We’re beginning to think in earnest about the 2018 NFL Draft, as we should. While we consider the Falcons’ draft plans, it’s worth looking back at a time where we couldn’t necessarily count on the Falcons nailing six draft picks when they had an opportunity to do so.
It’s hard to remember this now, with the advantage of hindsight and three years under Dan Quinn, but the 2012 Falcons looked like one of the most dominant teams in franchise history. They came awfully close to making their second Super Bowl that year, and it seemed reasonable to expect that they might contend for a year or two after.
Instead, things came crashing down. A series of ill-fated moves fueled that, including releasing John Abraham and Todd McClure, and the 2013 signings of Steven Jackson and Osi Umenyiora, though both signings were undone as much by supporting cast as anything else. Perhaps the biggest failure of all, however, came in the form of the 2012 NFL Draft.
As you’ll no doubt recall, the Falcons were down a first and fourth round pick in 2012 to begin proceedings, given that they traded those picks away for Julio Jones. That was still a hotly-debated trade at the time, given that Julio was coming off an effective but unspectacular rookie season and the Falcons had given up a ton to land him. The margin of error for the draft was thin, then.
Here, as a useful reminder, is who the Falcons wound up with in their class.
2nd Round: C/G Peter Konz, 28 starts, out of football in 2015
3rd Round: T Lamar Holmes, 19 starts, out of football in 2016
5th Round: FB (?) Bradie Ewing, 2 starts, out of football in 2015
5th Round: DE Jonathan Massaquoi, 7 starts, 6 sacks, out of football in 2016
6th Round: S Charles Mitchell, 10 games, 0 starts, out of football in 2013
7th Round: DT Travian Robertson, 12 games, 0 starts, out of football in 2015
This class was a disaster. It’s worth remembering that Konz was considered one of the safer picks on the interior in this entire class, but despite some stretches of solid play, he never even attracted a lick of interest once the Falcons cut ties with him. Ditto Holmes, a player the Falcons grabbed three rounds earlier than expected and who had a ton of raw potential that never translated it into enough to keep him in the NFL. The Ewing pick was also a massive stretch—you don’t take fullbacks in the fifth round!—though his career was undone by injuries less than effectiveness. The team showed zero interest in actually spending time developing Massaquoi, Mitchell, or Robertson, and when they got rid of Mass there were rumors some people in the building never even wanted him in the first place.
Out of all these players, only Holmes is still playing, and he’s in the CFL today. The Falcons managed to entirely squander six selections, something that has not happened before or since in the Thomas Dimitroff era. Considering they missed on their supposed center, right tackle, and fullback of the future, plus a semi-promising defensive end, it would prove to be a costly class. Also, it’s embarrassing to have an entire class out of the NFL after four years, to put it mildly.
For all that, the principle the Falcons used in 2012 is not an unfamiliar one. The Falcons under Dan Quinn have prioritized scheme fits and plus athletes with room to grow, and that draft class tried to unearth the same kinds of players for an aging team. Atlanta went after players like Holmes and Massaquoi who had legitimately interesting physical tools The problem was that the players didn’t really grow, the coaching staff seemed really uninterested in developing more than a couple of those players, and thus the team wound up wasting a class. I genuinely think the coaching staff bungled the handling of these players, but not one of them was a slam dunk pick, even so.
As we gear up for the 2018 NFL Draft, it’s worth remembering how good we’ve had it over the past several seasons, especially those loaded 2015 and 2016 classes. Let’s hope we can point to 2012 as the example of bad Falcons drafting in the 2010s and beyond.