With the NFL draft being a month away, the time feels right to evaluate Thomas Dimitroff. Whether it's in the comment sections, forums, or Twitter, their always seems to be a debate about Dimitroff's ability to draft efficiently and effectively. We already know that his decisions in free agency haven't been glamorous over the past three off-seasons. Instead of dwelling over those poor decisions, it's better to do something more productive.
This is the start of a five-part series of evaluating the Falcons' draft classes from 2008 to 2012. Most people would agree that it takes three years to effectively rate a draft pick. The "third-year breakout potential" term is more than just a catchy phrase. Roddy White can attest to that. That's why I'm going to leave out 2013 and 2014, as those particular players are still developing.
This all began in 2008, when a new face of the franchise was needed. A new face was acquired, along with several other players earning memorable reputations in Atlanta for better and for worse.
A tally will be formulated into two parts. Between the first four rounds, Dimitroff will be graded on picks that were either considered as satisfying or ultimately letdowns. From rounds five to seven, the grades will be determined by either significant or insignificant, since those rounds are hard to truly rate as letdowns.
Matt Ryan- 1st round (Overall pick: 3rd)
What's there left to say about the face of the franchise? After much debate about whether to choose Ryan or Glenn Dorsey, Dimitroff decided to choose the quarterback out of Boston College. That turned out to be the best decision throughout his current regime, as Ryan brought stability to a franchise that was only one year removed from the Michael Vick debacle.
The stats speak for itself, as Ryan's resume is astonishing from 2010-2014. After being a firm believer in choosing Dorsey and drafting Brian Brohm in the second round, I'm proud to admit my idiocy and praise Dimitroff for this monumental decision. (Satisfied)
Sam Baker- 1st round (Overall pick: 21st)
It's remarkable at how decision making can go from gold to horse manure in the same actual round. That's my best description in describing Dimitroff's decision to trade two second round picks and a fourth-round pick to Washington in order to move up to draft Baker. While one of those picks came from the DeAngelo Hall trade, it was still a questionable move to trade up in such a talent heavy left tackle class.
Then you look at Duane Brown being selected five picks later by the Houston Texans, who turned out to be a stud. It was one of Dimitroff's biggest flops throughout his career on draft day. Baker was a question mark coming out of college, which has lead to several disappointing seasons that have been injury-plagued. Somehow he remains on the roster, due to his willingness to play left guard. (Letdown)
Curtis Lofton- 2nd Round (Overall pick: 37th)
A second-round pick is supposed to evolve into becoming a star or productive player at minimum. Brandon Flowers, Jordy Nelson, Matt Forte, DeSean Jackson, Calais Campbell, and Martellus Bennett all developed into becoming outstanding players from being second round picks in the 2008 NFL draft. Lofton developed into a solid two-down player that was an asset as a run-stopping middle linebacker. If you recall, the Falcons were actually a top-ten run defense in both 2010 and 2011.
Lofton deserves credit for being one of the bigger assets amongst the front seven. In the end, the ideal middle linebacker is supposed to be a three-down player, especially when being drafted in the second round. Lofton was always a liability in coverage and tends to miss tackles in the open field. Atlanta and New Orleans have realized that over the course of his career. In the end, this can't be considered as a productive pick. (Letdown)
Chevis Jackson- 3rd Round (Overall pick: 68th)
Jackson's pick-six against Drew Brees in November of 2008 will always be memorable. He read the play perfectly and began high stepping at the thirty-yard line in what sealed a crucial win in the memorable 2008 season (sadly it was so long ago, I can't find the clip). Jackson showed promise throughout his rookie season from being a willing tackler to being effective as a nickel corner. Eventually his lack of speed was exposed and quarterbacks began targeting him in 2009.
Both Jackson and Chris Houston faltered in what was one of the worst pass defenses in Falcons history during the 2009 season. The former LSU standout has been out of the league since 2010. Falcon fans will never forget that pick-six, especially since it came against the Saints. That being said, this is as easy one. (Letdown)
Harry Douglas- 3rd Round (Overall pick: 84th)
It will always be difficult to fully rate Douglas. On one hand, he proved to be a valuable role player that made several key catches at opportune times. On the other hand, his limitations were evident in not being much of a deep-threat or being able to make catches in traffic. We can all agree that Douglas was a positive pick that ended up being a valuable asset to have through 2008-2013. Eventually his limitations had become tiresome and that hindered the passing attack to an extent.
In the end, Douglas was a solid player who shone in 2008 and 2011 when the team needed a second receiver besides White. He saved Ryan from having to throw to Tony Gonzalez and a group of undrafted receivers in 2013. While his departure was needed for more youth at the receiver position, Dimitroff deserves praise for selecting a consistent receiver that was productive for six seasons (Douglas didn't play in 2009, due to a torn ACL). (Satisfied)
Thomas DeCoud- 3rd round (Overall pick: 98th)
Another player that fans had such passionate mixed feelings on. While his shortcomings as a tackler became a weekly punch-line, DeCoud was a standout in coverage throughout his career in Atlanta. His 2012 season was well-deserving of a Pro Bowl selection. His six interceptions and nine passes defensed were made through several incredible individual efforts. Many forget about his productive 2009 season, which was his first season as a starter at free safety.
If it wasn't for his "stone hands" (another weekly punch-line through the early part of his career), DeCoud could have had six instead of just three interceptions. His exit from Atlanta was brought with great joy. That doesn't take away from his four seasons of being a solid starter, along with one outstanding season. His range was valuable through the magical 2012 season, when Atlanta had some semblance of a pass rush with John Abraham. (Satisfied)
Robert James- 5th round (Overall pick: 138th)
The perennial name that you would see on the Falcons inactive list from 2008 to 2011. James was a strange figure in this draft because nobody quite remembers him. James was notable for being suspended for PED usage in 2010 and briefly played special teams. Injuries did plague his career to an extent.
In the end, it's fair to say that he was simply wasn't good enough. After being released on multiple occasions, the Falcons were finally done with him by cutting him in the summer of 2013. Brandon Carr was selected two picks later by the Kansas City Chiefs to add more sting to this missed pick. (Insignificant)
Kroy Biermann- 5th round (Overall Pick: 154th)
The last of the almighty trio of players that have left fans conflicted. Biermann flashed great promise in his first two seasons as a situational pass-rusher. His promise led to being promoted towards a starting role in 2010, which ended up being a disappointment. Biermann only had three sacks and faded in several games, as Abraham never had the support that he deserved. That forced Dimitroff towards investing in a pass-rusher through free agency, which ended up becoming Ray Edwards in another dismal decision. Biermann should have always been a situational player, as he's never possessed the speed or strength to be effective as a three-down lineman.
Somehow he became a three-down lineman last season, after failing to succeed in that role in 2010. Biermann garnered a lot of criticism for his play over the past season. The criticism should have been directed towards the entire organization for putting him in a position to fail. At his best, Biermann is an versatile role player that can multiple positions and has a relentless motor. As a fifth round pick, this pick deserves praise for choosing a productive player when utilized properly. The former Montana standout was one of the unsung heroes in the memorable 2012 season as well. (Significant)
Thomas Brown- 6th round (Overall pick: 173rd)
To the fellow Georgia Bulldog fans that constantly read this website, don't chastise me for having to do extensive research on this player's identity. Brown lasted one season in Atlanta and failed to feature in any games. While I'm unsure of his popularity in Georgia, there was some buzz about him being a potential key role player.
That seems to apply with almost every player from Georgia drafted by the Falcons besides Akeem Dent. Brown hasn't played since 2010 and has now moved into a career in coaching. (Insignificant)
Wilrey Fontenot- 7th round (Overall pick: 212th)
Another player that failed to make an impact in his short tenure in Atlanta. His career didn't lead too much, as Fontenot was out of the league by 2009. The lack of height (five-foot-ten) seemed to derail his career, along with his inability to tackle effectively. (Insignificant)
Keith Zinger- 7th round (Overall pick: 232nd)
Zinger was drafted one pick before Justin Forsett, who ironically was a player that the Falcons were interested in last month. Zinger's background in playing for the 2008 national champion LSU Tigers makes him more recognizable than the other two players above. Zinger never caught a pass in the NFL and was out of the league by 2011. (Insignificant)
The final tally shows that Dimitroff selected three players that had a satisfying career, while three players were considered letdowns through the first four rounds. A fifty percent rate is a solid number for the (at the time) first year general manager. Only one out of five players was considered as a significant pick through the final three rounds.
It was an overall productive draft in acquiring a franchise quarterback and solid players on both sides of the field. The failure in selecting a reliable left tackle and a complete middle linebacker derails this draft class to an extent.