Dimitroff has served as the architect of the Falcons since 2008, overseeing the greatest era in team history: seven winning seasons and six playoff appearances in 10 years, after this Atlanta team failed to have even a back to back winning season from 1966-2007.
After looking at the five worst selections Thomas Dimitroff has made as GM of the Atlanta Falcons, I’ll talk about something more positive today: Dimitroff’s five best draft steals, selected on the final day of the NFL draft.
As the title of this article indicates, I’ll only be looking at players who were selected on day three of the draft (rounds 4-7). As a result, you won’t find any players chosen in the first three rounds of the draft, that’s a list for another day.
*Note: every single pick made from 2008-2017 is eligible for this list. I will not be omitting a selection because “Dan Quinn made that pick.” As General Manager, Dimitroff has had a hand in every single draft pick made over the past 10 years. I’ll be looking at where the player was drafted as well as the contributions he made to the team.
5) Kemal Ishmael: 2013, Round 7 Pick 243
Seventh-round draft picks are a dart throw for General Managers, most don’t ever become contributors beyond special teams. To get a solid contributor in the last round of the draft, and for that to be a compensatory selection, is very impressive.
Kemal Ishmael has never been a star player on Atlanta’s defensive unit by any means, but he has definitely been a solid contributor on that side of the ball for four years, following his rookie season of mainly special teams duty.
Ishmael’s best season came in 2014: his second year, when he started 10 games at safety and registered four interceptions along with six pass deflections, a forced fumble and 66 tackles. He’s played in 61 of 64 games for Atlanta since 2014, moving to linebacker full time in 2016 to carve out some extra playing time in Dan Quinn’s defense.
Ishmael is a free agent this spring so we may have seen the last of him in a Falcons uniform, but he’s definitely someone who made an impact despite being such a late draft pick. Thus far, Kemal Ishmael has easily been Thomas Dimitroff’s best seventh-round draft selection.
The three players selected right before this pick: OT Reid Fragel, DT Jared Smith, OT Michael Bowie
4) De’Vondre Campbell: 2016, Round 4 Pick 115
Leading up to the 2016 draft, team owner Arthur Blank stated that he wanted the Falcons to come out of that draft with three new starters. Many scoffed and/or laughed at the idea of Dimitroff and Dan Quinn being able to pull something like that off, until they did.
The third starter taken in that draft, to go along with S Keanu Neal and LB Deion Jones from the first two rounds, was LB De’Vondre Campbell. A projected late round project, nobody expected Campbell to make such an immediate impact on the Falcons’ front seven.
After finishing second in the NFL in pass breakups among LBs (Deion Jones finished first) in an injury-shortened rookie season, Campbell went into his sophomore campaign in 2017 stronger and even more polished in his technique. He started all 16 games, recorded the first 2.0 sacks of his career and graded out as the 28th best linebacker in the NFL by PFF with a rating of 78.6.
Atlanta’s Achilles heel in the pre-Dan Quinn era was defending against the tight end position: Mike Smith’s teams would routinely get torched by the opposing TE. Campbell has put an end to that, providing spectacular coverage on the opponents’ main TE game in and game out. De’Vondre Campbell could find himself climbing this list in the future.
The three players selected right before this pick: WR Malcolm Mitchell, LB Nick Kwiatkoski, WR Ricardo Louis
3) Ricardo Allen: 2014, Round 5 Pick 147
When Thomas Dimitroff drafted CB Ricardo Allen in the fifth round of the 2014 draft it was hard to imagine that he would be the team’s starting free safety a year later. This scenario was even more unlikely after Allen got cut and added to the practice squad following his first preseason.
With a need at the starting free safety position in Dan Quinn’s defense, Ricardo Allen moved positions and garnered that starting role in 2015. There were immediate questions as to why Atlanta didn’t draft a free safety, especially since this is arguably the most important position in Dan Quinn’s cover 3 defense.
The fact that the Falcons still haven’t brought in a free safety to replace Allen (via free agency or the draft) is a testament to just how reliable the former Purdue Boilermaker has been in that role. He’s started 45 out of 48 possible regular season games and has been lauded as the smartest guy on Atlanta’s defense, knowing exactly where everyone is supposed to be at all times. His interceptions against the Seahawks and Packers in the 2016 playoffs remain some of the most memorable plays in recent Falcon history.
Allen graded out as the 33rd best safety in the NFL by Pro Football Focus with a mark of 81.3. He’s not a star player by any means, but what he’s brought to the table and contributed thus far in his career go beyond the reasonable expectations of a player who was a fifth-round selection.
The three players selected right before this pick: LB Telvin Smith, G David Yankey, WR Devin Street
2) Grady Jarrett: 2015, Round 5 Pick 137
To this day I still have no idea how every NFL team allowed Grady Jarrett to fall all the way to the fifth round just because he was slightly undersized. The son of former Falcon great Jessie Tuggle had a second round projection going into the draft. After the fourth round concluded, Dimitroff traded up nine spots (from 146 to 137) to secure the steal of the 2015 draft.
Falcons fans reacted with instant jubilation after the team took Jarrett and with good reason. The former Clemson Tiger has excelled in Dan Quinn’s 4-3 under defense in the 3-technique position on the defensive line (with the versatility to also play 1-technique when needed). Jarrett has blossomed into Atlanta’s best defensive player, and one of the 10 best defensive tackles in the NFL already.
His magnum opus was an otherworldly performance in Superbowl 51 when he totaled 3.0 sacks and had Patriots’ QB Tom Brady running for his life throughout the first half. Had the Falcons won that game, Jarrett would have probably been named Superbowl MVP.
Coming into the league as a superior run defender, Jarrett has made strides rushing the passer as well: increasing his sack total in every season of his career thus far. He is the type of player whom Atlanta can build its defense around, and he may find himself at the pinnacle of this list in the near future.
The three players selected right before this pick: G Mark Glowinski, DE Marcus Hardison, CB Tray Walker
1) Devonta Freeman: 2014, Round 4 Pick 103
While you could make an argument that Grady Jarrett should top this list already, Devonta Freeman’s track record as Atlanta’s primary running back is currently too extensive to put him behind any of Dimitroff’s day three selections at the moment.
Drafted in the fourth round out of Florida State, Freeman has done it all for the Falcons after being unshackled by Dan Quinn and Kyle Shanahan following Mike Smith’s firing. His otherworldly two year run in the 2015 and 2016 seasons saw him total 3,175 yards from scrimmage (second most in the NFL in that span; Julio Jones) and accumulate 27 total touchdowns (second most in the NFL in that span; David Johnson).
Freeman had another good year in Atlanta’s backfield in 2017: going for 1,182 yards from scrimmage and 8 total touchdowns in a year where he didn’t even have 200 carries.
Freeman has taken the Atlanta Falcons’ offense to another level since becoming the team’s bell-cow running back. Today, he makes up the deadliest two-headed running back tandem in the NFL, along with teammate Tevin Coleman.
The Atlanta Falcons have made 45 total day three draft selections under Thomas Dimitroff’s watch since 2008. That entire group of players have accumulated a combined total of two pro bowl seasons in their careers — both have come courtesy of Devonta Freeman, in 2015 and 2016.
The three players selected right before this pick: G Brandon Thomas, CB Jaylen Watkins, CB Bashaud Breeland