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Jalen Collins and Ra’Shede Hageman: Cautionary draft tales in the Dimitroff Era

Each NFL Draft presents a learning opportunity, and GM Thomas Dimitroff would be well-served to heed lessons from past misses.

NFL: NFC Divisional-Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re the gambling type, I can confidently advise you to wager a comical amount of money on cornerback Jalen Collins never playing an NFL snap again. Mortgage your home. Dip into your kid’s college fund if you like. This is as much of a lock as not biting into a Chick-fil-A spicy chicken sandwich at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sundays.

Jettisoned on the league’s Island of Pariahs, Collins has already racked up an impressive 28 games on his suspension tab. He’s played in only 24 regular season games.

While Jalen Collins never achieved the success on the field that justified his second-round draft position, he did give a first-round masterclass on an inability to get out of your own way. Do not leave this man in a room full of hot stoves by himself.

There’s still the lingering whispers that Dan Quinn was against selecting Collins and was eventually rebuffed by Thomas Dimitroff (a report that Quinn has denied, for the record). But if you remove the red-and-black colored brotherhood glasses, the Collins pick had Dimitroff’s pomade-laden prints all over it. A freakish build that elicits bug-eyes in scouting circles, tantalizing measurables and a wellspring of untapped potential—a lethal trifecta of size, length, and speed.

But if Dimitroff and the front office utilized their draft divining rod to key-in on Collins’ ocean of on-field abilities, they ignored the troubled waters off-the-field that existed alongside them. His multiple failed drug tests at LSU were alarming, but the Falcons’ cost-benefit analysis deemed Collins a high-risk, high-reward investment worthy of a second round pick. A rough-around-the-edges diamond in the rough.

In light of his fourth suspension, Jalen Collins is a sinking stone.

When it comes to early-round draft prospects who profile more as projects, Thomas Dimitroff’s front office seems to be prone to unforced errors at times. Like somebody blindfolded him and littered the Falcons’ war room floor with rakes.

Ra’Shede Hageman was another one of these curious second-round picks that backfired, albeit not as spectacularly or in such short order as Jalen Collins. Another prospect with absolutely bonkers numbers at the NFL Combine, he checked off all of the right athleticism boxes for the Atlanta Falcons. The intangibles and off-field behavior were another story, however.

The University of Minnesota defensive tackle was not without blinking warning signs heading into the 2014 NFL Draft. Hageman’s mammoth frame and explosive playmaking chops along the defensive line belied his at-times visible lack of motivation on the football field and established track record of shaky character. His sputtering motor famously drew the intense ire of former defensive line coach Bryan Cox on HBO’s Hard Knocks.

His off-the-field issues led to his indefinite suspension from the league and release by the Atlanta Falcons in the wake of a domestic violence incident.

Hageman may be granted clemency and reinstated by Commissioner Roger Goodell at some point, but it’s anyone’s guess as to whether he’ll be given another shot by an NFL team.

Again for the betting lot: I’d put strong odds against it.

The Falcons have put together some extremely strong drafts the past three seasons. The Jalen Collins second round blemish aside, Atlanta’s haul from 2015 is the best in its history. The NFL Draft is built on perceptive gambles—to possess an informed understanding of a prospect’s skillset and be willing to disregard their projected draft slot to fill a definitive team need. But becoming entranced by measurables alone and operating from a point of Combine-influenced tunnel-vision can lead to misfires. In the striking cases of Jalen Collins and Ra’Shede Hageman, it resulted in a net loss of two second rounders.

Hindsight is of course always 20/20, but early-round dice rolls on guys with glaring red flags is generally a practice best avoided.

Thomas Dimitroff and the Falcons front office have executed some strokes of draft brilliance, but they have also committed blunders when they fall in love with a prospect’s athleticism and turn a blind eye to the whole player. But these misses present important learning opportunities, ones that should serve as constant reminders when evaluating players going forward. It’s imperative that they keep these recent mistakes top-of-mind to avoid the hypnotic siren song of innate physical gifts at the expense of motivation and character.

With Draft Day on the horizon, to escape the Ghosts of Drafts Future, Thomas Dimitroff must confront the Ghosts of Drafts Past.