The NFL Draft is less than a week away, which means it’s time to wrap our retrospectives and look into a brighter future.
Today, we’ll tackle the three classes that make up the 2020s thus far, a single and final draft under Thomas Dimitroff and two under Terry Fontenot. It’s fair to say the fates of these classes are not yet settled, but it’s still worth looking back in light of what we’ve done for every other decade in Falcons history.
Let me put the caveat in bold: None of these classes are settled yet. That just means none of the classes and their designations should be considered set in stone, given that the 2020 group is just entering their fourth year in the league. This is more for fun and to cap off this series than me trying to pass serious judgement, so keep your slings and arrows to a minimum.
Before we jump in, if you missed any of the other decades, here they are:
Best draft class: 2022
Already? Yeah, already, with the caveat that we won’t know how good this class really is until they get a couple more years under their belt.
But consider what the Falcons have gotten and are set to get. Drake London was a good top receiver right out of the gate, and should be better with more experience and hopefully a more stable quarterback situation. Arnold Ebiketie had a relatively quiet rookie year, but is being relied upon in year two and his underlying metrics suggest he’s headed for better days. Troy Andersen is locked in as a starter at inside linebacker, where his athleticism makes him intriguing at the very least. DeAngelo Malone figures to be a useful part of the pass rush rotation off the edge, at the very least, and late rounders Justin Shaffer and John FitzPatrick may figure in at guard and tight end, respectively.
Then there are the two value selections. We don’t know if Desmond Ridder is going to pan out, but we do know he’s the starting quarterback after being selected in the third round, and the value if he’s a quality starter is quite high. Ditto Tyler Allgeier, who broke the Falcons’ rookie rushing record and looked very good doing so as a fifth round selection.
For the immediate impact and the long-term upside, the 2022 class looks like the best of the decade thus far.
Best draft pick: A.J. Terrell, 2020
Terrell was not a universally welcomed selection at No. 16 in 2020—that’s putting it mildly—and his rookie season was promising but not universally praised, either. His huge breakout season in 2021, where he catapulted himself into the conversation about the best young corners in football, changed that perception immensely, and another quality if injury-marred seasons in 2023 affirmed that he’s a damn good player.
The sole slam dunk great pick of the 2020s thus far—I’m optimistic about Pitts being viewed as one in hindsight, and the 2022 class looks very good—Terrell was also the last great selection of the previous regime. He’s a long-term high-end starter for Atlanta.
Worst draft class: 2020
Thus far, this class is Terrell and a couple of solid short-term starters/useful reserves.
Terrell is terrific, but second round pick Marlon Davidson is already off the team, third round pick Matt Hennessy is a possible starter at left guard but not a sure one and is coming off a season where he was injured and lost the center job to Drew Dalman, Mykal Walker was a presumptive starter who lost that role after uneven performances early in the year, and Jaylinn Hawkins was a fine starter who appears ticketed for a reserve role in 2023. Sterling Hofrichter punted for one year in Atlanta and then the team cut ties with him.
All told, that’s one long-term starter, two players off the team within three seasons, and what’s likely to be a group of backups over the long haul unless Walker and Hennessy can break into starting roles again this year. It’s too early to pass judgement on the promising 2022 class and the 2021 class has produced three more or less locked in starters (Kyle Pitts, Richie Grant, Drew Dalman) and a couple of useful role players (Ta’Quon Graham, elite punt returner Avery Williams), so 2020 takes the “crown.”
Worst draft pick: Marlon Davidson, 2020
For the picks who don’t pan out, it’s usually one of three stories: Outright ineffectiveness (Aundray Bruce, Bruce Pickens), off-field troubles (Jalen Collins’ endless suspensions), or injuries (Peria Jerry, Joe Profit, etc.). Davidson falls into the last camp.
A well-regarded prospect—I remember the excitement when the Falcons drafted him—Davidson wound up playing in just 19 games for Atlanta. He had a couple of huge plays along the way, but was mostly no more than a quiet contributor when he was able to play, and injuries piled up to the extent that he was not healthy heading into the 2022 season. The Falcons cut ties with him and that was that, a shame for a talented player who figured to help a defensive line in need of talent.
Honestly, there’s so much we don’t know yet. The 2020 class has yielded one great starter and a handful of players who may figure into the long-term in Atlanta, the 2021 class three starters and some useful pieces of the puzzle, and the 2022 class several promising players. We’ll need at least 2023 and probably more seasons beyond it to determine the ultimate fate of the classes, but Dimitroff did well nabbing Terrell and Fontenot has largely done well adding contributors.
If this site and the Falcons still exist in 2030, it’ll be fun to re-visit this decade and take a closer look at how these classes and the many to come panned out. For now, we’ll just say we’ll have to wait and see, and we hope these classes fuel success in Atlanta unlike anything we’ve seen to this point.