Sean Weatherspoon- 1st round (Overall pick: 19th)
After looking through every draft between 2008-2012, this was easily the hardest player to decide on. Some may wonder how is it hard to judge a player that was only healthy for two out of his five seasons in Atlanta? When you look at an outside linebacker in a 4-3 defensive scheme, it's extremely difficult to stand out. Lance Briggs, Thomas Davis, and Lavonte David have arguably been the most recent players to stand out from playing that position. When an outside linebacker is earning recognition playing the complete position rather than being mainly a pass-rusher, you have to take notice.
Weatherspoon was an absolute standout in 2011. It's fitting that the defense was respectable in 2011 and 2012. Besides standout corner play from either Brent Grimes or Asante Samuel, it was Weatherspoon's play that anchored the defense. Whether it was being the forefront of making tackles at the line of scrimmage or playing coverage, Weatherspoon's range benefitted the defense greatly. Injuries have sadly derailed his career, which led to Atlanta not re-signing him, despite Thomas Dimitroff's claims of making him a priority. In this situation, I'd like to go with undecided.
If you look back at this draft, Atlanta wasn't going to draft a corner after spending significant money on Robinson. Grimes had a great second-half of the season in 2009, along with Christopher Owens being drafted that season. Devin McCourty and Kareem Jackson were out of the question. Atlanta was a run-first offense, which made Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas as unlikely targets. Defense was the priority, so it's hard to fault Dimitroff for this pick. It would have been a dream scenario, if Derrick Morgan or Jason Pierre-Paul fell to the nineteenth pick. That failed to happen, which led to the default pick of selecting Weatherspoon. Two productive seasons out of five is far from ideal in drafting a first rounder. In this particular situation, Weatherspoon was an enforcer on the field and deserves respect for his contributions on two playoff teams. (Satisfied)
Corey Peters- 3rd round (Overall pick: 83rd)
Who remembers the sheer disappointment from this pick? Many fans wanted a pass rusher, which was starting to become a yearly ritual at this point. Peters wasn't exactly raved about coming out of Kentucky. Dimitroff had just invested a first-round pick in Peria Jerry, who was slated to form a partnership with standout Jonathan Babineaux on the interior line. This pick was the first sign that Jerry wasn't exactly going to pan out. Besides a lackluster rookie season, Peters became a fan favorite during his time in Atlanta. Injuries hindered him through 2012 and 2014, but he was always considered as a quality run defender.
Peters has also proven that he can play under a heavy number of snaps, which he did in 2013. Some may point out that NaVorro Bowman was selected eight picks later by the 49ers or Jimmy Graham was selected twelve picks later by the Saints, but Peters gave Atlanta three solid years, along with a 2014 season coming off a torn Achilles injury in which he outplayed players like Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson that were supposed to "replace him." Similar to Weatherspoon, it's an unfortunate travesty that he wasn't re-signed. This was arguably Dimitroff's best pick in the third round through 2008-2012. (Satisfied)
Mike Johnson- 3rd round (Overall pick: 98th)
What can be said about a player that never truly saw the field consistently? Johnson was plagued with several injuries throughout his career in Atlanta. Many fans were excited about him possibly replacing either Justin Blalock or Harvey Dahl, who were both free agents after the 2010 season. The coaching staff decided to convert him into a right tackle in 2012. That translated into him becoming a dependable swing tackle.
Johnson was expected to compete for the right tackle position in 2013, before fracturing his fibula and dislocating his ankle in training camp. Injuries continued to plague him in 2014, as his season was ended in pre-season by a foot injury. It's an unfortunate situation that nobody could control. The two-time All-American guard was a third round pick, which hurts even more given how valuable those picks are. Everson Griffen was selected just two picks later by the Minnesota Vikings. How much would Atlanta's mangled defense benefit from having an explosive pass rusher like Griffen? (Letdown)
Joe Hawley- 4th round (Overall pick: 117th)
The once-forgotten bearded man has developed into a true fan favorite. It hasn't been a smooth ride for Hawley, who was forced into playing right guard in 2011. Garrett Reynolds struggled mightily that year, which led to Hawley being inserted into the starting lineup. He was an adequate replacement before being manhandled by Linval Joseph and Chris Canty from the infamous playoff loss against the Giants in the 2012 playoffs. A four-game suspension from testing positive for Adderall in 2012 didn't do him any favors. His break and shining moment came when he replaced Peter Konz for the last five weeks of the season, and expectations were so low that Hawley was an instant upgrade.
The discrepancy in run blocking was evident through Hawley's agility and not being overwhelmed by a simple swim move. A torn right ACL ended his season last year in week four, after a promising start. With Kyle Shanahan implementing a zone blocking scheme, this could be the year that Hawley shines through a full season. The jury is still out on him being a starting-caliber center. That shouldn't take away from him being a quality fourth round pick, where most offensive linemen are considered as projects and fall out of the league in three years. Before someone points this out, it's well documented that Geno Atkins was selected three picks later by the Bengals. The pick was never going to happen with Peters being selected a round beforehand. Let's not berate Dimitroff for not making that pick. (Satisfied)
Dominique Franks- 5th round (Overall pick: 135th)
If Franks developed into a decent punt returner, I'd be far more positive with this selection. After Eric Weems signed with Chicago in 2012, a training camp battle ensued for the opening position at punt returner. It seemed like Franks won by default. A few glimpses were shown in pre-season, although it was nothing substantial. Those glimpses led to him earning the reputation of being the most conservative punt-returner in Falcons history. On almost any punt, it was inevitable that Franks was bound to wave fair catch.
The decision to depend on him as a punt returner ended miserably, which led to Harry Douglas being inserted into the starting role by late November. Franks showed some promise at cornerback in 2011, but never convinced the coaching staff he was a starting-caliber corner. If he showcased any true potential, Atlanta wouldn't have traded for Asante Samuel that off-season. Franks wasn't re-signed in 2013, as the team didn't see any value in him as a nickel or dime corner. That led to him making headlines as a Baltimore Raven last season. It has been an interesting career for the former Oklahoma Sooner, albeit not a very efficient one. (Insignificant)
Kerry Meier- 5th round (Overall pick: 165th)
The once-dubbed "Brian Finneran 2.0" in terms of having excellent hands and being versatile didn't pan out. Meier played quarterback for a few seasons at Kansas, along with being capable of playing special teams. Nothing transpired from this pick, as Meier's lack of speed and athleticism was evident through multiple pre-seasons.
His inability to get open hindered him from ever progressing into playing meaningful snaps in the regular season. It didn't help that he tore his ACL during the pre-season of his rookie year. The front office cut him in 2012, and no other team claimed him off waivers. Another lackluster fifth round pick. (Insignificant)
Shann Schillinger- 6th round (Overall pick: 171st)
Many fans will remember and possibly become outraged that Greg Hardy was selected four picks later by the Carolina Panthers. That pick would have been nice for three seasons, although we wouldn't have witnessed Matt Bryant owning him. Schillinger never developed into anything more than a special teams player.
His lack of size and speed was evident through multiple pre-seasons. He was cut in the middle of Atlanta's dreadful 2013 season. Tennessee briefly signed him and cut him a month later. Another pick that couldn't have been more forgettable. (Insignificant)
Despite none of the players above making an immediate impact for the team that went 13-3 in 2010, this was one of Dimitroff's best draft classes. Defense was once again the priority and the upgrades were felt significantly between 2011-2012. Out of four picks in the first four rounds, three productive players were selected. The only slight from this draft was that Dimitroff failed to land any surprises in the last three rounds. It was his first time in failing to do so, as Kroy Biermann and Vance Walker were two solid picks in the latter rounds. If we're not looking at this from a draft perspective, Dimitroff can be heavily criticized for not re-signing his top two picks (Weatherspoon and Peters) this off-season.
The tally from the past three drafts show that Dimitroff has done fairly well in the first four rounds. He has selected seven players that have been productive and had satisfying careers in Atlanta. Unfortunately enough, he has also selected seven players that ended up becoming letdowns in Atlanta. A fifty percent rate through the first four rounds isn't a bad number by any stretch, however. In the final three rounds, two out of twelve picks have ended up becoming solid contributors.
If you want to look at the three drafts holistically, nine out of twenty-six players have ended up becoming positive picks. This draft helped that margin greatly, as Weatherspoon and Peters were valuable contributors for a few years, even if it's unfortunate that the organization failed to recognize that this year. The only things that stung from this draft was selecting no real contributors in the later rounds, and the unfortunate luck of Mike Johnson's career being derailed by injuries. Other than that, the future was bright following this successful draft.