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How will the Atlanta Falcons’ draft strategy change under new leadership?

A new regime means big changes in roster building.

NFL: International Series-Tennessee Titans at Los Angeles Chargers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

A new era for the Atlanta Falcons has arrived, and there is certainly a level of excitement amongst fans. Owner Arthur Blank and team president Rich McKay have chosen Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith to replace Thomas Dimitroff and Dan Quinn, respectively. Naturally, there will be many changes in front office personnel, coaching staff, team philosophy and roster development.

At this point, I’m sure Fontenot and Smith have discussed how they want to build the team and the type of players that Smith and his staff will covet in free agency and the draft. The question is, how different will their draft philosophy be from the previous regime’s?

The way it was

When Thomas Dimitroff and Dan Quinn held the general manager and head coach roles, Quinn was very specific in the type of players that he coveted. Coach Quinn was a defensive minded coach and was expected to turn the defense around. His defensive scheme was reliant on Cover 3 and Cover 1 and he wanted to rely on pressure from his front four. As a result, his type of player had to have some specific primary attributes: speed, physicality, athleticism and toughness, with an emphasis on the “fast and physical” mantra that became his calling card.

That is certainly not a bad group of attributes, but the issue is that most of the players, although having these attributes, were pretty raw football players that had to be developed by the coaching staff. Quinn and his staff weren’t very successful in doing so, even if the athletes Dimitroff served up didn’t lack for speed or raw physicality. There are certainly some young players with high potential still left on this defense, but mostly the players lacked discipline and consistency, and the defense turned out to reliably not develop into the force it was supposed to be based on that.

Offensively, the team also favored athletes at every position, but they obviously had some more success on that side of the ball. It was still largely a needs-based philosophy that brought in, for example, two offensive line starters in 2019, a year where the line was considered to be a mess.

The way it might be

So what will Fontenot and Smith do differently? In Fontenot’s presser, he spoke of having a “Best Player Available” philosophy. That alone is a different approach from previous GM Dimitroff, who as I noted above tended to be a needs-based drafter.

According to Fontenot, it’s never bad to add to a strength at any position. He certainly isn’t wrong. However, that also means that he may make picks going forward that could be unpopular with the fan base initially, because they do not address one of the larger holes on the team the way Dimitroff often but not always did.

Considering that the current coaches on the staff alter their scheme and game plans based on the personnel they have on the roster, it actually frees Fontenot to go with the best football player, regardless of scheme they’re perceived to be best in. There was also the “Dimitroff filter” where Dimitroff was very careful in drafting players with any sort of checkered past or disciplinary issues in college. How that changes under Fontenot will certainly be something to watch also, because it was not necessarily a feature of the New Orleans front office.

Under Dimitroff and Quinn, it was clear that they were looking for plus athletes that they could mold and develop into football players, but also that in most classes they focused on the best moldable athletes at critical positions. There is actually room for success with this method, especially with the later round picks, but you must have the coaches experienced enough to develop them properly. With Fontenot and Smith, it does appear as if they’ll be looking for the better, more developed football players, regardless of position, to build their roster. How it ultimately turns out for the team remains to be seen, but it is certainly a welcome change.