It's not "The New England Way," but it's still OK for fans to be excited about a lethal Atlanta offense
First round draft picks are fun. High first round draft picks are awesome. We love college football, and we love hypothesizing how its biggest stars could fit into the NFL's best teams, not how they'd help usher in a rebuilding phase or balance depth on a roster.
No one marveled at Cam Newton's run through the SEC last season and exclaimed, "I can't wait to see him trying to win meaningless games on his own in Carolina!" No one unwraps a brand new copy of Madden, starts a franchise mode and squeals, "Dudes, let's consistently trade down to build depth, because that's AWESOME!" No one has FCS playoff viewing parties to scout that cornerstone interior lineman destined for a fifth round pick and minor local fame in a single market.
That's not fun. Fun is what your friends end up doing: starting a simulated video game season and trading the house for the best player possible. For years it was digital finagling to land Randy Moss in a bizarre uniform, then Michael Vick, then a passel of top flight running backs with short shelf lives. Julio Jones is, by any measure, potentially that next "cool" player you'd always want on your team, and in instances when you, the fan, have control (fantasy drafts, Xbox), you get him. He's fast, physical when blocking for the run, and if you've got a decent receiver opposite him, he loads your offense for bear.
In this era of vaunted parity and reverence of the "New England Model," it's not yet illegal to have fun with pro football, but in the eyes of most pundits it's something close to criminal. And since his arrival from the Patriots, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff has shied away from "fun," and Falcons fans numb from Vick have applauded politely.
In his first stab commanding a NFL Draft, he laid the groundwork for the current Atlanta rennaisance in one massive swoop: securing a franchise quarterback in Matt Ryan and then cherry picking the no-names that would become bonus point on a Wes Durham drinking game in seasons to come: Biermann, Lofton, Douglas, DeCoud. Then he spent two drafts in two years stocking the defense and the trench shifts (10 out of 14 picks in 2009-'10, and three of those offensive draftees were linemen).
After such a steady (an inarguably successful) build over three years, It's cool to have Julio Jones. It's fun to have him. The front office wanted to be more "explosive" (read: more fun) after the Green Bay loss, and this move provides exactly that. They felt they'd put together the base in every area that needs a "base" and wanted to craft a Moss-to-New-England type stunt (albeit a pricier, less insured version) get that first playoff win and more.
But right now the entire Atlanta Falcons fan base is numb to the excitement, muttering various swear words like "mortgage" and "bust" and "Aundray Bruce" and "Rankin Smith" and "Peerless Price," because three decades of never posting consecutive winning seasons is the bumper crop of so many magic beans before.
Or maybe because a decade ago, I spent the better part of two hours on a Playstation 2 trying to get Brett Favre back into a Falcons uniform. That's the inverse logic of fun - stupidity - and we've told ourselves that's the inescapable reality of being an Atlanta Falcons fan; even Dimitroff's crowning achievement of a 13-3 season in 2010 could be naysayed (48-21!! 0-2 in the playoffs! a defensive nightmare!) by a fan base conditioned for such catastrophes. At some point that default Falcons fan disposition might change, but it certainly hasn't yet.
Look at those champion Packers - from a macro viewpoint, outside of a Brett Favre storyline better suited for "E!"," they never registered a significant headline building their title team. Aaron Rodgers was very publicly rescued from a notable draft day implosion, and then, silence: In the six years following, Packers GM Ted Thompson took the expected approach of quietly building through the draft, only once making a notable reach - trading with those Patriots to get explosive linebacker Clay Matthews.
That's the kind of New England Way that sold Atlanta on Dimitroff. Blockbuster trades for potential busts (no knocking Julio - when five picks go for one guy, he's always going to be labeled a potential bust) could have been pulled off by any of the previously equally inept administrations running this franchise. And with injuries hampering the development of his last two first round picks (Peria Jerry and Sean Weatherspoon), Dimitroff hasn't built the infallible rep that his former bosses in Boston enjoy.
But the Patriots are the Patriots, and even in an imitator's league, they're impossible to completely replicate. The Falcons will eventually have to discover how to be The Falcons. Lost in the analyst soup of last night's coverage, ESPN's Marcellus Wiley pondered if the Falcons' front office were wary of becoming the next San Diego Chargers, "playing around and finding yourself close every year and then out of the playoffs."
That's steady. That's respectable. But that's not fun.
The second round of the 2011 NFL Draft starts at 6 p.m. (ET) on Friday, April 29, and SB Nation has everything you need to keep up with it: news, rumors, player profiles, scouting reports, the full NFL draft schedule, NFL mock drafts, draft projections and more. Check it all out at SB Nation's NFL Draft hub and our NFL Draft blog Mocking the Draft. For more Atlanta Falcons draft discussion, join The Falcoholic.