Thomas Dimitroff was voted a top-five GM in the league by NFL.com. In recent years, The Falcons GM has proven to have a keen eye for talent in the draft. That hasn’t always been the case. There have been a lot more duds than success stories over his eleven drafts with the team, but through it all, Dimitroff has been able to turn the Falcons into a perennial playoff contender. The main criteria for this list were draft position and overall value brought to the team.
I’ll start with the honorable mentions: Julio Jones (Unbelievable talent but look at all the picks they lost and how weak the following drafts were for Atlanta), Devonta Freeman, Jake Mathews, Desmond Trufant, Damontae Kazee
Ricardo Allen has to be among the most satisfying, feel-good stories in Falcons’ franchise history. The fifth-round pick out of Purdue became famous when the Falcons were on Hard Knocks, and then-Falcons head coach Mike Smith cut him. You could see the disdain in his eyes and soul leave his body, but Allen only used it as motivation.
The safety battled on the practice squad in Atlanta, and when Dan Quinn arrived in 2015, worked his way to becoming the full-time starter by week one. He started in 48 of the Falcons next 51 games and is now regarded as the quarterback of the Falcons defense. Currently, Allen is recovering from a torn Achilles he suffered in week three of last year, but expect him to earn his starting spot back to begin next season.
Neal has produced the way first-round picks are supposed to produce. He was a full-time starter at strong safety as a rookie, and his physical nature completely changed the reputation of Atlanta’s defense. By year two, he was selected to the Pro-Bowl. Unfortunately, he suffered a torn ACL in week one, but he should be more than ready to contribute to begin 2019, and I don’t see any letdown in his future.
Typically, a first-round pick with only one Pro-Bowl appearance under his belt doesn’t make the list, but when Neal was drafted, many “draft experts” were perplexed. It was a reach on draft boards that few expected like Dimitroff has done so many times, but this time it paid off in a significant way.
The 2016 draft sticks out like a sore thumb. Keanu Neal, Deion Jones, Austin Hooper, De’Vondre Campbell, and Wes Schweitzer have all started for the Falcons at some point. Three of them (Neal, Jones, and Hooper) have made Pro-Bowls. This was the definition of nailing a draft, and you can see why the Falcons made the Super Bowl in 2016.
Jones was the second-round pick that year. He immediately became a starter and a leader of the defense. By his second season, Jones was a Pro-Bowler. Like Neal, he suffered a significant injury in week one last season. He did return but wasn’t the electric Deion Jones Falcons’ fans are used to seeing. Still, Jones is in the conversation for one of the best overall linebackers in the league. His skills in coverage are second to none at the position, and he will be looking for vengeance in 2019.
The Falcons had their eye on Grady Jarrett in the 2015 draft. Rightfully, they waited until the fifth-round then traded up ten spots and took the defensive tackle out of Clemson. Since, Jarrett has worked his way to becoming a full-time starter and a top-five defensive tackle in all of football.
In his four seasons with the dirty birds, he’s totaled 46 starts, 13 sacks, and 27 tackles for loss, showing strides forward each season. Recently, Jarrett just signed his franchise-tag that will pay him $15.2 million next season. The Falcons have until July 15th to reach a long-term extension with their star defensive tackle, or he will play under the tag and potentially be a free agent in 2020. The Falcons should have no interest in that happening. They want Jarrett’s presence on the field and in the locker room for the next five or six years.
Why have the Falcons been able to remain playoff contenders ever since Thomas Dimitroff took over as GM? With Dimitroff’s first draft selection, he found Atlanta’s franchise QB, and that’s always going to be the most valuable pick of any organization. At the time, the pick came down to Matt Ryan and Glenn Dorsey – the standout defensive tackle out of LSU. Thankfully, Dimitroff made a wise choice or who knows where this franchise might be. Dorsey last played in 2016 and only recorded seven sacks his entire career.
Meanwhile, Ryan has become a four-time Pro Bowler and won an MVP award, cementing himself in the elite category of NFL quarterbacks. He’s on pace to obliterate the all-time passing record and could end up being one of the most highly regarded quarterbacks of all-time. There’s only one thing preventing that from happening – a Super Bowl ring. He should have gotten one back in 2016, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. If Ryan can bring a Lombardi Trophy back to the city of Atlanta, he will have a statue right next to the giant metallic Falcon outside of Mercedes-Benz Stadium one day.