Every NFL general manager wants to hit a homerun with every pick in the NFL draft; however, it's rarely the case that it happens.
Under Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, the Falcons have landed a few homeruns, like the drafting of franchise quarterback Matt Ryan in 2008 and the 2011 selection of wide receiver Julio Jones.
The 2008 season was Dimitroff's banner year, a year he needed to hit on a number of picks to overhaul a roster with ageing talent. The GM landed eventual starters Ryan, Sam Baker, Curtis Lofton, Harry Douglas, Thomas DeCoud and Kroy Biermann. Dimitroff's 11 picks that year are high, but he managed to connect on around half of them.
Ryan is well on his way toward being one of the upper-echelon quarterbacks in the league. Douglas, DeCoud and Biermann all recently re-signed with the franchise and Douglas and DeCoud were starters in 2011. Biermann started during the 2010 season and took a back seat to that role when the team added Ray Edwards last offseason. Baker has been an off-and-on starter for the Falcons and has also assumed a back-up role. Lofton is currently a free agent, but put in four impressive seasons for the Falcons.
With no first round pick in this year's draft, the pressure is on Dimitroff to continue to wisely select players that can come in and start within at least one season. The Falcons have five picks this season, a second-round pick and selections in the third, fifth, sixth and seventh rounds. Dimitroff has landed at least one starter in each of his drafts with Atlanta and in some cases more than one.
The success of the '08 draft is well documented, but Dimitroff returned in 2009 and found safety William Moore in the second round. Moore has been a starter since 2010. Defensive tackle Peria Jerry, defensive end Lawrence Sidbury and cornerback Chris Owens have all contributed valuable snaps as backups and figure to take significant strides with more playing time in the 2012 season. Defensive tackle Vance Walker, a seventh-round selection, recently re-signed with the Falcons.
The 2010 season saw the selection of starters in the first two picks, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon in the first and defensive tackle Corey Peters in the third. Joe Hawley was a fourth-round selection and played well despite shifting duties during the 2011 season. He started the season at center but moved to guard shortly after the return of starting center Todd McClure. Hawley figures to compete for the guard job again in 2012 or move full-time to center depending on the status of the veteran McClure, who is a free agent.
Dimitroff also landed Dominique Franks in the 2010 draft in the fifth round. He played well down the stretch for Atlanta last season, totaling four pass deflections and two interceptions in the last three games of the regular season. Franks is expected to step up in 2012 and compete for a starting role on the outside or inside at slot cornerback.
The blockbuster trade of 2011 landed the Falcons the services of the dynamic Jones and an impressive rookie season looks to be only the beginning for the receiver. Dimitrofff selected linebacker Akeem Dent in the third round, already a special teams star with starting potential. The Falcons found their punter in sixth-round pick Matt Bosher and a fifth-round pick was used on Jacquizz Rodgers, a running back who presence was felt more and more as last season progressed.
What Dimitroff has done in Atlanta isn't different from what a number of franchises do every year: find starters in the draft. Some do it better than others and so far Dimitroff's track record has been positive with a number of starting-caliber finds. This year's draft will be another critical one, with the Falcons seeking upgrades at a few positions.
The encouraging thing about the GM's draft history is that it has gone so well. With the existing talent on the roster, found through the draft and free agency, and the influx of new coaching philosphies in the offseason, the Falcons could be well-positioned to find an impact player or two because of the potential to have flexibility in the position they select.
Although the Falcons have no first-rounder this year, they do have something they haven't had in two seasons: a second-round pick. The only two second-round picks Dimitroff has ever had turned out to be starters and there's a good chance that trend will continue. On the surface, Atlanta looks challenged in this year's draft, but the performance record says the Falcons pick well in the slots they have and they have a returning impact and potential top-10 player in Jones, gained for last year and this year's first-round picks.