It's never easy to predict what a franchise will do during the offseason as personnel moves are made or considered throughout free agency and the draft process. While the Falcons have done a variety of things in the five offseasons under general manager Thomas Dimitroff, some trends have remained constant. One primary objective under Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith has been to build the roster through the draft. From day one, they've spoken of their dedication to do so.
A scan through the starting depth chart indicates this philosophy. On last year's roster 15 of the 22 regular starters were draft picks of the Falcons, 10 of which were Dimitroff selections since 2008.
After a team's 22 regular starters and their three specialists are 28 players that make up the heart of a lineup. If a player from the starting 22 goes down, one of the remaining players on the roster needs to be ready to step in. Meanwhile, those 28 players are playing vital roles on special teams as they continue to develop their position-speciific skill set. Ideally these players are your starters of the future or at a minimum players that know the culture of the franchise. This is what they call "quality depth" and since the 2009 offseason, Dimitroff has been working to build just that.
While the Falcons surprised some last week by releasing three quality veterans that have meant a lot to Falcons teams in recent years, Dimitroff said those moves meant the Falcons would continue to be able to focus on home-grown talent that has been drafted in recent years.
"Given these three moves, again, our focus has always been that we hone in on our players that are currently on our team and our attempt to try to re-sign our football players," Dimitroff said in a phone conference on Friday. "That's going to be our focus first and foremost."
Last season the Falcons re-signed three members from their first draft class in 2008. Thomas DeCoud, Kroy Biermann and Harry Douglas returned to the team that drafted them for the 2012 season and moving forward they look to be integral parts of the Falcons process. DeCoud, Biermann and Douglas are key pieces and Atlanta's re-signing them indicates their commitment to drafted talent on the roster.
Those 31 roster spots are a precious commodity and Dimitroff has worked to draft the best players possible to fit his roster over the years to round out those 28 roster spots. This past season the Falcons' roster of 31 depth positions showcased that hard work. Sixty percent of the players in that field of 28 were drafted by Atlanta. Those 17 players included key reserves like Mike Johnson, Douglas, Chris Owens, Cliff Matthews and Jacquizz Rodgers. It's the highest percentage Dimitroff has had since he began putting together the Falcons roster in 2008.
In 2011, those 28 positions were filled by 57 percent of Falcons-drafted players and in 2010 and '09 the percentage sat at 53.
Many of those players were found in the middle rounds, the third through the fifth, where talent is there if you can find it. Dimitroff has done a nice job finding capable players at those points in the draft and this year will be no different. Dimitroff told AtlantaFalcons.com's Jay Adams last week that in a cap-driven league, the Falcons are trying to continue to solidify the core of their roster with players in those rounds, as they've been doing for the past few seasons.
"With the money the way it is right now, you have to be very mindful of having those young guys, those middle-round guys that you're truly going to focus on developing — that's huge in this league right now," Dimitroff said. "Coaching staffs have to be mindful of developing for roster maintenance. That said, I think year's draft, I think there are some solid core guys in the middle rounds."