As SB Nation continues with its week of “What Ifs?,” we continue on here at The Falcoholic with a difficult scenario to consider.
What if the Atlanta Falcons had not drafted wide receiver Julio Jones?
It’s a seismic question to begin to think about, one with a million and one ramifications that span across nearly a decade of Falcons football. After all, Jones has been a cornerstone to the franchise from Day 1 since the Falcons moved up to pick No. 6 of the 2011 NFL Draft to get him.
The ramifications of that trade and if it was worth it will be up for debate until the cows come home, but we’ll play a little make believe and try to imagine how this all would’ve sorted out had the Falcons not moved up for Jones on that fateful draft day more than eight years ago.
In this reality, the Falcons decide to stand pat and let very likely the Cleveland Browns make a very un-Cleveland circa 2011 decision to take a guy who would wind up being one of the generational talents at wide receiver.
The Falcons, bent on adding help for Roddy White to an offense that needs a counter punch at WR, decide to still address the position at pick 21. Who do they take, you might ask?
Wide receiver Jon Baldwin, who wound up with the Chiefs in real life and only played a few seasons in the NFL.
Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff’s old New England pal and NFL legend Bill Belichick recommended Dimitroff take Baldwin rather than leverage so many picks to trade for Jones.
Dimitroff was very wise to buck the wisdom of his mentor, though he paid a pretty penny to make the trade happen. The next receiver to go in the draft was Titus Young to the Lions. The next impact receiver to go in that draft, Randall Cobb, didn’t see his name called until later in the second round.
Now, Atlanta hypothetically could’ve addressed the trenches, perennial areas of need in the Dimitroff era, in the first round and drafted Cobb with their traded 59th pick.
One situation could’ve seen them draft Falcon hater and Saints Pro Bowl edge Cameron Jordan at 21 to be Jonathan Abraham’s heir apparent, or they could’ve taken DT Phil Taylor at 21 like Cleveland did, though that would’ve very much not worked out in Atlanta’s favor.
Two quite good edge players, Muhammed Wilkerson and Cameron Heyward, were also available when Atlanta picked at 21. In retrospect, the team could’ve made a sound investment in the edge position (which would’ve helped tremendously at that time) and taken Cobb in the second round and walked away all fine and dandy.
They could’ve also had a 2012 first rounder to work with. Let’s assume 2011 was just bound to be what it was, and the Falcons picked at 22. They could’ve grabbed available guards Kevin Zeitler or David DeCastro to bolster the right guard spot and give the team a nasty front for fall 2012.
So there’s a path where the Falcons make better investments into the meat-and-potatoes of the roster, but these are just suggested possibilities. Dimitroff could’ve whiffed with the picks he had available in 2011 and 2012 and we would’ve still careened toward the 2014 face-plant.
Only in taking Cobb in the second round in 2011 and drafting an edge first and a guard/adjacent good player in 2012 could’ve seen the chips fall in Atlanta’s favor. Drafting Baldwin at 21 and letting Jones out of their reach could’ve been catastrophic.
In retrospect, the Falcons made the abundantly right decision in 2011 to draft Julio Jones , even though it will always have come with a price. Jones really is one of the greatest Falcons to ever do it, and the team still sees pay off with making sure he’s a career man with Atlanta.