Yesterday, we tried to build the best possible starting lineup out of Falcons draft picks from 2008-2019. That ended up being terrific in terms of skill position players and less inspiring along the offensive line, unfortunately.
The story is pretty similar today, with the defensive end picture looking a little shaky and safety clocking in as solid, with linebacker and defensive tackle stacking up pretty well. Given that the defense has been the weaker of the two sides of the ball during Thomas Dimitroff’s entire tenure, it probably won’t surprise you to see the defense looks weaker than the offense.
Let’s get to it.
DE 1: Vic Beasley, 1st round 2015
DE 2: Kroy Biermann, 5th round 2008
This is going to lead to some bellyaching, or at the very least some sadness.
The simple fact of the matter is that the Falcons in this era of football have only drafted a small handful of players who showed themselves worthy of being full-time starters at the position, though obviously Mike Smith’s withering contempt for rookies like Lawrence Sidbury and Jonathan Massaquoi played a role in that. Those players are, in no particular order, Beasley, Biermann, Takk McKinley, and Cliff Matthews, who was a rock solid run defender and base end there for a little bit.
Beasley never lived up to his draft status, but still leaves Atlanta as the best pass rushing defensive end the team has drafted since they nabbed Patrick Kerney back in 1999. He finished up his five years with the Falcons as the 5th-most productive sack artist, 8th in tackles for a loss, and 6th in quarterback hits, and he’s also just one of 12 players in team history to have multiple fumble return touchdowns. It says a lot more about this team’s history at the position than Beasley’s talent level that he got to those marks, but he was easily this team’s most productive draft pick at defensive end.
In the end, Takk versus Biermann for the other spot came down to a simple question: Have Takk’s 45 games been more valuable than Biermann’s 114 were? Biermann was very obviously not as talented a pass rusher as Takk, but given that he was a versatile piece, fairly productive getting after the quarterback, and a pretty consistently quality run defender, I’m giving this one to him. Improbably, Biermann also is third in franchise history in quarterback hits, just behind Jonathan Babineaux and John Abraham.
DT 1: Grady Jarrett, 5th round 2015
DT2: Corey Peters, 3rd round 2010
This pairing is a little less depressing. Jarrett is a legitimate star on the interior, justly making the Pro Bowl this past season and steadily improving every year in the league. He’s already 6th in franchise history for tackles for loss, a testament to his relentless motor and ability to carve his way into the backfield, and he’s consistently been good-to-great as a pass rusher as well. He’s one of the great success stories of this era of Falcons history, and it’s still preposterous he fell into the 5th round at all.
Peters was just a rock solid defensive tackle. After Peria Jerry had his knee shredded like an old newspaper by a frisky dog, Peters had to step into a major role and handled it extremely well throughout his run in Atlanta.
Honorable mention to Vance Walker, who should’ve had a larger role in his time with the team.
LB1: Deion Jones, 2nd round 2016
LB2: Curtis Lofton, 2nd round 2008
LB3: Sean Weatherspoon, 1st round 2010
This group had a number of quality candidates and was thus harder to winnow down than I would’ve expected.
Jones is the most talented and arguably most productive defender the Falcons have drafted in this era, with Jarrett being his primary competition. Debo has a franchise record 4 interceptions returned for touchdowns and a number of memorable plays, plus the kind of range and athleticism that have made him a headache for opposing teams throughout his career. He’s got even brighter days ahead, hopefully.
Lofton was second for me. His four seasons in Atlanta were marked by a ton of run stops, a handful of memorable big plays, and consistent tackling that made Mike Smith’s heart flutter. He is joined by ‘Spoon, a guy I loved and who would’ve been one of the more special linebackers in recent memory had he been able to stay healthy. His two year peak in Atlanta was outrageously good, and he was a useful player for the rest of his time in Atlanta.
The honorable mention here is obviously De’Vondre Campbell, a player I waffled on versus Weatherspoon. Campbell did not have the same peak as ‘Spoon but was much more durable and available during his four years in Atlanta than Weatherspoon. In the end, ‘Spoon’s phenomenal 2011 and 2012 put him over the top for me, but your mileage may vary.
CB1: Desmond Trufant, 1st round 2013
CB2: Robert Alford, 2nd round 2013
I went with two here versus the three linebackers because there were more deserving candidates the other position, in truth. The fact that the Falcons double dipped and found their two best corners in the same class is a little remarkable.
Trufant needs little explanation. Despite a chilly reception from some quarters of the fanbase since the day he joined the team, he was consistently above average and easily the team’s best cover corner for all but one year of his tenure in Atlanta.
Alford had his adventures with penalties and the occasional lapse, but was an underrated cornerback who was always around the ball and making plays. He left Atlanta as the franchise’s all-time leader in pass deflections, was one of the aforementioned 12 players with 2 defensive touchdowns in his Falcons career, and memorably managed a pick six on Tom Brady in the Super Bowl we don’t talk about anymore.
The other contenders here are guys like Chris Owens, Jalen Collins, and Isaiah Oliver and Kendall Sheffield, who both need more time under their belts to really qualify. These were easy picks, and it’s a shame neither one is with the team any longer.
S1: William Moore, 1st round 2009
S2: Ricardo Allen, 5th round 2014
I expect this will be a little controversial. I couldn’t give either of these spots to Keanu Neal given how little he’s actually gotten to play, and Thomas DeCoud just didn’t play well enough consistently enough to make this list.
In the end, I went with an interesting contrast in styles. Moore was a big hitter and playmaker who was aggressive in run support and finished his career 11th in interceptions for the team, and likely would’ve fared even better had injuries not started to cut into his production.
Allen, meanwhile, has a less flashy game but has now been a solid-to-terrific starting safety for the past several seasons. He’s long been one of the team’s most effective defenders when it comes to clamping down on deep shots and long gains—something the Falcons aren’t known for stopping otherwise—and making big stops when he needs to most.
You know the drill from our piece on the offense. Who would you add or subtract here? Remember, Falcons draft picks from 2008-2019 only.