What if Mike Mayock had been the GM of the Atlanta Falcons over the last decade? How different would this team look today if it had been Mayock, not Thomas Dimitroff, who was ultimately responsible for drafting?
This would be a supreme offseason question if not for the fact that Mayock just got hired as Jon Gruden’s general manager with the Raiders. That means he’ll have to make the kinds of decisions he’s long been able to mock, relatively consequence-free, and that in turns means his track record might have some kind of story to tell.
So we ask, as our friends at Blogging the Boys did, whether Dimitroff or Mayock would have delivered a better crop of first rounders for Atlanta had he been in charge since 2008. Let’s get to it.
DL Taven Bryan (Mayock) vs. WR Calvin Ridley (Dimitroff)
Bryan was a popular mock draft pick for the Falcons, yet Atlanta didn’t go for him. After his first season, that doesn’t seem so bad, as Bryan managed a single sack and looked out of sorts for the Jaguars’ disappointing defense. He may round into form, but he looked very green in his rookie season.
Ridley just cashed in arguably the finest rookie season in team history by the numbers, putting up a team record 10 touchdown receptions and enjoying a very solid year minus a handful of disappearing acts and a handful more of bad drops. He’s obviously a real talent and a core piece of the offense going forward.
It’s too early to declare a winner here, but early on, I think we can all agree that Ridley has a leg up.
S Jabrill Peppers (Mayock) vs. DE Takkarist McKinley (Dimitroff)
I know which one I’d rather have, but this one’s a bit closer. Peppers has emerged as the kind of versatile playmaker many hoped he’d be coming out of college, with a handful of huge plays and a quality 2018 season as part of a rebuilt Cleveland defense. He’s not yet emerged as an elite talent, however, and his work as a returner would be welcome in Atlanta but is not particularly impressive compared to the rest of the NFL.
Takk has sky-high talent and has put it all together for brief stretches, displaying a terrifying blend of power and burst that allows him to club his way by tackles and guards and right into hapless quarterbacks. The consistency has just been missing to this point, but coming into his pivotal third year, McKinley should have more use to this Falcons football team and is, I still think, the better player.
OLB Darron Lee (Mayock) vs. S Keanu Neal (Dimitroff)
This is the first huge miss for Mayock. Lee has had his moments but has generally been a speedy yet not great linebacker in the NFL, turning in four sacks, three interceptions and some real adventures in tackling since arriving in the NFL.
Neal, meanwhile, turned in two years of solid-to-excellent play and has emerged as one of the most physical safeties in the entire NFL, with his 2018 ruined by injury. Neal is clearly the superior talent, but Mayock didn’t even have him going in the first round in 2016.
DE Bud Dupree (Mayock) vs. DE Vic Beasley (Dimitroff)
Dupree has not been a great player for the Steelers, but he has been a consistently solid one. Working primarily as an outside linebacker in Pittsburgh, he’s shown physicality and consistent production, but again, merely solid. Dupree’s a capable starter, or at least has been to this point, and many teams would take him but few would build around him.
Beasley has, on balance, been somewhat of a draft bust. Brought on board to provide elite pass rushing skills the team has long been missing, he turned in one huge season where he led the NFL in sacks, but has otherwise been good for about five sacks per season. He was legitimately bad for much of the 2018 season, but has shown himself to be capable of better things, and we’ll see if the Falcons keep him around to chase those highs.
Neither pick would’ve given the Falcons an elite pass rusher, however. Because Dupree is at least consistently solid, we’ll give Mayock a small nod here.
OT Taylor Lewan (Mayock) vs. OT Jake Matthews (Dimitroff)
This one’s actually been fairly close over the years. Lewan has emerged a decidedly above average left tackle in the NFL, with 2018 serving as another fine year for him. His first two years in the league weren’t his best, but he’s been durable and very good over his last three or so.
Matthews, meanwhile, is coming off his best season in the NFL and looks like one of the best tackles in the league going forward. He had a shakier rookie season and has always had moments against elite pass rushers, but he’s still pretty young and improving.
This one’s fairly close, but I’d take Matthews both at the moment and going forward, personally.
CB Desmond Trufant (Both)
Dimitroff ultimately had to trade up for Trufant, but the pick was the same for both parties. Trufant has been a borderline elite cover cornerback at times in his career, but a 2016 injury, 2017 recovery year and some stretches of poor play in 2018 have dented his reputation. While he can’t seem to hold on to an interception to save his life, he’s still been on balance a first round worthy talent and a quality pick for both Mayock and Dimitroff.
There was no first round pick for the Atlanta Falcons. I don’t know who Mayock would’ve mocked to Atlanta in the second round, but I do know he probably would’ve turned out better than Peter Konz.
DE Adrian Clayborn (Mayock) vs. Julio Jones (Dimitroff)
This one’s sort of unfair, given that Dimitroff really pushed his chips to the center of the table to get Julio in a way Mayock was never going to be able to do in a mock draft. Clayborn is an extremely solid player who would have been useful to have on this Falcons defensive line for years, had the Falcons stayed put, and an upgrade over what the team had from (charitably) 2013-2015 at minimum.
But Julio is Julio. He’s arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL, the best in team history, and a player still making history in 2018 and hopefully well beyond. The Falcons saw a chance to set themselves up with an elite offense for years to come, and while it took some time for that to happen, having Matt Ryan and Julio Jones has pretty much guaranteed quality for a long time now.
G/C Maurkice Pouncey (Mayock) vs. LB Sean Weatherspoon (Dimitroff)
Pouncey has his flaws, but with the exception of one season, he’s started nearly every single game at center or another position for the Pittsburgh Steelers since 2010. He’s durable, solid at worst, and still isn’t quite 30 years old. He would’ve been a slam dunk pick for a Falcons team that has been unstable along the interior of their offensive line for far too long.
‘Spoon looked like he’d turn out to be a great selection early on in his career, but injuries caught up to him, robbed him of many games, and ultimately sapped his effectiveness. A healthy Weatherspoon is one of the bigger what ifs? in recent team history, but he wasn’t as good of a pick as Pouncey.
DT Peria Jerry (Both)
It’s heartbreaking how obvious this pick seemed at the time. Jerry was old for a prospect, but he was also a productive and nasty defensive tackle in college. During his rookie preseason, he showed flashes of real ability, abusing interior linemen arrayed against him and getting our hopes up. The Falcons needed a defensive tackle, after all, and Jerry could have been it.
What might Jerry have become had he not gotten hurt? One doesn’t know, but his career after his devastating injury was a very disappointing one, and he wound up walking away from the game of football in 2014. But the fact that both Mayock and Dimitroff identified him as the easy call for Atlanta tells how something of his reputation before it all fell apart.
QB Matt Ryan (Both)
A no-brainer for just about everyone who wasn’t a huge idiot in 2008, cough cough. Ryan was the best quarterback prospect in the draft by a wide margin, despite his high college interception totals, and has gone on to be one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL over the last decade. If Jerry was a tragic case of both the Falcons’ actual GM and Mayock getting a player wrong, even if the circumstances weren’t their fault, then Ryan was a case of both getting it right.
On balance, Dimitroff was the better drafter of first round talent, landing (some via trade, but still) Calvin Ridley, Takk McKinley and Julio Jones over Mayock suggestions of Taven Bryan, Jabrill Peppers, and Adrian Clayborn. Mayock would have set the Falcons up better with his selections of Bud Dupree and Maurkice Pouncey over Vic Beasley and Sean Weatherspoon, however. Three times, the two picked the same player for Atlanta in the first round, and two of those times the were very good draft selections.
Based on our cursory glance at first round picks, then, the Falcons are better off with Dimitroff than Mayock, a trend that seems likely to hold up over additional rounds, were that data readily available. It’s worth remembering this April, when this team inevitably picks someone or several someones we don’t want them to, but it’s also striking to note that the team would be neither drastically different nor drastically worse if Mayock had made first round selections instead. Perhaps he’ll be alright with the Raiders, especially compared to his head coach.