Draft history is fun, isn’t it! You all love to remember how many times this front office has missed on players, right?
Fortunately for all of us, linebacker isn’t the same gloom and doom story that defensive end certainly was and defensive tackle largely was. The Falcons have landed some terrific linebackers during Thomas Dimitroff’s era, and they brought aboard multiple promising projects who failed due to injury, a lack of opportunity from Mike Smith’s notoriously youth-hating staff, or both.
Let’s dive into it.
2008: Curtis Lofton, 2nd round
2008: Robert James, 5th round
2009: Spencer Adkins, 6th round
2010: Sean Weatherspoon, 1st round
2011: Akeem Dent, 3rd round
2014: Prince Shembo, 4th round
2014: Marquis Spruill, 5th round
2014: Yawn Smallwood, 7th round
2014: Tyler Starr, 7th round
2016: Deion Jones, 2nd round
2016: De’Vondre Campbell, 4th round
2017: Duke Riley, 3rd round
2018: Foye Oluokun, 6th round
Nowhere is the Falcons history of mixed success more evident than it is at linebacker. Four of the best picks of the Thomas Dimitroff era are here, and so are a couple of the worst.
Curtis Lofton and Sean Weatherspoon were both above average starters, with Lofton fitting that Mike Smith “let’s stop the run” defense to a T and Weatherspoon offering the kind of athleticism and talent Atlanta rarely flirted with at the position from 2008-2014, at least before injuries wrecked his career. In the Dan Quinn era, Dimitroff nailed two picks in two separate rounds in 2016, bringing in an elite starter in Deion Jones and another good one at a mid-round price in De’Vondre Campbell. We’re not quite at the point where we have a verdict on Foye Oluokun, but he’s been pretty good in his limited chances thus far.
They also burned a lot of picks at the position, though thankfully most of them were late round gambles. Robert James, Spencer Adkins, Yawin Smallwood and Tyler Starr were all interesting developmental players who simply didn’t work out. Unfortunately for Smallwood and Starr, they arrived in the same class as the indefensible Shembo pick and the tragic Spruill one (he suffered a catastrophic injury in training camp and never returned), making that the biggest waste of draft capital on linebacker in modern Falcons history.
Then there’s the two third round whiffs, which were both costly. The Falcons had limited draft capital in 2011 and blew it with the Dent pick, which picked up that rare Georgia player in the form of a run-stopping linebacker without elite athleticism who quickly washed out in favor of a bunch of undrafted free agents. The 2017 pick of Riley, in a year where the Falcons were trying to rebuild their defense, was also a costly one, given that he fell out of favor with the coaching staff after missing a ton of tackles and ultimately moving on to the Eagles.
That mixed draft history means you can draw the conclusion you want, but I think it’s worth noting that Atlanta’s 1st and 2nd round picks have at least been quality starters for multiple years. The Falcons could surprise us by taking one pretty early with De’Vondre Campbell potentially leaving, and I’d certainly feel better about the chances of that player working out than another late round gamble. That’s especially true with Oluokun waiting for his first real, sustained chance.