When I found out, I was sitting at a bar watching game six of the Hawks/Magic playoff series. From my vantage point, I couldn't see the TV that was broadcasting the NFL Draft, but I figured I could always check the results later, as there was an actual game on just then which demanded more attention. One of the guys watching the draft wandered past me and, seeing my Braves hat, correctly surmised where my loyalties lay, leading to the following exchange:
"Hey man, you a Falcons fan?"
"Did you see what Atlanta did in the first round? It was crazy!"
(Uh oh ... rumors about Atlanta moving up from their pick at 27 to snag a top receiver had been circling around for a few days, but no one thought they'd be willing to make the necessary sacrifice to get a high enough pick to pull it off. Also, our biggest needs were on the defensive side of the ball. Everyone kind of figured it was smoke and mirrors.)
"Don't tell me they actually traded up for a wideout."
"Yeah, they did."
"Did we get A.J. Green?"
"Nope, Julio Jones."
(After a pause while I let that sink in): "What did we give up?"
"Five picks. First, second, and fourth this year, and your first and fourth next year."
"Are you messing with me?"
If it was A.J. Green, yeah, we make that move. Sign me up. But Green was already off the board, and this ... I just don't know. Alabama receiver Julio Jones is, to be sure, a very good football player. If we line him up opposite Roddy White next year, thus freeing up the middle for T-Gonz and preventing opponents from stacking the box against the run, we're going to give defensive coordinators fits. Throw Michael Jenkins into the equation, and we have loads of capable targets all over the field. Jones can't flat-out fly, but he's more than fast enough to keep opposing safeties honest, physical enough to get open underneath, and should also be useful in play-action. All of this is fact. On paper. That's if Jones can play well at the next level, if he doesn't get hurt, and if he can develop a good rapport with Matt Ryan. And we coughed up most of this year's draft and two picks next year to make that gamble? What about the fact that we could really use another good corner, or a true pass-rushing DE, or some help at OLB, or that some of our guys on both O- and D-line are getting up there in years and it would be prudent to replace them sooner rather than later? Instead of addressing any of these concerns we went out and got Matty Ice a new toy; an elite college receiver, a guy with great upside but also the potential, given how much we sacrificed to acquire him, to be a mammoth bust. There are only two possible explanations for this:
1. The Falcons are trying to become the NFL equivalent of the mid-2000's Phoenix Suns.
2. Maybe Atlanta's brain trust knows something we don't, or at the very least they have their eyes on some definitive options to fill those needs when we get around to free agency.
In Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith we trust ... I think. They haven't steered us wrong yet, and I suppose we probably did need another offensive weapon to counteract the Saints' drafting of Mark Ingram. Which, by the way, was a downright terrifying pick for the rest of the NFC South to behold. I watched a lot of Ingram last year and he is, as they say, a GROWN MAN. The more offensive firepower we can muster against our biggest in-division threat, the better. Still, if we don't shore up some of our defensive positions before game one's kickoff, this could be a long season.
As for the rest of the draft, I think the Falcons acquitted themselves very nicely. Akeem Dent and Cliff Matthews likely won't be stars on the defensive line, but they give us some nice depth and should be able to spell the starters for stretches. Guard Andrew Jackson (yeah, we drafted a president, what?) is also a decent pickup. I honestly know nothing about punter Matt Bosher firsthand, but scouting reports say he's competent, and you can't ask much more from a guy who plays the game with his leg.
I saved my favorite draft acquisition for last. There couldn't have been a happier fan on earth than myself when we drafted Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers. Sometime in November, my buddy Chris and I were randomly watching an Oregon State game, and the first thing I saw was this tiny back just burning through the defense. He had a hell of a game, a whirl of firecracker speed and heart and grind, and that decided me: I was keeping tabs on Jacquizz Rodgers and praying the Falcons would draft him. Wish granted, and the guy's got legitimate cred: 2008 Pac-10 Offensive Player Of The Year, and second in Pac-10 rushing yards that season to Jhavid Best. He'll make a fantastic change-of-pace back alongside Michael Turner and Jason Snelling, and should be fairly productive for us.
Overall, it wasn't a bad draft, but it really does hinge on free agency solving our defensive issues, the massive caveat that Jones can meet the lofty expectations we apparently have for him. In roulette, the betting options are red and black. Falcons colors. Atlanta laid a bundle of chips down on Julio Jones, and as Bob Dylan would say, "the wheel's still in spin." Let's just hope the ball is in the right slot when it stops.