The evaluation of Thomas Dimitroff's draft history continues through the 2009 season. After a terrific 11-5 season in 2008, expectations were high in Atlanta. Dimitroff was dubbed a "mastermind" for putting the pieces together for a franchise that was in disarray through the 2007 season. Matt Ryan was blossoming into a franchise quarterback, while Michael Turner was putting linebackers on their back.
A positive vibe was back in Atlanta, but work had to be done. The defense was ranked 21st against the pass and 25th against the run. Upgrades were needed for this franchise to take the next step. Defensive tackle, cornerback, and strong safety were necessities going into the draft. How did the newest savior in Atlanta do in his first draft without being supplied a boatload of picks?
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. If you need an actual reference, here is my 2008 evaluation.
Peria Jerry- 1st round (Overall pick: 24th)
The biggest first round blunder during Dimitroff's regime for now. Thankfully for his sake, Jerry wasn't a top ten pick and Atlanta already had an outstanding defensive tackle in Jonathan Babineaux. Some may wonder about Jerry's potential if he didn't suffer a season-ending knee injury in his rookie season. Was all of his explosiveness taken away from that injury? One of his main attributes coming out of Ole Miss was how disruptive he was through his sheer power and athleticism.
That was never the case in Atlanta, as he was pushed around constantly. Corey Peters unseated him as a starter in a matter of weeks in 2010. Jerry was nonexistent as a pass rusher and failed to become a difference maker as a run stuffer. Some may reference Clay Matthews as a major miss on Dimitroff's part, which is a harsh critique. Matthews would have never fit in the 4-3 scheme, and Atlanta had a glaring hole opposite Babineaux following Grady Jackson's departure. Vontae Davis would have been a more viable choice, as they needed a cornerback as well. Davis has developed into one of the best cover corners in the league. That would have saved Dimitroff from spending a significant amount on Dunta Robinson. (Letdown)
William Moore- 2nd round (Overall pick: 55th)
An absolute gem of a pick. With Lawyer Milloy on the decline, strong safety was a position that needed to be addressed. Despite missing his rookie season with a hamstring injury, Moore turned into the enforcer that this defense sorely needed. His knack of forcing turnovers has proven to be so valuable for a defense that was always referred to as a "bend, but don't break" defense. The Missouri standout also has a knack for shining in the biggest primetime games. In Atlanta's victories over Denver and New Orleans in 2012, the defense forced Peyton Manning and Drew Brees into a combined eight interceptions.
Moore had three of those interceptions, along with making plays all over the field. His one-on-one tackle of Michael Robinson on fourth-and-one in the playoff win over Seattle was memorable. An extended pamphlet can be constructed in listing all of Moore's impact plays. Injuries have plagued his career to an extent, along with playing too violent at times, which has led to penalties. In the end, this was arguably Dimitroff's most valuable pick outside of the first round. Moore has proven to be a true leader on a defense that has sorely needed it over the past few seasons. (Satisfied)
Christopher Owens- 3rd round (Overall pick: 90th)
The group of cornerbacks in Atlanta lacked size following the wise decision to not re-sign Domonique Foxworth. Chevis Jackson and Brent Grimes were undersized, while Chris Houston wasn't developing into the number one corner that he was positioned to be. Owens ability to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage was supposed to give the secondary much-needed physicality. Unfortunately, his lack of speed hindered his development.
The emergence of Grimes also contributed towards Owens never being a starter. It can't be forgotten that Grimes was injured for a few weeks in 2011, yet Dominique Franks was thrust into a starting role over him. Owens also lacked versatility, which was evident in Atlanta's one-sided playoff loss against Green Bay. He was forced into being the primary nickel corner following Brian Williams' left knee injury that led to Greg Jennings abusing him on several occasions. Fans still have nightmares over him being out of position constantly like an un-drafted rookie. Owens never developed into a staring-caliber cornerback and wasn't re-signed after the 2012 season. Keenan Lewis was selected six picks later by the Steelers, which stings even more from this clear miss in the third round. (Letdown)
Lawrence Sidbury- 4th round (Overall pick: 125th)
Upside always comes to mind when seeing Sidbury's name. With Jamaal Anderson not developing into any threat as a pass rusher, John Abraham needed support. Sidbury had an explosive first step that was constantly raved about from coaches and analysts. He never had the body to be a true three-down lineman though. Besides injuries, the lack of size appeared to be his undoing.
Sidbury still remains to be an absolute mystery. His most productive season was in 2011, where he outplayed Ray Edwards and Kroy Biermann from a pass rusher standpoint. His above-average speed had suited him best as a true situational pass-rusher. After showing promise with four sacks in 2011, Sidbury failed to play much in 2012 and was left on the sidelines for no particular reason. The coaching staff never seemed fully behind the former Richmond standout, which led to him signing with Indianapolis in 2013. His exit wasn't brought with any gratitude, as Sidbury was vocal about not wanting to re-sign through his agent. This was the first of many failed picks in addressing the lack of support for Abraham in attempting to produce a consistent pass rush. (Letdown)
William Middleton- 5th round (Overall pick: 138th)
Middleton never played a game for the Falcons, which is rare for a fifth round pick. It was another one of those strange picks, where Dimitroff preferred a smaller cornerback on a team that already had several of those particular players.
In the end, he never made the team and ended up playing in Jacksonville for four seasons. Middleton ended up having a decent stint there, but never amounted into being a reliable starter. (Insignificant)
Garrett Reynolds- 5th round (Overall pick: 156th)
It's easy to criticize Reynolds as an absolute liability for three seasons as the starting right guard. It's still puzzling as to why the coaching staff never gave him a true opportunity to play right tackle. That was always his natural position at North Carolina. Tyson Clabo was an above average right tackle from 2008-2012, but they eventually released him in 2013. Why couldn't they give Reynolds an opportunity to compete with Lamar Holmes for the right tackle opening in 2013? A six foot seven offensive lineman succeeding as a guard was always highly unlikely.
Through watching him struggle as a run blocker, it was always noticeable on how he couldn't play at a low base. You rarely saw him get a good push, due to his large stature and inability to drive opposing lineman backwards. Reynolds was benched in 2011 and 2013 within the middle of the season. In 2012, he was average at best before suffering a season-ending injury. While it's evident that Reynolds never panned out to be an efficient lineman, the coaching staff should be questioned in continuously trying to implement him into playing right guard. If only they re-signed Harvey Dahl, this pick may have been salvaged. Reynolds as a swing tackle could have possibly worked. (Insignificant)
Spencer Adkins- 6th round (Overall pick: 176th)
Another defensive pick that didn't pan out in Atlanta. Adkins was supposed to be an excellent special teams player, but never made his mark there. These picks tend to happen, where a player simply can't move up the depth chart following a disappointing training camp and pre-season.
Adkins seemed better suited as a middle linebacker, yet Dimitroff must have felt that he could play on the weak-side or strong-side with Curtis Lofton playing in the middle. That intention didn't translate into anything substantial, as Adkins wasn't re-signed in 2012. He couldn't make it past training camp for the Ravens and Giants. (Insignificant)
Vance Walker- 7th round (Overall pick: 210th)
One of the bigger fan favorites from 2010-2012, Walker proved to be a solid rotational player when Babineaux or Peters needed a rest. His ability as a run stuffer and possessing an underrated first step have propelled him towards a successful NFL career. It was strange to see Atlanta not re-sign him in 2013, after a three-sack season in limited opportunities. That seemed to start controversy amongst the fan-base, where questions arose about Dimitroff's favoritism towards higher drafted players. How did Jerry merit a roster spot, when Walker outplayed him for two consecutive seasons? Who wouldn't prefer to have Walker in a rotational role over Tyson Jackson?
Some highlights that stood out from his career in Atlanta was his sack against New Orleans that showcased his explosiveness. After being stood up at first, Walker blew past Jahri Evans and viciously sacked Brees (who couldn't help himself to complain about being hit). It was the only defensive highlight from that night, as Brees broke the single-season passing yardage record in a dominant win for New Orleans. Walker also had a key sack against Seattle in Atlanta's playoff win, where he was one of the few defensive lineman to touch Russell Wilson in one of the worst defensive collapses in recent history. He was never going to be a star, but you can always depend on his high motor on a weekly basis. For having two productive seasons in a rotational role, Dimitroff gets praise for the pick itself. As for not re-signing him, that decision never quite made sense. (Significant)
This will always be remembered as one of Dimitroff's worst drafts. Only one player had a satisfying career in Atlanta between rounds one and four. It has to be frustrating that two of those letdown picks were amongst the defensive line, which has been a problem for years. For the second draft in a row, Dimitroff did land one significant player out of four picks in the final three rounds. It's essential to have a track record of selecting players in the later rounds that amounted into becoming positive contributors.
The tally from the past two drafts show that Dimitroff has selected four players that had satisfying careers and six players that were letdowns in Atlanta between rounds one and four. In the final three rounds, two out of nine players turned out to be a significant surprise in becoming solid contributors.
If you want to look at the two drafts from a full perspective, six out of nineteen players have turned out to be positive picks. That's a fairly decent margin, although Dimitroff had several picks to work with in 2008. In his first attempt at having the standard amount of draft picks, it wasn't a very good showing that contributed towards Atlanta going only 9-7 that season.