The Falcons’ No. 1 choice: Julio Jones or the eighth-best DE

"We did get the right name, didn't we? You're not Mr. Carimi, are you?"

"We did get the right name, didn't we? You're not Mr. Carimi, are you?" (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Before we leave the NFL draft, we need ask a simple question: Were you the Falcons, would you rather have had the second-best-at-worst receiver in this class or the eighth-best defensive end? Because the rationale for trading up to take Julio Jones lies therein.

The Falcons entered the draft needing — pardon the repetition — an explosive player either on offense or defense. On defense, the target was a pass rusher. On offense, it was a pass catcher. If the Falcons were ranking their needs, DE might have been 1-A to WR’s 1-B. The point being: It was that close.

But the Falcons were picking 27th, not first. They weren’t going to get the best defensive end. Indeed, had they kept their pick they could have had the eighth-rated DE on their board, and the eighth-best defensive end of a given draft crop isn’t guaranteed to be an immediate starter, let alone a explosive force.

Julio Jones will start as a rookie. That’s a given. It’s all but a given he won’t be a bust. He’s too gifted and too focused. Jones was a high school star and played college football at the highest level, so he’s accustomed to the pursuit of excellence.

Nick Saban coached Jones at Alabama — Saban has also worked in the NFL — and told the Falcons not to worry about anything: They’ll love Julio. (And those much-discussed drops? Saban said they were a function of Jones trying to make a play whenever the ball came his way.)

Yes, the Falcons ceded a lot — on paper. But they’ll have Jones on the field next season, and if they’re as good as they should be, the 2012 No. 1 pick they sent to Cleveland will be even lower than No. 27. And in the seasons ahead they’ll have Jones, they hope, to step in as the No. 1 receiver when Roddy White, who turns 30 this fall, begins to flag.

There aren’t many players in any draft capable of making the much-sought Immediate Impact. The Falcons landed one of them. Had they stayed at No. 27 and taken a defensive end, he might not have done much right away. Heck, the way the Falcons’ board had it, they wouldn’t have taken a DE at all. All the ones they preferred were gone.

Know who they’d have drafted had they kept the 27th pick? Gabe Carimi. Next time you hear Mel Kiper or Todd McShay say the Falcons gave up too much, ask yourself this: Would you have been half as excited about this team today if, as a No. 1 pick, it had introduced an offensive tackle from Wisconsin?

By Mark Bradley

190 comments Add your comment

NC Dawg

May 2nd, 2011
9:34 am

Mark Bradley

May 2nd, 2011
9:39 am

Kudos, NC Dawg.

ATLNick

May 2nd, 2011
9:41 am

Couldn’t agree more MB! You have to play to win this season and taking a decent DE would not have helped. You can’t worry about picks in the future that (like you said) are hopefully lower than 27th. Fact is: Julio Jones makes your team better day 1 of the season. If there ever is a season!

knowitall

May 2nd, 2011
9:41 am

So every team should trade 4 picks to get one player that they think makes a difference. This is crazy logic and will prove to be a huge mistake. Teams that win in the NFL have depth and this “Ricky Williams” trade is nuts. The Saints fans were more excited after the Williams trade then if they had not made the trade so again crazy logic. Compare that to the Saints now. Their team is made up of undrafted late round guys that have provided depth and talent. This is a minor league move that will haunt the Falcons for years to come.

Tale of Woe

May 2nd, 2011
9:42 am

Whoever questions this pick is foolish – for many reasons. However, all the points you just made are right on point. You have short windows to win it all in the NFL – the Falcons realize that this is their windown and they are going for it. It was the right move to make.

WinderDawg

May 2nd, 2011
9:44 am

If we are one player away, then I hope Julio can get us to the promise land.

GeoffDawg

May 2nd, 2011
9:45 am

Agree although the depth of the DE spot this year tempers that notion a tad.

n

May 2nd, 2011
9:46 am

Great take, Mark. Best point you have made in a while. Can’t wait for the season to start.

FJR

May 2nd, 2011
9:48 am

How do you win in a salary capped league? You win by paying draft picks less than they’re worth and building your core around relatively cheap draft picks. Well, some draft picks give you roughly the same production for substantially less money.

Also, draft picks are inherently risky. Go down any NFL draft list and half the first round will end up being busts. So, you want as many bites at the apple as possible.

So what did we do? We traded away a lot of bites at the apple, including picks that would give roughly first round production (second round picks, historically, actually end up being pretty similar to first round picks) at less than half the price. We did this so that we have the right to pay Julio Jones what he’d get if he was a free agent, basically.

Compounding this fact is that the picks we traded in next year’s draft will likely be hard slotted picks that hurt the salary cap substantially less.

It isn’t the second best WR in the draft v. the 8th best DE Mark. It’s the 2nd best WR v. the 8th best DE, a first round pick next year, a second round pick next year, a 4th round pick this year and a 4th round pick next year. And all the picks we traded will cost less combined than what we will pay Julio Jones.

Again, this wouldn’t be an issue, Blank has shown he’s willing to pay for a winner, but the NFL is a salary cap league. You win long term in the NFL by being frugal, paying young players less than they’re worth and not overpaying for veterans. You build slowly and accumulate draft picks.

It’s kind of bizarre, because Dimitroff constantly preaches that the Patriots are the model. Well, this wasn’t a trade that the Patriots make. This is a trade that the Redskins make.

And let me say, I think Julio Jones is a fantastic player. This will make us better next year. And probably better the year after that. But 3-10 years from now, I think it probably makes us worse.

The only good sign is that I guess it indicates that Blank thinks we are going to have football next year. You don’t make this pick if you think there will be a lockout.

We Dont Care

May 2nd, 2011
9:49 am

Kudos TD. Just give him and Smitty the lifetime deal now Mr. Blank.

enz

May 2nd, 2011
9:53 am

Excellent points…It is a ballsy pick and I love that Mr. Blank is so positive and supportive to try and give us a championship. I hope he’s ready to spend in Free Agency for a defensive rusher…

Paul H

May 2nd, 2011
9:53 am

Completely agree. Who are we really giving up here? Name our current starters who were 2nd and 4th round picks over the last 3 years. I’ll grab a book while I’m waiting.

TD stinks

May 2nd, 2011
10:00 am

What is the second-best-at-worst receiver?

robert hughes

May 2nd, 2011
10:01 am

Maybe the first thing you have ever written that made any sense.

Mark, maybe you should see a doctor!

FJR

May 2nd, 2011
10:04 am

LOL at Paul H
Justin Blalock, 2nd round
Todd McClure, 7th round
Harvey Dahl, UFA
Tyson Clabo, UFA
Michael Turner, 5th round
Kroy Biermann, 5th round
Jonathan Babineux, 2nd round
Mike Peterson, 2nd round
Curtis Lofton, 2nd round
WIlliam Moore, 2nd round
Thomas DeCoud, 3rd round
Brent Grimes, UFA

So, to answer your question, most of our best players were not 1st round picks.

juvenal

May 2nd, 2011
10:04 am

why has Bowers dropped so far?

FJR

May 2nd, 2011
10:05 am

arguably our two best players on defense were 2nd round picks.

FJR

May 2nd, 2011
10:05 am

@juvenal

lots of concerns over the health of his knees. Still a crazy good value at where he ended up going though.

jp

May 2nd, 2011
10:06 am

This trade will be judged on whether or not TD can sign a premiere DE and resign Clabo and Dahl. If he can’t resign Clabo and sign a Ray Edwards, Kiwanuka or someone of that quality than this will have been a bad draft and a bad move. The grade on this trade shall be handed out 4 months from now.

DirtyBird

May 2nd, 2011
10:08 am

Article is not logical without also discussing the choices that were possible with the other traded away picks and then discussing the damage to next years draft.

SportsPaige

May 2nd, 2011
10:08 am

I think the JJ pick coupled with the pick of LB Dent from UGA shows that Blank intends to go hard after the top DE FAs, Kiwanuka, Ch. Johnson, when the time comes. I know its still a big IF on that, so I am hoping the NFL and NFLPA can get things settled so ATL can throw some of that under the salary cap money at one of these top DEs.

FJR

May 2nd, 2011
10:09 am

also strange is the fact that Patrick Peterson, by a good margin the most talented player in the draft, at a position we need help at, with no injury issues, was still available.

Gdawg12

May 2nd, 2011
10:11 am

Mark, I think there is a big hole in you logic on this that you are missing. The choice was not Jones or the 8th best DE. Once the trade was made, the Falcons could choose whomever they wanted. At pick number 6, no DE had been taken yet, so we could have just as easily taken the number one DE instead of Jones. So who would have served the Falcons needs better, Jones or Aldon Smith (or maybe JJ Watt or Robert Quinn)?

PMC

May 2nd, 2011
10:15 am

FJR, Peterson went at 5.
___________________________________

The Falcons didn’t see any defensive end on the board they felt could immediately step in and be exactly what they needed.

They have made the decision to find a proven player in free agency.

They are grooming Franks in the secondary. I don’t think Owens is long for the team after his performance last year. If needed they’ll go get another nickel corner in FA.

I think they need another outside linebacker (unless that’s where they want Dent)

They have spent the last 3 drafts primarily on defense, I know many of you don’t believe it but it has paid great dividends especially up the middle.

You cannot simply ignore the offense like they largely have. Getting Jones is going to be a tremendous boost to the capability of an incredibly sluggish at times offense.

The last several years they couldn’t come from behind, now they can.

FJR

May 2nd, 2011
10:18 am

I also don’t understand the idea that “the window to win a superbowl is small”

Our QB is about to enter his 4th year. If your window is closing and your starting QB is entering his 4th year, it means one of 3 things:
1) you don’t like your QB very much
2) you built your team horribly around him
3) you don’t know what you’re talking about

txdawg

May 2nd, 2011
10:20 am

FJR – some good points there but…

The owners will have a rookie wage scale built into the CBA THIS YEAR, so Julio will not be as expensive as previous #6 picks. Also, look at the first round defenders we have drafted in the last 3 years, all in the late teens or 20’s. Not bashing their choice, but look at their production. Can’t you see why TD made a move to get an ELITE player rather than the best available? I was would rather go this route and sign DE Ray Edwards or Charles Johnson, both very young and PROVEN sack artists in the NFL. I am a UGA guy, I love AJ Green, but he does tend to get hurt and miss a lot more time than Julio ever did. Also, we did not give up a second in next year’s draft (that was this year), only a 1st and fourth. With any luck, the 1st rounder will be in the 30’s. Im sure TD has a plan, which includes trading Jenkins and maybe some of our RFA’s will get tendered to garner more picks.

FJR

May 2nd, 2011
10:21 am

@PMC

I think it’s a bit premature to think that Julio Jones completely turns this offense around. How many first year WRs have ever came in and immediately turned a sluggish offense into a juggernaut? The only WR I can recall that immediately came in, had a great rookie season, and then went on to a great career was Randy Moss. I like Julio Jones, but he’s not Randy Moss.

PMC

May 2nd, 2011
10:22 am

We’re also way under the cap. If they were having crazy ridiculous Redskin type drafts and going big on FA… ok panic.

They have and do continue to build through the draft. They are addressing issues and fixing holes.

Would you rather have a team collecting freaking picks and trading them like baseball cards the way New England is doing?

They don’t have a pass rusher either and haven’t fixed that hole since they shipped Richard Seymour to Oakland, they probably could have won a championship since.

At least our people are doing something about our issues.

Down South Jacket

May 2nd, 2011
10:22 am

Julio is bigger, faster, stronger than A.J. Given the uncertainty of the QB situation in Cincy, Julio may have the better pro career.

Dink

May 2nd, 2011
10:23 am

Good post Mark, I agree 100%. I just hope JJ stays healthy. Seems like he’s already battled through several injuries. Should be a fun offense to watch!

FJR

May 2nd, 2011
10:25 am

When other rookie WRs have come in and put up big seasons, it was usually as auxilliary pieces on already dynamic offenses. I think it’s kind of crazy to expect Julio Jones to line up as the #2 guy from day 1 and dominate, which is basically what its sounding like you guys think should be expected. We will be doing very well if Julio is an average #2 next year. He’s not going to completely transform a very sluggish offense.

Bill

May 2nd, 2011
10:25 am

2nd best reciever ?..My opinion he was 1st and Green was 2nd.
Great pick and move by Falcons. Now get Free agent DE and “Let’s Roll!!!!!!!”

Jimmy Crack

May 2nd, 2011
10:25 am

“But 3-10 years from now, I think it probably makes us worse.”

Wow, Nostradamus on a blog. Insanity.

PMC

May 2nd, 2011
10:26 am

Julio Jones doesn’t need to be Randy Moss. He’s not needed to be a savior here. He’s needed to keep the safeties honest and deep enough and he’s needed to keep brackets off of Roddy and or Gonzalez.

Roddy can and will demolish single coverage at will. This move will improve his YAC because you can’t just roll coverage all the time to Roddy because he’s virtually the only option.

Also, they added Rodgers, and he can actually catch the ball out of the backfield and pressure the defense in that manner. Turner doesn’t really possess that ability.

PMC

May 2nd, 2011
10:27 am

In addition, if the safeties have to stay honest and respect Roddy and Julio, there is one less player in the box for Turner. Linebackers are going to be tired of tackling Turner and Snelling in the 4th quarter.

Ross

May 2nd, 2011
10:27 am

Mark, Getting excited about a pick isnt always what wins games and a offensive line man to protect Matt is very important. The Falcons needed those picks.

GTBob

May 2nd, 2011
10:29 am

The Falcons could have traded up for a DE and given up much less then they gave up for Julio. Plus, saying that Julio won’t be a bust is a given, is a bit of a dumb statement. Ask the Detroit Lions if wide receivers taken in the top 10 are guaranteed superstars. It’s way more risky then you are making it out to be. For how much we gave up for him, if Julio doesn’t turn out to be a really really great receiver then this deal was a dud.

FJR

May 2nd, 2011
10:30 am

@Jimmy Crack

just because the future is hard to predict doesn’t mean you should ignore it.

You could use your logic to say “hey I might as well spend all of my retirement on this car, because who knows what can happen in 5 years?!”

Again, this is the exact kind of trade that teams like the Raiders and Redskins are known for. This is why those teams always spend a buttload of money and go nowhere. Because not only do they pay a lot of r draft picks, but they also have to overpay for free agents that fill all the spots that the draft picks they traded away could have filled.

The thing is that the Redskins fans almost always love the Redskins win now, worry about the future later strategy. It’s just that win now rarely ever works that way. It’s usually do about the same now, do a lot worse later.

Trip

May 2nd, 2011
10:31 am

Julio Jones > A.J. Green

Ginger

May 2nd, 2011
10:33 am

Agree with Mark. I am excited about getting Julio. We did not give up as much as it appears at first. Pick 27 is a lot lower than 6. This was the kind of bold move we needed to compete in the NFC South and be able to compete in the playoffs against NFC South teams and also the likes of Green Bay, Cowboys (look for them to rebound this yr) Eagles, Giants.

Now can’t wait until Free Agency starts and also signing of undrafted players. This is were we go to work again and improve that defense….Would love for us to sign the cornerback from Oakland–name starts with A, a defensive end like Charles Johnson–former UGA player, or if we sign corner from Oakland–Grimes could play nickel….Insofar as undrafted players—would like the get the linebacker from Boston College who had bone ca…think that he will return to old form, and also sign R. Lockette WR from Fort Valley–he is a burner and we just need to develop route running…also need to sign a fe O-lineman.

FJR

May 2nd, 2011
10:34 am

@PMC

what exactly do you expect of JJ then, and how exactly is he going to transform this offense? Teams aren’t going to respect him until he beats NFL corners on a regular basis. And I like Julio, but he struggled against future NFL caliber corners in college. Peterson completely shut him down. You make it out like teams are just going to see Jones 11 on the Jersey and be like “oh noes, we gotta play soft zone deep now?!”

Rookie WRs are almost never difference makers in the “it will change the way defenses play us” way you’re talking about. Again, find me one rookie WR who came into a sluggish offense and all the sudden it became explosive. Just one.

Rob

May 2nd, 2011
10:40 am

“Peterson completely shut him down.”

Julio had 10 catches and one TD vs Peterson this past season.

Willie Coyote

May 2nd, 2011
10:49 am

Rookie DEs generally don’t come in rushing the passer at a high level. You have some that are elite talents (Julius Peppers) or are system fits in a creative 3-4 (Clay Matthews) who pay immediate dividends but that is more the exception. I’m not sold there were any players in this draft that would provide a better pass rush than the existing free agents out there.

Also, keep in mind that the Falcons have made a lot of picks the past two – three years so they are still relatively young. Giving up this number of picks hurts but not as much as if this were an aging team ready to decline. Trades will also be made so look for the birds to get some picks back.

Greg

May 2nd, 2011
10:55 am

Hmmm….by that logic we could have had the #3 WR in the draft. Was the delta between #2 and #3 WR worth all that? I doubt it.

dean

May 2nd, 2011
10:57 am

I’m pleased with drafting Julio. I also am excited about the little running back from Oregon State. This could be, could be a fun season.

DC Dirty Bird

May 2nd, 2011
10:58 am

@FJR
Julio will have the impact that Dez Bryant had for the Cowboys before Romo got hurt and the impact that Miles Austin had year before last. Essentially, TD is trying to create with Green Bay has and Indianapolis had with Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. As far as rookie receivers bing difference makers, I believe that addage is dead. Marques Colston was a difference maker as a rookie, Mike Wallace was a difference maker as a rookie and led the league in yards per catch. He doesn’t need to be our number 1 receiver, just someone to stretch the field and beat one on one coverage by the teams #2 corner.

@GTBob
Using the Detroit Lions as an example of “bust” first round receivers provides more slant than a presidential campaign. No one said that Charles Rogers or Mike Williams were can’t miss WR. Everyone said that they were risks due to character and work ethic. Much like Calvin Johnson, J. Jones comes with a stamp of approval from a former NFL head coach. I think that speaks volumes about his work ethic and ability to succeed on the next level.

FJR

May 2nd, 2011
10:58 am

@Rob,

did you watch that game or are you just reading the box score? I watched it. Jones got all of his yardage on underneath routes when LSU was in zone. His longest catch was for less than 20 yards, IIRC. Whenever they were matched up 1-1 or Julio was in Peterson’s zone, Julio did nothing.

It’s not a secret that Julio struggles against top tier corners, it’s been his biggest knock his whole career. The recently dismissed Janoris Jenkins completely shut him down. Julio made most of his yardage by having gigantic games against poor corners. See Tennessee, Auburn, Duke, South Carolina (though they have talent, USC’s secondary was terrible).

Validus

May 2nd, 2011
10:58 am

We overpaid for the 6th pick. 5 players for one is never a good thing to do. Its not like the Falcons just won the Super Bowl, this team needs a lot of things yet, especially quality on the O line and LB and DE. If Jones takes 3 seconds to get open but the O line gives Ryan just 2 seconds to throw, what good is that? And who are our pass rushers, again…?

Over the last 8 or 9 years the Falcons have now spent FIVE first round picks at the wide receiver position. Green Bay and NE built thier passing game without using all these high picks. Why can’t we?

Two All Pro pass catchers and now Jones, and our offense is built around Turner and Snelling rushing. Just how many footballs will the NFL allow the Falcons to use at one time?

Final thought…if anyone gets injured, we may find ourselves really missing those picks.

FJR

May 2nd, 2011
11:00 am

@DC Dirty Bird

The Dallas Cowboys were already an explosive offense that made a lot of big plays. Supposedly JJ is going to make this offense explosive. My question is how many rookie WR’s have come into sluggish offenses and made them explosive? Citing a rookie WR who came into an already explosive offense and made big catches doesn’t really say anything.

Validus

May 2nd, 2011
11:00 am

And to think McKay turned down Detroit’s trade offer in 2007, our 1st(8) 2nd and 3rd for the right to draft Calvin Johnson….