had to be hoping for a whole lot more.
2011 Draft Class:
Ah, Akeem Dent. The supposed answer to Curtis Lofton's departure, Dent left Atlanta with more questions than answers. Losing out on a starting gig to two undrafted rookies in his final year with the Falcons, Dent was recently traded to the Houston Texans for a backup quarterback. Dent couldn't provide the Falcons anything that Lofton did in run defense, was particularly bad in coverage, and could never develop into anything more than a special teams body. Swing and a miss by the Falcons' staff.
2012 Draft Class:
The jury is still technically out on Holmes, as he recently turned just 25 years old and is entering only his third season with the Falcons. A developmental project, Holmes was rushed into a starting role when Mike Johnson went down with a gruesome leg injury. Holmes promptly showed the world how unprepared he was, grading out as one of the worst tackles in the league. Holmes admitted to a lack of conditioning, which is unacceptable for a professional athlete. Holmes enters the 2014 season as a lead candidate for a primary backup position, but with the recent drafting of Jake Matthews, one is left to wonder how much faith the team still has in him.
2013 Draft Class:
No third-round selections, (thankfully)?
2014 Draft Class:
Another head-scratcher, Southward was the Falcons' lone third-round selection in the 2014 NFL Draft. A raw, unfinished product from the University of Wisconsin, Southward has a long way to go before he's ready for a starting gig with the Falcons. If he wants to avoid becoming the next infamous Falcons' third-round miss, Southward will have to do everything in his power to develop properly and avoid injury with a little luck. If history is any indication, the odds may not be in Southward's favor.
Is Dezmen Southward doomed to become a victim of the Falcons' supposed third-round curse? Do they even have a curse to begin with? Let me know in the comments.