Heading into this year’s draft, the overall consensus was that the Falcons would use their first round pick (No. 27 overall) on defense after they gave up 48 points in an embarrassing divisional round playoff loss to the Packers last January.
But that ugly showing inside the Georgia Dome that night must have showed GM Thomas Dimitroff that he had a more pressing need than defense. One that facilitated the biggest trade so far at the 2011 NFL draft.
It was apparent in the Falcons’ loss to the Packers that they didn’t have another receiver opposite Roddy White to stretch the defense. In fact, the Falcons had an issue all season in gaining yards after the catch. Tight end Tony Gonzalez is still productive, but he’s lost a step over the years. Michael Jenkins comes up with a couple of clutch receptions every season and is a solid blocker in the run game (an important skill in Atlanta‘s offense), but he doesn’t threaten defenses with his speed. Slot receiver Harry Douglas does have good speed, but he’s been slow to recover from a knee injury that he suffered in training camp in 2010.
So Dimitroff packaged five picks (including his 2012 first-round selection) in order to move all the way up to No. 6 (which was the Browns’ original pick) in order to select Alabama receiver Julio Jones in the first round on Thursday night. Jones is the ultimate blue-chip prospect. He can break tackles, make plays after the catch and yes, stretch defenses vertically. Assuming Jones isn’t a bust in the making, defenses won’t be able to double-team White, and Matt Ryan now has even more weapons at his disposal.
In other words, Jones is exactly what Dimitroff knew the Falcons needed the night the Packers took it to them in January. (Not that they would have won either way — Green Bay was on a mission last year.)
Granted, it cost Dimitroff a small fortune in picks in order to get up to No. 6. This is the type of trade that could wind up setting the Falcons back for years if Jones doesn’t pan out. And hey, the Packers also showed that Atlanta has a massive need for another pass rusher and a reliable nickel back.
But keep in mind that the Falcons are built to win now and Jones makes an already dangerous offense even more potent (assuming he develops, of course). Yes, it was a lot to give up for one player — probably too much, in fact. But give Dimitroff credit for having the cajones to make a bold move like this. If it pays off, it could be one of those decisions that we look back and say, “This team doesn’t reach the Super Bowl if Dimitroff stays at No. 27 that year.”
Dimitroff’s work isn’t done. A team doesn’t give up 48 points in a home playoff game without having some major holes defensively. But assuming the lockout eventually ends, Dimitroff still has an entire free agency period to address the Falcons’ other needs. And it’s not like he has ignored that side of the ball; he’s spent the last three offseasons adding Curtis Lofton, Sean Weatherspoon, Peria Jerry, William Moore and Dunta Robinson. You don't get to be a two-time NFL Executive of the Year like Dimitroff without having a game plan.
The game plan on Thursday night was to try and ensure that there isn’t a repeat of that playoff loss to Green Bay.