The NFL Draft is next week! This might be the last on-schedule NFL event on our calendars, so it’s okay to be incredibly excited for it. Chances are good the Falcons will make multiple trades to either enhance our enjoyment or anger, too.
Heading into it, I always like to take a look back at the other draft classes in what can be loosely defined as the Thomas Dimitroff era, spanning from when the spiky-haired former New England personnel man took over in 2008 to the modern day, where he’s still very much a major part of the decision-making apparatus in the front office. Today, I thought we’d try to build somewhat of an “all-time” starting lineup on offense solely out of draft picks from this era, with defense landing tomorrow.
As you might expect, this list has a ton of tremendous skill position players, probably as good a collection of them as any team has put together since 2008. As you also might expect, the offensive line is...less inspiring. Let’s take a look!
QB: Matt Ryan, 1st round 2008
Ryan has the franchise’s sole MVP, 51,186 passing yards, 321 touchdown passes, and over 1,000 yards and 9 rushing touchdowns. It goes without saying that those numbers blow everyone else out of the water in this team’s history, and that Ryan’s five playoff berths and one Super Bowl berth match or exceed everyone else the franchise has thrown out there on the field.
Ryan isn’t a perfect quarterback and it’s going to be interesting to see how he ages into his mid-30’s, but he’s the best quarterback in franchise history and one of the best picks ever.
There is no real honorable mention here because Ryan has hogged all the glory.
RB: Devonta Freeman, 4th round 2014
Free was a great player in 2015 and 2016 and a very good one in 2017, finishing his career with over 40 combined touchdowns and nearly 6,000 combined yards. Injury and Dirk Koetter ultimately derailed his career in Atlanta, but he definitely goes down as one of the team’s better backs, especially considering pretty much every great back Atlanta has ever had has seen injury shorten their careers.
Tevin Coleman and Jason Snelling deserve mention here, too. Coleman was very productive as the 1B to Free’s 1A, while Snelling was the rare 7th rounder who made good by being a consistently useful, versatile back.
FB: Bradie Ewing, 5th round 2012
Low bar because he’s the only fullback the franchise ever drafted. Ewing was a hyper-physical blocker whose career was ruined by injury.
WR1: Julio Jones, 1st round 2011
WR2: Calvin Ridley, 1st round 2018
Both of these guys are no-brainers.
Julio is the best receiver in franchise history, and the Falcons have had some legendary players between Roddy White, Andre Rison, Terance Mathis, and Alfred Jenkins. He’s averaging more yards per game than any receiver in NFL history, has broken or will shortly break every franchise record, and has some of the most impressive games I’ve ever seen under his belt. Like Ryan, he’s a true franchise great, and the further we get from the trade up, the more it looks like one of Thomas Dimitroff’s savviest moves.
Ridley has only logged two seasons and injury took a bite out of last year, but he’s still 28th in franchise history for yards and 17th in touchdowns already, and is obviously a tremendous talent.
Honorable mention goes to Harry Douglas, who will forever be a bit of a fan punching bag for getting swallowed by the turf monster during the 2012 NFC Conference Championship Game but was a consistent, useful player for several seasons.
TE: Austin Hooper, 3rd round 2016
Hooper’s gone now, but he left his mark. He finished his time in Atlanta 4th in franchise history for tight end yardage and touchdowns, behind greats like Tony Gonzalez, Alge Crumpler, and Jim Mitchell. Hooper improved every season in Atlanta and was a Pro Bowl-caliber talent who just got paid by the Browns. I’d ex
The honorable mention here is unquestionably Levine Toilolo, who was quietly productive as a receiver and a very useful blocker for several seasons in Atlanta.
LT: Jake Matthews, 1st round 2014
Matthews was the rare major investment along the offensive line that panned out. Peter Konz, Lamar Holmes, and Sam Baker were all Day 1 or Day 2 draft picks who had mixed success in Atlanta.
Matthews has his uneven efforts and his rookie season was a bit weak, but since then he’s been good-to-great at left tackle and one of the most dependable players the Falcons have on their line. He’s easily the best, most proven pick Dimitroff has made along the offensive line, though we’ll hope Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary can join him there.
LG: Wes Schweitzer, 6th round 2016
This is where things start to get sad.
Schweitzer had his good moments over 46 games, including a surprising number of starts both intended (2017) and unintended (as an injury replacement in 2018 and 2019). A 6th round guard the team clearly viewed as replacement level probably shouldn’t be the best left guard the team has drafted in the last decade-plus, but he easily is. There’s a reasonable case to be made that he’s until we get more Lindstrom/McGary to go off of, Schweitzer is one of the three best picks Dimitroff has made along the offensive line.
Honorable mention would be uhhhhh yeahhhh gimme a minute to think. Ummmm....
C: Joe Hawley, 4th round 2010
Hawley is another player the Falcons didn’t exactly intend to make a starter, but wound up serving as one anyways, typically at center and right guard. In total, he pulled down 23 starts from 2011-2014, and was the unquestioned starter in 2014 before injury wrecked his year. He was always a solid player for the Falcons, and he and the next guy on this list were the best example of Dimitroff turning Day 3 picks into at least part-time starters for many years.
RG: Garrett Reynolds, 5th round 2009
I expect Lindstrom to steal this title in a couple of years, but Reynolds is the choice for now. A late round selection in the largely forgettable 2009 draft class—sorry, Spencer Adkins—Reynolds wound up starting 23 games over three seasons and spending much of that time at right guard, where he was a solid player from 2011-2013, and arguably the only solid one in 2013. Dimitroff and this front office have done a far better job of finding value late than investing in the line early, and Reynolds is yet another example of that.
RT: Kaleb McGary, 1st round 2019
Reynolds primarily played guard, Baker barely played on the right side of the line, and Ryan Schraeder was an undrafted free agent, not a draft pick. That leaves us with either Lamar Holmes or McGary at right tackle.
In the end, I went back and forth and landed on McGary. Holmes spent more time at left tackle and McGary was, despite his uneven season, a better player at right tackle last year than Holmes was during his time with the Falcons. I’m hoping he can build on his rookie season and make this an easy call in the future.
Do you agree with this team, which is strong on position players and much weaker along the offensive line, or are there other Dimitroff-era draft picks you’d nominate?