There are very few certainties when it comes to a team’s NFL draft, mostly because franchises value attributes differently, and that can make the draft unpredictable. Some teams are notorious for taking players with some red flags, whether that be on the field or off the field issues — including injuries. Some cultures, like the Patriots, are so strong and impenetrable that these types of players either fall in line or get the boot, but the culture and identity of the team stay intact. Like the Browns for the past decade, other organizations take risks on players they have no business bringing in because of an unstable culture. Then there are teams, like the Packers, who have established a positive and accountable culture but still won’t take risks on fringe prospects.
Terry Fontenot has referenced the quote, “How you do anything is how you do everything,” multiple times to the media. It’s indicative of the type of culture he wants. In February, Fontenot elaborated on the quote by saying that a coach wouldn’t be a better coordinator than a position coach and that he truly believes in doing everything to the best of one’s ability — apparent in the meticulous approach he’s had with the draft.
He realizes people have aspirations and goals, but putting your head down and doing what’s in front of you exceptionally is more telling. It almost seems like there is a ‘Patriot-Esque’ way about him where all Fontenot cares about is “doing your job.” It is straightforward, but the culture has to be put in place and slowly built upon; it doesn’t just happen overnight. Arthur Smith breathes those same words, and in his introductory press conference, he harped on how he wants his players to be tough, physical, accountable, and smart.
One thing is certain in this draft; the Falcons will not draft a prospect like Jamarcus Russell, who went first overall in 2007 and could only throw the ball over a building. He lacked the intestinal fortitude to play quarterback in the NFL. Ryan Leaf went second overall to the Chargers after the Colts picked Peyton Manning, and the two couldn’t have had different career trajectories. Leaf, like Russell, didn’t care about football. The Packers drafted Tony Mandarich second overall in 1989, but clearly, the “best offensive lineman prospect ever” was juicing. There were red flags on all of these guys for whatever reason, but the organizations had bad habits in choosing prospects at those points in time.
The Falcons will not be one of those teams. I think Fontenot and Smith value what’s between their ears just as much as their physical abilities. Being a professional football player is hard; the daily grind of preparing mentally and physically is excruciating, and not everyone is cut out for it. The Falcons 2021 rookie class will be filled with guys who love the game and can be relied upon regardless of the situation.
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