As the Falcons and Football “dead zone” rolls on, thought it would be a good idea to take a look at all of Thomas Dimitroff’s NFL Draft classes and see which ones were the best and which ones weren’t as good. Every franchise say they want to “build through the draft,” but Dimitroff and the Falcons actually put their money where their mouth is concerning drafting and keeping their own. In fact, they are only second to the Green Bay Packers in the NFL of drafting and keeping their own players.
Not only is the drafting part impressive, but what sets the Falcons GM and overall organization a part from the rest is the fact that they keep the players they want. It’s hard to think of any player they haven’t held onto if they’ve really wanted to keep them. Obviously, some have been a little better than others and some of the more recent ones have yet to be rendered a final verdict. But before we take a look at ranking Dimitroff’s drafts, there is some recognition to be had………..
Jimbo had the Falcons taking Robert Alford in the 2nd round (4 points), Zeke Motta with the 2nd 7th Rd compensatory pick (4 points), Stansly Maponga (3 points), and got 6 positions correct (6 points).
Screen had us taking Malliciah Goodman in the 4th round (4 points), a CB in the 2nd rd (2 points), and chose 5 positions correctly.
Thanks to all of you who participated in our mock competition. If you feel I missed one of your mocks that may have won, please email and I’ll get it correct as soon as possible.
(Ranked Best to Worst)
1st Rd) Matt Ryan, Sam Baker
2nd Rd) Curtis Lofton
3rd Rd) Chevis Jackson, Harry Douglas, Thomas DeCoud
5th Rd) Robert James, Kroy Biermann
6th Rd) Thomas Brown
7th Rd) Wilrey Fontenot, Keith Zinger
Currrently on Team – 6; Current Starters – 4; Pro Bowlers – 2; Made Team at Some Point – 9
Maybe it will simply never be topped because of who the Falcons got at the top. Matt Ryan is one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL and is already close to being the Falcons all-time best QB, if he’s not already there. He’s won Rookie of the Year and been to two Pro Bowls in his first 5 years. Also looking at other teams seeing how an unstable and weak QB situation can wreck a team, the Falcons are sitting in great shape because Ryan has been so good and he was such a superb pick.
Sam Baker was long thought to be one of TD’s worst overall picks, trading away picks to move up and select the former USC Trojan in the first round. He only started a handful of games as a rookie, but barely missed a start the next two years. 2011 was a bad year not just for Baker, but also the entire offensive line. Baker lost his LT spot to injury and even lost the right guard spot to Joe Hawley a little later in the season. In the final year of his contract, Baker had perhaps his best year under Pat Hill’s tutelage. Baker was not the main concern at all and did a good job protecting Ryan’s blindside.
Thomas DeCoud has been a stalwart for the Falcons in terms of starts since his second year in Atlanta. Like Baker, he’s had some ups and downs in his career as well. He had an excellent first year, only to disappear for a few years until he had a Pro Bowl season in 2012. DeCoud still needs some major work on tackling, but his cover skills are very good. Not too bad for a 3rd round compensatory pick.
Harry Douglas is the big mystery of this group. He had a sensational rookie season, where he caught many balls, showed separation after the catch, returned punts, and even ran reverses. He tore his ACL in 2009 and has never seemed the same since. There have been bursts and clips here and there, but overall he’s definitely not “blown up” as many thought with so many weapons around him. His job as the slot receiver seems to be safe for now, but that might chance if he has another mediocre year in 2013.
Kroy Biermann has been a very good draft pick as well. But like Douglas, it seems his best was earlier in his career. He notched 5 sacks in a rotation as a rookie, but hasn’t taken the next step even though he’s had a ton of opportunities. He did, however, find a nice niche in Mike Nolan’s defense and could finally be ready for the leap many have expected.
Somehow, Robert James is hanging around the roster, but may finally be pushed out once and for all this season. One of Dimitroff’s worst draft picks was CB Chevis Jackson from LSU. Jackson had a pretty good year as a rookie, even intercepting a pass in the playoffs, but he went downhill quickly after that. He made the team in 2009 and had decent stats including two starts, but was released in the final roster cutdown in 2010. Jackson was completely out of football by 2011. Curtis Lofton was a good Falcon for the time he was here, but presumably wasn’t deemed necessary by new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and went to the Saints in free agency.
Thomas Brown was a good pick and had potential, but injuries derailed his career in the NFL. Wilrey Fontenot never made the team as a rookie, one of the few in a Thomas Dimitroff draft, and Keith Zinger didn’t make the team but hung around on the practice squad for a year.
1st Rd) Julio Jones
3rd Rd) Akeem Dent
5th Rd) Jacquizz Rodgers
6th Rd) Matt Bosher
7th Rd) Andrew Jackson, Cliff Matthews
UDFA’s) Kevin Cone, Drew Davis
Currently on Team – 5; Current Starters – 3; Pro Bowlers – 1; Made Team at Some Point – 6
Fans were split and it was one of the most controversial draft decisions in a long time when the Falcons gave up 5 picks to trade up to select wide receiver Julio Jones. Most felt (and some still do) that it was way too much to give up for a receiver. It was a lot to give up, but Jones proved his worth this season, making the Pro Bowl as well as having one of the best playoff performances for a wide receiver in recent memory. The pairing of Jones with Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez was one of the biggest reasons the Falcons were only a few yards shy of making the Super Bowl.
The jury is still out on Akeem Dent at middle linebacker, but he showed enough talent for the Falcons to let Lofton walk in free agency for a high price. Dent struggled early on in run support and taking angles and was particularly weak in coverage. He did, however, make some good progress towards the end of the season, especially considering that nickel back Robert McClain played more snaps than Dent did.
Jacquizz Rodgers hasn’t turned into Maurice Jones-Drew just yet, but he has been a great addition since his rookie year. Even though Quizz has only scored 4 total touchdowns in two years, he has seen great progress both in the run game as well as the pass game. He more than doubled his receptions and receiving yards and almost doubled his rushes and rushing yards from his year 1 to year 2. He accounted for almost 800 total yards in 2012 and no one will forget when Rodgers trucked All-Pro safety Earl Thomas en route to a 45 yard run. The question is now whether Rodgers can be a full-time back when Steven Jackson exits and whether or not he may see his touches go down with supremely versatile Jackson coming to town.
Matt Bosher was another pick that was immediately panned by many fans. Why in the world would Dimitroff spend a valuable 6th round pick on a punter, especially after giving up tons of picks for Jones. Bosher had a shaky start, but has settled down nicely into a very good punter for the Falcons. The selection of Bosher also allowed the Falcons to part ways with former punter Michael Koenen, who received the franchise tag the year before that.
Cliff Matthews not only is a seeming lock to make the roster again, but he’ll also be locked in tough position battle for a starting spot at defensive end. The former Gamecock has been a very valuable defensive lineman after being taken in the 7th round. Coach Smith recently said that Matthews has put on 10-15 lbs, so that would put him close to 280 or 285. Perhaps they see Matthews playing more of a 5-technique role in any 3-4 looks.
The only miss in the draft was guard Andrew Jackson. He didn’t make the 53 man roster as a rookie, but spent some time on the practice squad before being released. He is now with Buffalo Bills. They also pulled two receivers (Cone and Davis) from the undrafted pool that made the squad in 2012.
2nd Rd) Peter Konz
3rd Rd) Lamar Holmes
5th Rd) Bradie Ewing, Jonathan Massaquoi
6th Rd) Charles Mitchell
7th Rd) Travian Robertson
UDFA) Dominique Davis, Pat Schiller, Peyton Thompson, Phillipkeith Manley, Micanor Regis
Currently on Team – 7; Current Starters – 1; Potential Starters – 4;
It may be unfair to rank this one ahead of the 2010 draft, but the projections for starting spots are what puts this one above. Right now, there is only one player from this draft that is a definite starter and that’s Peter Konz. The former Badger is expected to move over to take McClure’s place at center. Even though he had a somewhat rough start, Konz settled down nicely working at right guard in 2012. If fans are lucky, Konz will be the next McClure and a stalwart on the OL for the next decade or more.
Past Konz, however, there’s a bunch of guys who are “projected” to be starters. Even though it’s mentioned as a position battle for right tackle, it will be an absolute shock if Lamar Holmes doesn’t take over there. He has the size and athleticism to really add a potential upgrade to that position. If Holmes slides into the right tackle spot and does well, it would have to be considered a major success without a first or a fourth round draft pick from the Jones trade. If Holmes loses the spot to Mike Johnson, than this draft would be dropped below 2010.
Bradie Ewing and Jonathan Massaquoi are the other Falcons from this draft class that are expected to win starting spots, or at a very minimum play very large roles in 2013. The Falcons released Ovie Mughelli as soon as they drafted Ewing, so all expectations are that he’ll be the starting fullback assuming he’s recovered from last year’s injury during preseason. Massaquoi is the other question mark. Most feel that he’s in pole position to grab the other starting DE position opposite Osi Umenyiora. The former Troy product seems to have the speed and QB rushing ability to make an impact at defensive end, but he’ll have some major competition.
The Falcons also hauled in some excellent depth in this draft class as well. It seems that Charles Mitchell is the safety they thought they were getting when they took Shann Schillinger a few years back. Mitchell seems fairly locked in as the backup strong safety. Ordinarily, he may get a chance to start at some point, but since both DeCoud and William Moore are Pro Bowlers ahead of him, that seems unlikely right now.
Big Travian Robertson is looking to take over Vance Walker’s spot in the rotation and may could move ahead of Peria Jerry if he performs well enough. Most fans were puzzled when they didn’t re-sign Walker, but the Falcons are reportedly high on Robertson and they obviously feel that he’s ready to assume a major role in the rotation. Robertson can play both DT in a 4-3 or also a 5-technique in a 3-4.
Finally, you also have to consider the haul of undrafted free agents that the Falcons took in. Dominique Davis made the jump in his first year and is the Falcons solid backup quarterback. They also have several other players that seem in line to take a roster spot on the 53 man squad, including CB Peyton Thompson, OG Phillipkeith Manley, DT Micanor Regis, and LB Pat Schiller.
1st Rd) Sean Weatherspoon
3rd Rd) Corey Peters, Mike Johnson
4th Rd) Joe Hawley
5th Rd) Dominique Franks, Kerry Meier
6th Rd) Shann Schillinger
UDFA) Michael Palmer
Currently on Team – 6; Current Starters – 2; Made Team at Some Point – 8
Weatherspoon was a very good pick and he’s the unquestioned leader of the defense now. He’s been extremely good, but he’s yet to hit the switch on being great. Many thought he was on his way there before he got injured last year, but it’s certainly not enough to make up for the rest of the draft.
Corey Peters was one of those “what?” picks when his name was called, especially after taking Peria Jerry the year before in the first round. The former Wildcat has been a very solid pick in the third. Before he was injured late in 2011, Peters had started every game except two since he was a rookie. He’s also had 5 interceptions as well as 4 passes defensed. Peters was never back to full health in 2012, but he seems ready for another good season back in his old starting spot.
Even though they have yet another chance to break the starting OL lineup, the choices of Mike Johnson in the 3rd and Joe Hawley in the 4th have to thought of as bad picks thus far. Taking offensive linemen this high should warrant starters, but neither has earned a permanent spot on the OL. Hawley took over at right guard in 2011 and did pretty well, but then he turned around and lost that job to Garrett Reynolds in 2012.
Mike Johnson has earned only 1 start the entire time he’s been a Falcon. He’s failed to make a move at right guard since Harvey Dahl left, despite being the highest drafted prospect of the group. In fact, he’s lost out to a player that’s only started right tackle his entire career (Reynolds). He may beat out Lamar Holmes for the right tackle spot, but don’t count on it. Both Hawley and Johnson are extremely valuable and versatile backup offensive linemen, but you don’t take backup OL in the 3rd and 4th rounds.
It may be a little too critical to knock Dimitroff for 5th and 6th rounders not making an impact or even making the team, but that’s how high he’s raised the bar on himself. Dominique Franks is still technically on the team, but it seems like he may not make it going forward. After all, he was cut last year and only brought back when Tim Toone and Brent Grimes were injured. Franks showed some upside early in his career, but evidently has not progressed enough to warrant a spot. Not only that, but the Falcons just added two new cornerbacks via the draft in Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, not to mention Peyton Thompson and Terrence Johnson on the practice squad.
Kerry Meier and Shann Schillinger may simply be a case of losses due to injury, but neither made an impact whatsoever and Meier is no longer with the team and Schillinger seems destined to follow him soon as well. Injuries obviously can’t be predicted or helped, but these picks were questioned by many fans even when they were drafted. Michael Palmer had been a very good #2 tight end and seemed to be a part of future plans, but was recently signed away by the New York Giants. That seems particularly odd since he was a restricted free agent.
1st Rd) Peria Jerry
2nd Rd) William Moore
3rd Rd) Chris Owens
4th Rd) Lawrence Sidbury
5th Rd) Garrett Reynolds, William Middleton
6th Rd) Spencer Adkins
7th Rd) Vance Walker
Currently on Team – 3; Current Starters – 2; Made Team at Some Point – 7
William Moore was an excellent pick in the 2nd round of the 2009 draft. He just made the Pro Bowl in his 3rd full year as a starter and just got signed to a very nice contract, keeping him in red and black virtually for his career. He’s a cornerstone to build around on the defense in general and particularly in the defensive backfield. Moore was originally projected to be a high pick in the first round as a junior, but when he came back for his senior year, an injury dropped him to the second and Dimitroff and the Falcons are the beneficiaries.
Garrett Reynolds has turned out to be a very integral part of the Falcons offensive line, both as a backup and a starter. Even though he had always played right tackle in his career, he did everything he could to get on the field and moved to compete for the open right guard spot. He won the job in 2011 and had a rough start, being replaced by Joe Hawley later in the year. However, he won the right guard spot for a second consecutive year and had a very good season until he went on the injured reserve. The former Tar Heel was re-signed and is lead candidate to win the right guard spot yet again.
Of course Peria Jerry will get all the criticism as easily being Dimitroff’s worst overall draft pick. It may be a little unfair, because Jerry was roundly considered to be one of the best defensive tackles in the 2009 draft class after BJ Raji. And also to be fair to Dimitroff, that draft class didn’t produce a ton of All-Pro’s late in the draft. However, only two picks after Jerry was taken, the Green Bay Packers took you know who, and that said player has become one of the best defensive players in the entire NFL. It’s easy and maybe unjust to look back at draft classes and draft picks with 20/20 hindsight, but the Falcons also needed help at linebacker as well, especially since they let OLB Michael Boley walk in free agency. Maybe Jerry would have been what everyone hoped if he hadn’t got injured so early in his NFL career. And it seems that Jerry has one more chance at redemption in 2013, and by relation, another chance to help Dimitroff with this overall stinker of a draft class.
Even though Jerry will get all the criticism at the top, he’s at least still on the team with one more crack at it. The same can’t really be said for the rest of the draft picks. Chris Owens will definitely go down as one of TD’s worst picks as well. The Falcons GM spent a 3rd round pick on a fairly unknown corneback who not only didn’t produce or get on the field, but is not even with the team anymore. Owens had his best year as a rookie when filled in late in the season alongside Brent Grimes to do a pretty good job. Those two were manning the outside when the Falcons needed to win 3 straight (two on the road) to break that long-dreaded back-to-back streak.
However, it only got worse from there. He was replaced by Dunta Robinson in free agency and could never get back his rookie form. He struggled mightily in the nickel, highlighted by a dreadful performance in the “Debacle in the Dome” (even though he was unfairly solely scapegoated at times). He got beat out by Robert McClain for the nickel in 2012 and the rest is history. He was allowed to walk to Cleveland in free agency, and the draft pick is officially rendered a bust.
William Middleton was the second cornerback drafted in this draft class and he couldn’t even make the roster as a rookie. He was assigned to the practice squad and then stolen by Jacksonville, where he’s been a serviceable cornerback. He obviously had enough talent to stick around the NFL, so maybe someone messed up either coaching him or assessing his long-term value. Either way, he didn’t make a squad in dire need of cornerbacks at the time.
Spencer Adkins was a 6th round pick, so it’s not like it was a total bust, but he was always a project and only seemed fit for special teams duty. He made the team his first 3 years and even filled in for a start one time, but he failed to ever gain any serious traction at being anything more than a special teams player. At this point, the miss on an LB seems more prominent since the Falcons will likely rely on undrafted free agents to fill the spots.
You can’t blame Thomas Dimitroff and his staff for taking DE Lawrence Sidbury. The former Richmond product showed actual production at the NFL level, notching the most sacks by any DE not named Abraham the past 4 years, and even that came with sparing playing time. For whatever reason, Sidbury never got a fair shake and he wanted out of Atlanta so desperately that he took a paltry $715k / 1 year deal with the Colts to get out of Atlanta. And it’s not exactly like the Falcons had a ton of option at defensive end, in case you’ve lived under a rock the past 5 years. You can’t fault TD for this one because the guy had talent. You can look squarely at one Mike Smith for Sidbury’s failed time in Atlanta.
One of Dimitroff’s best overall picks was 7th round pick Vance Walker. The former Yellow Jacket played in every single game over four years except for 6 as a rookie. He also made 11 total starts (9 of them coming this year) and pulled down 5 total sacks the past 2 seasons. Walker made the rotation as a rookie and only moved up from there. This seems to be a case of simply having to replace guys like this for he commanded $2 million a year contract from the Oakland Raiders. Most fans are upset at losing him, but the front office may have felt that was too steep to pay a rotation player and Walker wasn’t going to start over Peters when fully healthy.
1st Rd) Desmond Trufant
2nd Rd) Robert Alford
4th Rd) Malliciah Goodman, Levine Toilolo
5th Rd) Stansly Maponga
7th Rd) Kemal Ishmael, Zeke Motta, Sean Renfree
It’s impossible to rank the most recent draft class since they have yet to play a real NFL down, but this one has a very high ceiling. They likely found a foundational rock at one cornerback spot in Trufant nd maybe another in Alford. They pulled a major infusion of versatile talent at defensive end with Goodman and Maponga and maybe a tight end of the future in Toilolo. Perhaps choosing both Ishmael and Motta will allow Nolan to run a new defensive scheme and Renfree seems like a keeper to develop as well.