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A look at the Falcons’ connection with the SEC in past NFL drafts

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It’s been a mixed bag of results for Atlanta and the SEC.

NFL Draft Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images

Some of Atlanta’s top young players hail from the SEC.

Defenders like Deion Jones, Keanu Neal, Brian Poole and Jalen Collins came to Atlanta via the SEC, and before Julio Jones set the NFL ablaze, he was dominating at Alabama.

Last year felt like the first Atlanta draft in a while where several SEC players were selected. Despite it being considered the best conference in college football for the better part of the past decade, the Falcons haven’t seemingly loaded up on SEC stars, something that Falcons fans point out quite often.

Is that actually the case, however? We decided to take a look at the Falcons’ draft history over the past 10 years and determine how many SEC players the team has selected and how successful those players have been.

2007 NFL Draft

Rd. 1 – Jamaal Anderson (DE), Arkansas: Anderson was considered a solid pick for the Falcons at the time of his selection. The SEC’s reigning sack leader had a high upside and filled a major position of need in Atlanta. Unfortunately, like most of the team’s defensive line picks over the years, Anderson never panned out. He registered just 105 tackles and 4.5 sacks in his four years with the team and was not re-signed after his rookie contract expired.

Rd. 2 – Chris Houston (DB), Arkansas: The team’s third overall pick in the 2007 draft was another defensive player out of Arkansas. Houston was considered a steal when the Falcons selected him in midway through the second round, as many projections had him battling to be the first cornerback off the board. Like Anderson, however, Houston never panned out the way the team had hoped. He started 37 games in three years and recorded 166 tackles, and three interceptions.

Rd. 4 – Martrez Milner (TE), Georgia: Coming out of Georgia, Milner seemed to be a high-risk, high-reward prospect. He had rare physical traits, but failed to show consistency as a receiver or a blocker. The Falcons’ gamble didn’t pay off with this selection, as Milner played in only eight games for the team and caught nine passes for 50 yards.

Rd. 6 – David Irons (DB), Auburn: A late-round pick at a position of need, Irons played in 15 games for the Falcons his rookie season and recorded 17 tackles and a fumble recovery. He played in five games in 2008 before a knee injury ended his season. Irons was waived before the 2009 season.

2008 NFL Draft

Rd. 3 – Chevis Jackson (DB), LSU: Another SEC defensive back, Jackson never developed like the Falcons had hoped. He spent two seasons in Atlanta and started in only three games. Jackson registered 60 tackles and a 95-yard interception return for a touchdown in that time.

Rd. 6 – Thomas Brown (RB), Georgia: The Falcons took a late-round flier on Brown coming out of Georgia, but he never made the roster.

Rd. 7 – Keith Zinger (TE), LSU: Zinger did make the roster as a seventh-round pick, but he never recorded an offensive stat in the 15 games that he played during the 2008 season.

2009 NFL Draft

No players selected

2010 NFL Draft

Rd. 3 – Corey Peters (DT), Kentucky: At the time of his selection, Peters was considered a reach for the Falcons. He earned a large role in Atlanta’s defensive line rotation, however, and became a steady player in his five seasons with the team. Peters recorded 146 tackles, 11 sacks and an interception with the Falcons.

Rd. 3 – Mike Johnson (G), Alabama: Injuries derailed the career of this run-blocker from Alabama. Johnson started just one game in his two seasons with the Falcons, which isn’t what you want from a third-round draft pick.

2011 NFL Draft

Rd. 1 – Julio Jones (WR), Alabama: Considering the large number of draft picks Atlanta had to surrender to move up and take Jones with the sixth overall pick, there was immediate pressure on the Alabama star to produce. He has more than justified the Falcons’ move, however, and Jones has become one of the premier players in the NFL. But I don’t have to tell you that…

Rd. 3 – Akeem Dent (LB), Georgia: Dent was seen as the eventual successor to Curtis Lofton at middle linebacker, but he never became the type of player that Atlanta envisioned. In three seasons with the Falcons, Dent made 136 tackles. He was traded to Houston for quarterback T.J. Yates before the 2014 season.

Rd. 7 – Cliff Matthews (DE), South Carolina: For a seventh-round draft pick, Matthews built himself a nice career. Although he never became a major factor on the Falcons’ defense, Matthews did see action in 35 games over his four seasons with the team.

2012 NFL Draft

Rd. 6 – Charles Mitchell (DB), Mississippi State: Mitchell spent just one season with the Falcons and played only a few snaps as a rookie.

Rd. 7 – Travian Robertson (DT), South Carolina: Robertson impressed coaches as a seventh-round rookie in training camp, earning himself a spot on the roster. He saw action in 12 games over two seasons with the Falcons, registering four tackles in that time.

2013 NFL Draft

No players selected

2014 NFL Draft

Rd. 1 – Jake Matthews (OT), Texas A&M: Matthews was an important pick for the Falcons in the first round. Not only did he fill a major position of need, but he was seen as one of the most pro-ready players in the draft. While he’s had some struggles here and there, Matthews has been largely steady in his three seasons with the Falcons. He has started 47 games in Atlanta, missing just one game during his rookie year.

2015 NFL Draft

Rd. 2 – Jalen Collins (DB), LSU: The first SEC player taken in the Dan Quinn era, Collins’ career has been eventful thus far. He saw limited action as a rookie and missed the first four games of the 2016 season due to suspension. Some believed he might be headed for bust territory when Collins didn’t see the field after his suspension came to an end, but he was a critical part of the defense after Desmond Trufant want down with a season-ending injury. Collins figures to be a part of the Falcons’ plan moving forward.

2016 NFL Draft

Rd. 1 – Keanu Neal (S), Florida: After missing the first two games of the 2016 season due to injury, Neal became a mainstay in the Falcons’ defense for the final 14 contests. He was a strong contributor for Atlanta’s young defense, registering 106 tackles and a whopping five forced fumbles as a rookie.

Rd. 2 – Deion Jones (LB), LSU: One of the premier players on Atlanta’s defense last year, Jones made plays all over the field. The Falcons have been missing a dynamic player at the middle linebacker spot, but Jones looks like he may be the answer to that problem. Jones led the team with 108 tackles as a rookie and returned two of his three interceptions for touchdowns.

Final verdict

Since 2007, 496 players from the SEC have been selected in the NFL draft. Over the past decade, Atlanta has taken 18 players from the conference, which is slightly above the expected 15.5 average during that time.

The Falcons have taken the most SEC players among NFC South teams, and the Panthers are second on that list with 12 selections in the past 10 years.

With a few notable exceptions, Atlanta’s SEC picks haven’t panned out the way the team had hoped. Things appear to be turning around, however, as the conference has provided some of the team’s young foundational pieces on the current roster.