ATLANTA (CBS46) – To say that the NFL Draft is a gamble would be an understatement. Teams have taken players they thought would be sure-fire Pro Bowl players who became immediate busts. Other teams roll the dice in the sixth round and wind up with the greatest quarterback ever, Tom Brady. It’s against this backdrop the Atlanta Falcons step up to the table to make their picks starting Thursday night.
The Falcons have made some of the best draft picks in team history under the tutelage of general manager Thomas Dimitroff. His first ever pick, Matt Ryan, has turned into a top-flight quarterback who has led the team to a Super Bowl. Even when Dimitroff made a gamble some thought may be too much at the time, he struck gold. The best example is when he traded way up in the first round to snag Julio Jones.
Dimitroff has also struck gold when he picked up safety Keanu Neal in the first round of the 2016 draft and Desmond Trufant in the first round of the 2013 draft. Neal, when healthy, is a top safety in the league and Trufant was solid before moving on from the Falcons during the current offseason.
Looking back at the 2019 draft, the Falcons picked guard Chris Lindstrom with the 14th overall pick, but he was injured for most of the season. The team also traded up to take tackle Kaleb McGary at the end of the first round and the jury is still out on just how good McGary can be after his first season.
Another area Dimitroff has had success is in later rounds, where you can sometimes find a Hall of Famer, or grab a good player for your roster for the next few seasons. Two of Dimitroff’s best later round picks include Stanford tight end, Austin Hooper in the second round. He went on to play in 59 games for the Falcons, recording 214 catches for 2,244 yards, and 16 touchdowns.
Dimitroff and the Falcons also hit pay dirt in 2015 in the fifth round when the team selected defensive tackle Grady Jarrett. He’s gone on to play in 77 games and is a key cog in the team’s defensive line. Jarrett has already produced 21.5 sacks from the defensive tackle position and is signed to the Falcons on a long-term contract.
Still, even for Dimitroff, the draft can be an inexact science. For example, his top pick in 2017, Takkaist McKinley has yet to fulfill his first-round pedigree. 2015 first-round pick Vic Beasley, another defensive end, is on another team this season after being released by the Falcons. Dimitroff took defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, at the time, projected into a decent starter, in the second round. Hageman was let go before last season.
Falcons fans are nervous about the team’s fate heading into the 2020 season. Thursday’s first round of the NFL Draft will shed some light on the team’s plans and where the focus will be as Atlanta tries to rebound from a rough start to the 2019 season that ended with promise for 2020.