The Akeem Dent pick was perhaps the biggest surprise outside of the trade up to get Julio Jones. After scouting so many linebackers, the fact that Curtis Lofton was coming off two knee surgeries, and also that the backup middle linebacker position has been a rotating door for the last three years, it was almost a certainty that the Birds would be grabbing a linebacker of some sort. The surprise was in who they got and when.
Many Bird Cage Family Members predicted that the Falcons would probably take a chance on Dent, but that it would be much later in the draft, perhaps somewhere around the 6th or even 7th round. Fans were shocked when the pick came in as Akeem Dent in the third round after giving up a 2nd rounder and a 4th rounder to get Jones. Dent had pretty good numbers, especially in terms of tackles, racking up 240 in his career (126 as a senior), 12.5 tackles for a loss (6.5 as a senior), 4.5 sacks (2.5 as a senior), and 5 pass break-ups. Those numbers are pretty good considering that he played under a very poor defensive coordinator for his first three years and had to undergo a scheme change to the 3-4 and a position change going from OLB to ILB.
While playing under Soft Willie Martinez, the defense was laid back and took a “bend-but-don’t-break” approach (sound familiar?) that included very little pressure, read-and-react, and very soft zone coverages. Was Dent’s lack of production a coaching/development issue or simply Dent’s lack of talent responsible himself? There are several Georgia players that have had little college production and gone on to pretty successful careers in the NFL, at least initially. This pick reminds many of the Corey Peters pick last year. Most everyone was also shocked by that pick in the 3rd round and it screamed of a reach. They also said that they had to pull the trigger on Peters because someone valued him as highly as they did. After most assumed it was simply a depth pick, Peters had a very productive year and beat out vets Peria Jerry, Trey Lewis, Vance Walker, and even Jamal Anderson for several starts. This pick looks and sounds very similar to the Peters pick. Expecting the same type of production and seeing Dent start probably won’t happen. Some believe it was a reach because linebackers such as Mike Mohamed, Quan Sturdivant, and Greg Jones were taken much later in the draft.
The big question is how much will Dent contribute. The official company line from Dimitroff was that Dent would be a very big special teams player and an excellent backup for a banged up Lofton. That very well may be true, but its also hard to believe that we’re at a point where we can start drafting special teams players with 3rd round picks. Fixing special teams alone can have a cascade of improving areas. The biggest one would be to allow most starters like Kroy Biermann to focus on their starting roles only and not have to wear down at the end of games or at the end of the season. Biermann was very close on many potential sacks and maybe that extra energy and burst will help him close the deal. He even admitted as much in a recent interview. But is special teams contribution make a 3rd round pick worthy alone?
Some believe that he may get some looks at outside linebacker since he played it for most of his career and his measurables stack up pretty good with many OLB’s (6’1, 242, 4.73 forty). One of his big knocks is his coverage skills, so any chance at OLB would definitely take some time. He could be an eventual replacement for Stephen Nicholas if he seeks the open market in free agency, but likely not as a rookie. Mike Peterson appears that he will be coming back for at least another year and maybe Dent can learn the position under him. Curtis Lofton even commented that Dent may get some looks at OLB when he was asked about Dent
Since the data and research could go on for days, we’ll use the last 5 years of linebackers drafted in the 3rd round, their rookie stats, and what they’re doing or what they’ve done since being in the NFL.
G – Games Played; GS – Games Started; TKL – tackles; PD – Passes Defensed; FF – Forced Fumbles
Abdul Hodge – 8 G – 1 GS – 8 tkl – 2 PD – Eternal Backup
Chris Gocong* – 16 G – 12 GS – 66 tkl – 1 sack – 1 PD – Currently Fulltime Starter
Anthony Schlegel – 4 G – 1 tkl – Out of League within 2 years
Jon Alston – 3 G – 0 GS – 1 tkl – Free Agent
Clint Ingram – 14 G – 11 GS – 71 tkl – 1.5 sack – 2 PD – 1 Int – Free Agent
James Anderson – 16 G – 2 GS – 21 tkl – 2 sacks – 2 PD – 2 FF – Fulltime Starter
Freddie Keiaho – 14 G – 0 GS – 19 tkl – 2 FF – Free Agent
Gerris Wilkinson – 16 GS – 2 GS – 27 tkl – 1 PD – Free Agent
Buster Davis – 1 G – No Stats – Out of League within 2 Years
Quincy Black – 15 G – 8 tkl – 2 FF – Started 23 Games in Last 2 Years
Stewart Bradley – 16 G – 1 GS – 8 tkl – 1 sack – 1 PD – 1 Int – Started 28 Games Last 2 Years
Anthony Waters* – 7 G – 3 tkl – No Starts Since in the NFL
Tavares Gooden – 4 G – 5 tkl – 12 Starts in 3 Years, None in 2010
Dan Connor – 3 G – 4 tkl – 8 Starts in 3 Years
Shawn Crable – 6 G – 4 tkl – ½ sack – 6 Games Played in 3 Years
Phillip Wheeler – 16 G – 14 tkl – 13 Starts in 3 Years
Jason Williams – 5 G – 3 tkl – 2 Games Started in 2 Years
Deandre Levy – 14 G – 10 GS – 85 tkl – 5 PD – 1 Int – 1 FF – 21 Starts in 2 Years
Tyrone McKenzie – 3 G – No Stats – Cut as a Rookie
Donald Butler – No Stats as a Rookie
Navorro Bowman – 16 G – 1 GS – 46 tkl
Rennie Curran – 9 G – 7 tkl
*Represents first full year of playing. Rookie year cut due to injury
-The forecast doesn’t look too good as having immediate production
-Also doesn’t bode well for 3rd rd LB’s to become eventual starters
-Special teams contributor seems the best role for Dent
-7 players (31%) were either cut as a rookie, not in the league, or have no team
-Only 3 (14%) have developed into full-time starters
-A whopping 13 players (59%) had less than 10 tackles as a rookie
-Only 3 players (14%) started more than 2 games as a rookie.
-Only 1 player (Anderson) considered to be performing at a high level (130 tackles)
Well, Dimitroff and others look to be exactly right in what Dent’s role will be. Special teams all-star would be considered good based on the last 5 years of drafting linebackers in the 3rd round. Granted, there obviously have been success stories with picking linebackers in the later rounds and the Falcons could very well have a future starter in Akeem Dent. Stephen Nicholas is pretty much considered to be a starting OLB in the NFL now and he was chosen in the 4th round. That, however, is the exception and no where near the rule. In the last five years, only Stewart Bradley and James Anderson could be considered pretty highly productive as starters. Dimitroff and Smith likely know their expectations when they took Dent and it appears that his role will be mainly on special teams and backing up Lofton for the immediate future. Any hope for eventual success would be wonderful, but it would take time.