It was the draft that started it all for the current Falcons under general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith. It was 2008 and the Falcons had a roster to make over and they hit a homerun. Most say it takes five seasons before one should evaluate how a draft class turned out and with the fifth year in the books, let's look back at that defining '08 draft class.
Atlanta ended up making 11 selections that season, beginning with their first-round pick at No. 3 overall with Matt Ryan. At this point it's a safe call to say Ryan is the real deal at QB and Dimitroff landed what all clubs need, a franchise quarterback, with that pick. Beyond the names of some of the players like Ryan that ended up contributing to the team's five-year run, what's most impressive is the number of players still with the team from that draft. Six of the 11 draft picks that year spent the 2012 season with the Falcons and continuity like that on the roster is a plus.
The Falcons landed five starters in that draft and that number should tell you all you need to know about the draft class. In addition to Ryan, left tackle Sam Baker came in the first round, wide receiver Harry Douglas and safety Thomas DeCoud were added in the third round and defensive end Kroy Biermann was picked in the fifth.
After becoming a starter during the '09 season, DeCoud had his first Pro Bowl season in 2012.
Linebacker Robert James has proven his worth by sticking around with the team since he was drafted in the fifth round and turning himself into a valuable special teams player. He's spent time on the practice squad during that stretch, but he spent the entire 2012 season on the active roster and was one of the backups at linebacker.
The other selections (Curtis Lofton, Chevis Jackson, Thomas Brown, Wilrey Fontenot and Keith Zinger) are no longer with the Falcons, but it's important to point out that Lofton spent four seasons as the starting middle linebacker in Atlanta before signing a free-agent contract last offseason with the New Orleans Saints. He continued to be a solid starter after joining them. Jackson spent two seasons with the Falcons, starting three games.
To land Baker at the 21st pick in the first round, Dimitroff traded two of their second-round picks and a fourth pick to Washington to move back into the first round. After an encouraging rookie season, Baker's career was slowed by injuries before performing at a high level during a completely-healthy 2012 season.
Biermann and Douglas, based on their contributions and frequency on the field, can be considered starters. While neither of them is yet putting up Pro Bowl numbers, they're integral parts of what the Falcons do on defense, offense and special teams. Both were re-signed to the Falcons in the offseason, a move that signals their importance.
With the Ryan pick alone, it's safe to say the 2008 draft for Atlanta would be considered a success, but when looking at the other pieces the Falcons landed in their introductory draft in the Dimitroff/Smith era, you can't consider that draft anything less than a pivotal moment in the recent history of the franchise.