Unless you've been hiding in a cave somewhere, you've probably heard by now that the Falcons had a successful draft. In fact, some analysts believe the Falcons had one of the top draft classes this year. While we won't really know the true success of this draft for another couple of years, it's hard to deny that it is a draft class that has succeeded in getting the fan base excited again, and it stands out as a starkly different class from those in the past.
But why is that? We all know that the front-office restructure put more draft responsibilities on Scott Pioli. That has certainly helped, but I don't think it's the key reason. As Aaron Freeman of FalcFans.com has intimated this off-season, there is a clear vision of what the team will look like - and that vision was set first by new head coach Dan Quinn.
Fast and Physical
From the day he stepped into Flowery Branch, Quinn established a mantra for the team: fast and physical. Some may have tired of hearing it already, but it's clear that Quinn is 100% serious about adhering to this. This draft class is proof positive that he means business. Beasley - fast. Collins - fast and physical. Coleman - fast. Jarrett - physical. Nearly every player in this draft class fits the mold perfectly, and even though WR Justin Hardy isn't the fastest receiver, he's known for fighting for the ball and his aggressive play as a receiver.
When you add that to existing guys on the roster like Julio, Alford, Moore and Trufant - you begin to see that the team structure seems more focused. While there are still holes in this roster, the vision for fast and physical players is clear.
Grabbing the Sliding Players
Every draft class has stories of players that slide down the draft boards for various reasons - whether it's maturity issues, concerns over size or health/injury concerns. The Falcons have shied away from some of these players in the past or have missed out on them due to drafting purely for need. But this year was wildly different.
Collins was considered a first round talent, but he slid due to some concerns over previous pot use. Coleman slid due to health concerns over a broken foot (that he played on all year). Hardy likely slid due to concerns over his top-end speed, though his tape shows he's plenty fast on the field. Jarrett slid due to concerns over his height. All were players who were graded as 1st or 2nd round talents - but the Falcons snagged them between rounds 2 and 5.
These types of players are reflective of how Seattle had great success in the draft for several years, building the core of their Super Bowl roster. It's clear that Quinn has carried this philosophy over to this franchise as well.
The Smitty Years
While I will always appreciate the good years under Mike Smith, one thing has become clear: the vision for the team has been lacking in recent years. Without a vision for what the roster should look like, you end up with confusion and reaches on draft day. There also appeared to be a strong emphasis on finding guys who could contribute on special teams in the later rounds of the draft, rather than looking for talented players that could be developed. Additionally, a focus on drafting "good guys" or "team captains" and avoiding "risky" players was adhered to pretty strongly. I doubt you would have seen a player like Jalen Collins drafted in the Mike Smith years, for example. That focus has yielded a roster with depth concerns and produced several draft classes that have been painfully bad.
The identity crisis under Smitty showed on both sides of the ball as well. We went from being a run-first offense to a passing offense, but never developed depth at WR or offensive line. The defense started as a 4-3, but morphed into a combination of 4-3 and 3-4 principles, before settling on being a 4-2-5 defense the last couple of years. This lack of vision - which Dimitroff certainly shares blame in - made the draft classes between 2011 and 2012 confusing and uninspired. While the 2013 and 2014 classes looked somewhat better, part of that is due to drafting early and yet still, our picks in the middle/late rounds continued to produce more questions than answers.
In closing, as we enter the 2015 season with a sense of optimism, I think it's important to consider where we've been and where it appears we're heading. While the results won't be known for a while yet, it's hard to deny that Quinn is already influencing the makeup of this roster and putting his unique fingerprint on it. Let's hope his vision is one that ultimately leads us to even greater success.