While much of the attention of the Falcons' draft talk in the public this offseason has focused on the fact that they're without a first-round pick, Atlanta's general manager Thomas Dimitroff and his staff have said that knowing that fact all along has allowed them to focus on preparing for this first selection, at No. 55 in the second round, with the detail that they would normally apply to a first-round selection.
Dimitroff's draft resume has been strong in Atlanta. The GM has selected seven of Atlanta's 22 starters in his drafts since taking over the franchise in 2008. One of the overlooked notes about the Falcons' draft this season is their third-round pick.
Traditionally, teams target their first three picks as potential starters, hoping to hit on at least two of the three. The draft is a gamble like any other personnel selection process, but with due diligence, teams can find successful and contributing players even in the third round. This could be especially true this season considering the draft is one of the deepest in recent memory.
Since 2008, Atlanta has done well mining the third round for talent. One important thing to consider when thinking about third-round picks is that while they may have talent, they're typically players that may take a season or two to fully blossom, but have the potential to be contributors from Day One.
In 2008, Dimitroff selected cornerback Chevis Jackson and wide receiver Harry Douglas in the third round. Douglas was a impactful role player in his rookie season and Jackson showed promise, but could never fully complete the developmental process. He was released in 2010. Douglas has continued his upward arc and as a free agent this offseason, some consider him a priority to be re-signed as the Falcons look to continue to open up the offense.
In 2009, Atlanta grabbed cornerback Chris Owens and his development is still taking shape. He's been a contributor since his rookie season and while he's had his struggles, he's also played well at times. Perhaps Owens' biggest contributions to date have come as a special teams player, but he's found himself in the starting lineup at times since 2009.
The 2010 draft saw the drafting of defensive tackle Corey Peters and guard Mike Johnson. Johnson has struggled with injuries, but came to Atlanta as an All-American lineman from Alabama. It's too early to grade Johnson since he's dealt with injuries in his short career so far. Peters has turned into one of the best third-round finds in recent drafts. A smart and committed player, he started 15 games as a rookie and last season he continued that trend, becoming a key player on Atlanta's defensive line.
Linebacker Akeem Dent was the lone third-round selection for Atlanta in 2011 and as a rookie he quickly became an impact player on special teams, leading the team in tackles on that unit. He has the hard-nosed mentality necessary for a linebacker and has earned the right to be considered for more playing time in 2012.
Beyond the Falcons' drafts, there are a number of players that have been selected within 10 picks after No. 85 in the third round in recent years that have been impact players for their teams. While there are many more misses than hits because of the number of picks to consider since 2004, a look at the players selected in that range shows the talent level that can come from a pick at 85.
In 2010, the Broncos selected wide receiver Eric Decker at 87, the Cardinals selected wide receiver Andre Roberts at 88, the 49ers selected Navorro Bowman at 91 and the Saints selected Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham at 95. Bowman was an All Pro in 2011 and Decker and Roberts are considered strong young receivers.
In 2009, the Ravens selected cornerback Lardarius Webb at 88 and the Titans grab tight end Jared Cook at 89. Webb has developed into one of the better young corners in the league and Cook is one of the more underrated tight ends in a league filled with talent at the position.
The 2008 season was a banner year for third-round talent. In addition to Atlanta's selection of Douglas at 84, the Packers took tight Jermichael Finley at 91, the Lions drafted defensive end Cliff Avril at 92 and the Giants took Super Bowl hero wide out Mario Manningham at 95.
The Ravens, who have consistently found strong players in the third round, found another in 2007 when they grabbed guard Marshall Yanda at 86. Yanda was selected as a Pro Bowler in 2011.
Other notables in recent years include the Panthers' selection of starting linebacker James Anderson at 88 in 2006 and the Jets' pick of defensive tackle Sione Pouha at 88 in 2005.
One other intersting third-round fact: The Falcons selected quarterback Matt Schaub at pick No. 90 in the 2004 draft.