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