FLOWERY BRANCH — Under the esteemed Bill Belichick, the New England Patriots have taken a hoarder approach to the NFL draft.
Over the past few years, he made moves to amass picks and used them to create depth and competition.
After four years of drafting, a picture of Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff’s draft approach has come into focus. The Belichick disciple has taken a different path.
Dimitroff is not a draft-pick hoarder. He looks at his potential picks as valuable chips to slide up and down the draft board to get targeted talent.
A study of his draft moves reveals that the Falcons likely will move around the draft, which is set for Thursday through Saturday, at some point in order to address their needs. In each of the past four drafts, Dimitroff has made at least one trade.
Last season there was the 5-for-1 mega-deal with Cleveland to move up 21 spots in order to land wide receiver Julio Jones. Later, in the fifth round after the spotlight was off the Falcons, he sent two picks to St. Louis in order to move up 10 spots to scoop up running back Jacquizz Rodgers.
In 2010 Oklahoma cornerback Dominique Franks, who left school a year early, was slipping in the draft. Dimitroff sent two picks to St. Louis to move up 14 spots to acquire Franks, who ended last season as a starter.
In 2009, Dimitroff felt he could get his guy by going back 13 spots in the fifth round. The Falcons made a deal to send their fifth-round pick to Dallas. They moved back 13 spots and picked up a seventh-round pick for their troubles. They drafted offensive lineman Garrett Reynolds in the fifth and Vance Walker in the seventh. Both have been contributors.
There was a run on left tackles in 2008. With the Falcons needing protection for Matt Ryan, Dimitroff sent two second-round picks and a fourth-round pick to Washington in order to move back into the first round and pick Sam Baker with the 21st overall pick. They also received third- and fifth-round picks. The Falcons used those picks to select wide receiver Harry Douglas (84th overall) and defensive end Kroy Biermann (154th).
“If you feel that you want to package picks to go up and get the player that you feel can help the team, well, then you use your draft picks as fodder to go after that player,” Dimitroff said.
Dimitroff will enter this draft with six picks — second round (No. 55 overall), third (84), fifth (157), sixth (192) and two sevenths (229 and 249).
Given his record for gliding around the draft board, Dimitroff would not rule out making a move up in the second round.
“The draft is set for a team to be able to bargain and to be able to use what you have to pull in the players that you need, the players that you think you need to help your team be successful,” Dimitroff said. “We feel in the past that we’ve been able to utilize those picks more effectively by using part of them as trade bait.”
Under Dimitroff the Falcons have selected 32 players, and 26 of them are either starters or reserves, a retention rate of 81.25 percent. However, there has been only one Pro Bowler (Matt Ryan) and arguably two misses on first-round picks in Baker and defensive tackle Peria Jerry in 2009.
The Falcons knew Baker and Jerry were risky picks because of their respective injury histories. Both have struggled as they have suffered additional injuries. Baker has battled back and elbow woes, while Jerry tore up his knee in the second game of his career and has been a rotational player since.
The Falcons picked Jerry 24th overall. Two picks later, Green Bay found a gem in linebacker Clay Matthews, who has been to three consecutive Pro Bowls. Defensive tackle Ziggy Hood, was selected eight picks later by Pittsburgh. He has played in 48 games and started 16, with 5.5 sacks. Jerry has played in 34 games and started six, with two sacks.
“We are still very focused on building through the draft,” Dimitroff said. “We are sticking true to that philosophy. We are second in retention rate.”
The Falcons place a value on the players they draft.
“It allows us to build our team with players through the draft, educate them, school them on and off the field to be the type of players that we are looking for them to be as an Atlanta Falcons football player,” Dimitroff said. “I think it sends a very strong message to our locker room, and that’s something that is very beneficial in the team building process.”
This year the Falcons would like to address their offensive and defensive lines, add a tight end and possibly a potential backup quarterback. If they can’t address all of their concerns, they’ll aggressively try to sign undrafted players and look for salary-cap casualties during training camp.
The Falcons re-signed future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez to a one-year contract. They have been preparing for his eventual retirement by developing Michael Palmer and Ryan Winterswyk.
“When Tony is ready to move on, we’ll have a player ready to step it,” Dimitroff said.
The Falcons’ personnel department suffered a blow when Les Snead left to become the Rams’ general manager. David Caldwell has stepped into his role, and Lionel Vital’s responsibilities have been increased.
“The rest of the staff has been working diligently to continue to provide the information for myself and [coach Mike Smith] to get our board intact and ready to roll at 55, ostensibly at 55,” Dimitroff said.
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog