With Tom Compton having expired and moved on to another team in free agency, the Atlanta Falcons had to address a looming need at the swing tackle position. General Manager Thomas Dimitroff signed former Cleveland Browns’ Right Tackle, who had started every game in 2016, Austin Pasztor in mid-August.
Less than two weeks before the start of the season, Dimitroff made a surprising move when he traded the team’s 2018 fifth-round draft selection for Denver Broncos’ Right Tackle Ty Sambrailo.
Sambrailo was a former second-round pick of the Broncos in the 2015 draft. He came into the NFL as a very athletic lineman with some good measurables (6’6 height, 311 pounds), but never lived up to the second-round billing because of his lack of strength and short arms.
After getting injured three games into his rookie season, Sambrailo had a terrible 2016 season. He played in just 10 games (starting four) but still finished sixth in the NFL in total sacks allowed with 7.0 (every player ahead of him on that list played in at least four more games than him). Sambrailo also graded out as having one of the 10 worst individual performances by Pro Football Focus four separate times that season (in weeks 3, 5, 10 and 12).
The only real look that most Falcons fans had of the Colorado State product in 2016 was when Atlanta traveled to Denver in week 5. Vic Beasley Jr. recorded 3.0 sacks in that game, and all of them came against Sambrailo.
Denver ended up cutting its losses with their former second-round bust and seemed eager to dump him into Atlanta’s lap when they got the chance. Looking at how bad Sambrailo was in 2016, the decision to trade a fifth-round pick for him wasn’t good from the start, and it felt like the Falcons would be in trouble if either Jake Matthews or Ryan Schraeder went down at any point in the season.
It didn’t take long for that to happen, as Schraeder suffered a concussion on the first drive of week two’s matchup against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football. Sambrailo was catapulted into every-down duty for the rest of the evening. He gave up three hurries, one QB hit and two sacks. Things didn’t get better from there, as he would finish the season with a very poor 46.4 grade from PFF.
Sambrailo ended up allowing 3.5 sacks for 32.5 yards while playing 209 snaps over the course of the season. For comparison’s sake, Ryan Schraeder allowed 4.0 sacks for 27 yards while playing 832 snaps in 2017 and Jake Matthews allowed 3.5 sacks for 18 yards while playing 1,024 snaps in 2017.
Austin Pasztor, the other swing tackle on the roster, also had a place on that aforementioned list of most sacks allowed by an offensive lineman in 2016: he finished fourth with 8.0 sacks allowed. For those doing the math at home, that’s one more sack allowed than Sambrailo but in six more games played, and 12 more games started. It’s not something to really brag about, but Pasztor at the very least didn’t cost the Falcons any draft capital.
Atlanta felt the adverse effects of the Sambrailo trade whenever he was on the field during the 2017 season, and they’ll feel it again come draft night when they don’t have a fifth-round selection
Losing a fifth-round pick may not feel like anything excruciating, but it’s frustrating when that pick was lost for a player who contributed next to nothing. Fifth-rounders could turn into Pro Bowl diamonds in the rough. Grady Jarrett was selected in that round. In 2016, when the Falcons forfeited a fifth due to the noise gate scandal (pick 157), they could have theoretically selected pro bowl WR Tyreke Hill (pick 165) had they had that selection. At the very least, a nice special teams contributor could be selected in the fifth-round, or the pick could be used to initiate a trade up in earlier rounds.
Dimitroff did a great job when he traded a sixth-round pick in 2015 and a conditional late round selection in 2017 for starting guard Andy Levitre one week before the start of the 2015 regular season, but Levitre at least had a track record of being very good with the Buffalo Bills in the past in a blocking scheme which was similar to what Atlanta would be running. He also cost less than Sambrailo, straight up.
The Sambrailo trade felt like an attempt to artificially recreate the success found with the Levitre trade, and had a whiff of desperation as the team found themselves with only an injured Pasztor as an option at swing tackle. Ty Sambrailo has not been good in the NFL, the trade for him was a bad one from the day it was made and hindsight shows us that while April will bring a draft class with no fifth round pick because of it.