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A brief history of the Falcons trading up in the NFL Draft, 2008-2019

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Trader Thomas, always tradin’.

Buffalo Bills v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Thomas Dimitroff is called Trader Thomas for a reason. That man loooooves a trade, especially one that moves the Falcons up in the draft.

As we approach yet another draft where the Falcons are rumored to be considering moving up, it’s worth looking back at all the times Atlanta’s done just that with Dimitroff as their general manager.

2008: Two second rounders and a fourth rounder for a first, third, and fifth

The first time the Falcons traded up under Dimitroff was a fateful one, and it set the tone for many of the moves to come. The Falcons have long been about snagging positional fits, and with left tackles flying off the board, Atlanta made a move to get their blindside protector for Matt Ryan. It, um, was a mixed result.

As it turns out, the Falcons would have been far better off moving up to snag Duane Brown (who went #26) than Sam Baker, who they ultimately drafted at #21. Baker had two fine seasons (2009 and 2010) and one terrific season (2012) and mixed that with four fair-to-awful ones, all of them marred by injuries that ultimately forced Baker out of football after his 29 season. Brown was a slow starter but turned out to be a much better tackle, but Dimitroff still made a move he felt he had to make, because only Carl Nicks in the fifth round of that class turned into a long-term, above average starter in the NFL, and he did much of his damage at guard.

The opportunity cost of moving up was real, as the picks the team surrendered turned into William Hayes (a quality defensive end with 37.5 career sacks), tight end Fred Davis (162 receptions, 2,043 yards and 13 touchdowns), and wide receiver Devin Thomas (43 receptions, 482 yards, 3 touchdowns). Fortunately, the third and fifth rounders they got back turned out to be vintage quality day two and three picks for Dimitroff, with Harry Douglas (258 receptions, 3,130 yards, 8 touchdowns) and Kroy Biermann (23.5 career sacks) winding up in Atlanta instead.

For the up-and-down value Baker provided, though, he filled a huge need for Atlanta, and Dimitroff would not shy away from that in the years ahead.

2010: A 14 spot move up in the fifth round in exchange for a fifth, sixth, and seventh rounder

The Falcons went up to get their man again, just much later. This time around, Dimitroff was after Dominique Franks, a physical cornerback who was freefalling after some analysts predicted he’d be selected on the draft’s second day. They gave up three picks to the Rams to do so, and the Rams selected...not much. George Selvie was the most useful player by a wide margin.

Unfortunately, the move up for Franks didn’t work out so hot, either. He wound up starting just four games in Atlanta, all of them in a solid enough 2011 season that saw him pick two passes, but his coverage skills never really got to the point the Falcons were hoping for and they wound up cutting ties with him after the 2013 season. It was a worthwhile gamble for a player I liked at the time, but it didn’t pan out.

2011: The Julio Jones blockbuster and a move up in the fifth round for a fifth rounder and seventh rounder

The 2011 draft was both magical for Atlanta, given that they got the best receiver in franchise history and one of the greatest men to ever play his position, and disastrous because they strip-mined their 2012 draft capital and made a series of baffling decisions that took them from a great team in 2012 to a rudderless ship in 2013 and 2014. They eventually fired Mike Smith out of a cannon.

The first trade saw the Falcons surrender their 2011 and 2012 firsts, 2011 2nd, and 2011 and 2012 fourth rounders to snag Julio Jones. The addition of Jones (and the subsequent punting of Mike Mularkey) helped take the Falcons’ offense to new heights, and they’ve been good-to-great since. The team also ensured it could not screw anything up in the 2012 draft with their limited capital, but unfortunately they whiffed badly with that class and disastrously mismanaged their post-2012 roster decisions. Julio has proven to be worth every penny of draft capital, but it’s fair to wish the Falcons had been able to better navigate what followed.

Oh yeah, and Atlanta also gave up a fifth and seventh rounder to move up and get Jacquizz Rodgers, who proved to be a very useful back before joining Dirk Koetter in Tampa Bay.

2013: Moved up eight spots for a first, third and sixth round pick and moved up in the fifth round for a fifth rounder and seventh rounder

After Atlanta stunningly traded down in 2012, they were back to their old tricks in 2013. Dimitroff moved up to make sure the Falcons got Desmond Trufant, who despite his frequent drops has been a very successful starter in Atlanta. The team was determined to get multi-year starters at cornerback after largely patching the position over in previous years, and they succeed with Trufant (who is still penciled in as the team’s top corner entering his seventh season) and Robert Alford (who was a starter for most of his six seasons in Atlanta). This looked like a solid trade at the time and has remained so.

The second move was a trade up for Stansly Maponga, who was a legitimately interesting pass rusher for the Falcons to try to mold. Like every other pass rusher the Falcons attempted to mold during the Mike Smith era, though, it didn’t really work out for Atlanta.

2014: Snagged a fifth round pick in exchange for a sixth rounder and seventh rounder

The team was after Marquis Spruill, a Syracuse linebacker with speed and special teams value who was expected to battle for a decent-sized role in a linebacker group in flux. Instead, he tore his ACL in August and never played for the Falcons, as the team released him when Dan Quinn came to town in 2015. It was a wasted pick in the same way that Peria Jerry was a wasted pick, because injury robbed a legitimately interesting player of their best, and that sucks.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, the picks they gave up turned into CB Antone Exum and DT Shamar Stephens, both decent players who ended up contributing for the Vikings.

2015: Grady Jarrett for Stefon Diggs and Tyrus Thompson (or, a fifth round move up in exchange for a fifth and sixth rounder)

Somehow, Grady Jarrett kept falling. Everyone in the weeks and days leading up to the draft seemed to be saying the same thing: That Jarrett was going to fall and no one really knew why.

The Falcons, to their eternal credit, decided to finally halt that slide in the fifth round by swapping up with the Vikings. The two picks they surrendered were paltry in exchange for a player they considered a starting-caliber defensive tackle, and Jarrett’s turned into one of the ten or so best DTs in the game over the last couple of season. His current contract negotiations have given fans some heartburn, but Jarrett’s a stud and it’s still sort of unbelievable that he made it to the fifth round in the first place.

Of course, this being the Falcons, even this trade did not pass without some heartburn, because the Vikings used their fifth rounder on Stefon Diggs, one of the NFL’s better young receivers. I’d still make that trade forever.

2017: Falcons get #26 for #31, a third rounder and a seventh rounder

Atlanta went both ways in this one, hopping up a few picks to snag Takkarist McKinley and trading down in the second round to get the picks that eventually became Duke Riley, Damontae Kazee, and Brian Hill. Both moves have had their advantages.

The swap up for McKinley retains a little controversy because Takk hasn’t delivered elite results just yet, but he’s heading into a critical third year and still clearly has the talent for a breakout. The players the Falcons were linked to outside of McKinley either went earlier, got hurt (Forrest Lamp), or haven’t panned out (Taco Charlton). Given the relative cost of the moves, and the fact that the Falcons were still able to scoop up Kazee later with their rare trade down, means this one looks like it’ll be worth it so long as Takk doesn’t divebomb 2019.

2018: Nabbed a sixth rounder in exchange for two seventh rounders

The itch got to be too much, perhaps, and the Falcons made a late trade up. Gage was a quality gunner in 2018 and has some real promise as a receiver, making him well worth the two seventh rounders the Falcons ultimately ended up giving up.

2019: Traded up to #31 for #45 and #79 to snag OT Kaleb McGary and a 6th rounder (Marcus Green), plus a move up in the 4th round to pick up CB Kendall Sheffield, PLUS a move up in the 4th round to grab DE/DT John Cominsky

The Falcons were rumored to be looking at a move from #14 to #10, perhaps in pursuit of Christian Wilkins, Ed Oliver (who went one pick before), or speedy linebacker Devin Bush. Regardless of the target, they settled for Chris Lindstrom at #14, and considering his Pro Bowl upside at guard that was just fine.

Dimitroff is never done, though. With a run on tackles happening, he moved up from the 2nd round to the end of the 1st round to grab Kaleb McGary. The big tackle had a heart-related health scare over the summer but wound up starting the whole season, with some impressive highs and some depressing lows along the way. The Falcons are bullish on him and have him under team control for another four seasons, so we’ll hope the move ends up looking great in a year or two.

From there, Dimitroff just leaned hard into his reputation and made two more trades up, sloughing off picks that would become RB Ty Johnson, TE Foster Moreau, DE Quinton Bell and DE Austin Bryant to nab Kendall Sheffield and John Cominsky. Both have insane athletic ability and a lot of potential, and Sheffield in particular looked very competent in extended run in 2019.


So what to make of this? The Falcons trade up every year or two in the draft, and that label for Dimitroff is well-earned. There have been some legitimately good-to-great moves here (Grady Jarrett, Julio Jones, Desmond Trufant), a couple the jury is still out on (Takk McKinley, Russell Gage, Kaleb McGary), and some moves that haven’t worked out (largely Sam Baker, Marquis Spruill, Dominique Franks).

What’s most important is that the Falcons have never shied away from getting a player they think is going to be impactful in exchange for some of their draft capital, and this year the team is all-in on winning to an extent that can only really be matched by 2014’s ill-fated year. It feels like a virtual lock that at some point in late April, Trader Thomas will trade again.