Lessons Learned from Atlanta Falcons', Thomas Dimitroff's 2012 Draft Strategy
No team was bolder in the 2011 draft than the Atlanta Falcons, trading five picks, including their 2011 and 2012 first-rounders to move up for wide receiver Julio Jones. The team still ended up being one and done in the playoffs for the third time in the Dimitroff/Smith/Ryan era. Dimitroff now had to approach the the 2012 draft without his first and fourth-round pick and still basically where he was coming into the 2011 season. How would he deploy his limited resources to try to take the next step?
There was one area that the Falcons felt the need to improve more than any other
The Falcons offensive line was somewhere between a liability and a disaster last year. Everyone remembers the Matt Ryan pick in 2008, but Dimitroff moved up for Sam Baker later in the first round, and the move has not yielded a stalwart left tackle. The right guard position was a mess "led" by Garrett Reynolds.
Atlanta wisely used its first two picks on center/guard Peter Konz and offensive tackle Lamar Holmes. This is an admission that while the team has become a consistent winner, it needs to improve the line to get past its first playoff game. It's rarely as simple as "fill your biggest need with your earliest picks" in the draft, but the Falcons did just that.
The Falcons mixed their approaches to addressing the offensive line
Not that Dimitroff didn't show a little nuance to his strategy. Peter Konz was projected as a first-rounder by some, being the No. 1 center on the board. It must have made the Falcons sweat bullets to see him fall close to their pick, but they lacked the ammunition to trade up for him when he ended up in their strike zone. Patience paid off, and they landed a player who can conceivably start at any of the three interior offensive line positions.
With the third-round pick, they took a project, Lamar Holmes of Southern Mississippi. He has the rare size/athleticism combination to play left tackle in the pros, but unlike Konz, he won't help right away. Mixing immediate gratification with long-term planning got the Falcons to this point, and it should at least keep them there for a while as long as Dimitroff varies his use of draft picks like this.
Dimitroff is thinking about the bottom line
It might seem outdated to take a fullback in the draft these days. The fifth-round pick used on Bradie Ewing means he was an elite fullback in the Falcons eyes. In addition to giving Atlanta a fullback who might be better-suited for a zone blocking running game and other variations on a straight-ahead power running game (not that Ewing can't excel there, too), Dimitroff saved the Falcons a ton of money with this move.
Former fullback Ovie Mughelli was cut in March, saving the team his three million dollar base salary this year, which happens to be more than 800,000 dollars greater than the value of Ewing's entire four-year contract. The Falcons were able to retain a lot of their free agents this year because of these kinds of personnel moves that are also savvy from a fiscal standpoint.
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