In the 2011 NFL Draft the Falcons traded their first-round pick (27th overall), second-round pick (59th overall) and fourth-round pick along with their 2012 first-round pick (22nd overall) and fourth-round pick to the Cleveland Browns for their first-round pick (sixth overall), which was eventually used to land Julio Jones. The Falcons really screwed up with this move.
Although Julio Jones had a great season by catching 54 passes for 959 yards and eight touchdowns in only 13 games, he was not worth the amount of draft picks the Falcons sent to acquire him—the dirty birds would be much better off had they not traded for Jones because of the wide receiver talent pool in the 2012 Draft and the depth they could have addressed by using the draft picks they gave up.
Contrary to popular belief, the Falcons were not another wide receiving option away from going to a Super Bowl. Atlanta could have stuck around with their first-round pick and drafted another position of need either at the cornerback position with Jimmy Smith or at the defensive line with Muhammad Wilkerson—they could have looked to other players but these positions were definitely a priority.
Both Smith and Wilkerson could have helped the Falcons with their poor pass defense which was ranked 20th in the NFL last year.
Smith would effectively put another body on opposing wide receivers, especially when Atlanta faces the Saints and their great group of talented receivers twice a year. His presence would have also greatly benefited the maligned pass defense of the Falcons who lost their best cornerback Brent Grimes to injury late in the season.
Wilkerson would help the Falcons' pass rush that ranked 19th in sacks last year by netting 33 sacks. Atlanta was not able to find a way to get to the quarterback which allowed opposing QBs to pick them apart. Wilkerson would have been a solid pick for the Falcons defense.
Even if the Falcons think that drafting Wilkerson, Smith or another key defensive player was a bad idea, then they would likely be kicking themselves anyway because of the deep pool of wide receivers in the draft this year. Atlanta would have the 22nd pick in the draft had they not made the deal with the Browns for their sixth pick last year. At the 22nd pick, Atlanta would be in prime position to select between wide receivers Alshon Jeffery or Michael Floyd.
In 2011, Floyd caught 100 passes for 1,147 yards and nine touchdowns while Jeffrey caught 49 passes for 762 yards and eight touchdowns. Although Jeffery’s numbers may look bad, he has shown that he is worth the pick because of his 2010 performance where he caught 88 passes for 1,517 yards and nine touchdowns—he also played well in the Capital One Bowl in 2012 by catching four passes for 148 yards and one touchdown. Julio Jones posted similar numbers to Floyd's during his 2010 campaign where he caught 78 passes for 1,133 yards and nine touchdowns.
Similar to Jones, both Floyd and Jeffrey are full of talent and have very high ceilings of potential. Jones may have had a higher draft stock than Floyd and Jeffery, but the difference between Jones and the other two is not great enough to warrant such an uneven trade.
The Falcons would have likely seen similar success out of either Floyd or Jeffrey had they had the ability to draft either in the 2012 NFL Draft. Matt Ryan is one of the better quarterbacks in the league and he would have been able to develop a great relationship with either of the two. Ryan would help Floyd or Jeffrey grow into great receivers just like he is currently doing with Jones except it would have been without the expense of such necessary draft picks for Atlanta.
It was pretty obvious that the Falcons needed more help with their pass defense after being torched in the 2011 playoffs against the Packers, yet the dirty birds decided that it would be a better idea to trade up to draft another wide receiver instead of addressing what was really important to their success. Defense wins championships and giving up five key draft picks for one wide receiver is not a smart way to go about building a championship team.
Although trading for the chance to select Julio Jones seemed like a smart idea at the time, it now seems like the Falcons could have found similar value in the 2012 NFL Draft by addressing more important needs with the five draft picks they threw away.
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