Earlier this week, we looked at who Thomas Dimitroff and the front office have drafted since 2008, broken down by position. Today, I’d like to look at hits and misses by position, and talk a little bit about what it says about how far the Falcons have come since Dan Quinn arrived in town, whether that’s coincidence or not.
First, let’s define a hit versus a miss. Day one picks have to be multi-year starters with at least one quality season under their belts, day two picks need to play out their rookie contracts in Atlanta and start, and day three picks need to have at least two years in Atlanta with legitimate playing time (at least half a season), given the diminished expectations the later you go.
That’s not the most rigorous or scientific breakdown, but it’ll do for today’s discussion, even if I have to call some players I didn’t really care for in Atlanta “hits.”
So how do these break down?
Quarterback: Matt Ryan
Running Back: Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Jacquizz Rodgers
Wide Receiver: Julio Jones, Justin Hardy, Harry Douglas
Tight End: Austin Hooper, Levine Toilolo
Tackle: Jake Matthews, Ryan Schraeder, Garrett Reynolds, Sam Baker
Guard: Wes Schweitzer
Center: Joe Hawley
Defensive End: Vic Beasley, Cliff Matthews, Kroy Biermann
Defensive Tackle: Grady Jarrett, Vance Walker, Trey Lewis
Linebacker: Deion Jones, De’Vondre Campbell, Curtis Lofton
Cornerback: Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford, Ricardo Allen (now a safety), Chris Owens
Safety: Keanu Neal, Kemal Ishmael (now a linebacker), William Moore, Thomas DeCoud
Punter: Matt Bosher
Now, obviously, some of the guys on this list are hits in the loosest possible sense. Garrett Reynolds had one good season but was a part-time player, Levine Toilolo was a fine but uninspiring reserve with one season as a starter, Cliff Matthews was a solid deep reserve, and Chris Owens was sometimes flammable. Sam Baker memorably had two good seasons sandwiched by injuries and disappointment, but this is what I get for loosely defined standards.
What you’ll notice is that the team has historically done a good job of grabbing starting-caliber backs, tackles, and defensive backs above all else, with the defense line and linebacker getting a boost in recent years.
Quarterback: Sean Renfree
Running Back: Thomas Brown
Fullback: Bradie Ewing
Wide Receiver: Kerry Meier
Tight End: Keith Zinger
Tackle: Jake Rodgers, Lamar Holmes
Guard: Mike Johnson, Andrew Jackson
Center: Peter Konz
Defensive End: Malliciah Goodman, Stansly Maponga, Jonathan Massaquoi, Lawrence Sidbury
Defensive Tackle: Ra’Shede Hageman, Travian Robertson, Peria Jerry
Linebacker: Prince Shembo, Marquis Spruill, Yawin Smallwood, Tyler Starr, Akeem Dent, Spencer Adkins, Robert James
Cornerback: Jalen Collins, Dezmen Southward, Dominique Franks, William Middleton, Chevis Jackson, Wilrey Fontenot
Safety: Zeke Motta, Charles Mitchell, Shann Schillinger
They may not have been the best players, but the Falcons consistently hit on starters and useful role players on the offensive side of the ball in the Mike Smith era, which enabled them to stay relevant even as their defense rarely improved. Looking at the list of defensive “talent” here makes you wince, and it also makes it clear how often and how badly Atlanta missed on that side of the ball from 2008-2014. That list of linebackers is brutally long, and if you massaged the criteria a bit it could even include Sean Weatherspoon. This is very grim.
In some ways, I’d like to leave off the likes of Ra’Shede Hageman, Jalen Collins, and even Chevis Jackson, so you can elect to do so if it pleases you. What is clear is that the Falcons have only recently gotten in the habit of consistently drafting quality talent on defense.
Wide Receiver: Devin Fuller
We simply don’t know yet with these guys. Most of them have only had a single year in the NFL, while Fuller has had two offseason wiped out by injury and could conceivably become a factor this year, even if I doubt it. Takk figures to be a hit, Riley and Kazee should be, and Saubert could be, while I’m a little dubious about Harlow at this stage of the game.
So what are we to make of this? Simply put, the Falcons ate for years on a handful of great draft picks (Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford), a handful of savvy free agent signings (Asante Samuel, Mike Peterson, etc.), and the underrated success of previous regimes in acquiring talent like Jonathan Babineaux, John Abraham, Stephen Nicholas, and Roddy White. I’m not sure whether Thomas Dimitroff and his front office were great all along and hamstrung by Mike Smith’s eye for talent, or if Dan Quinn’s eye for talent has rescued them, but their draft history over the last three seasons is absolutely astonishing when compared to what came before.