The Atlanta Falcons' 2011 NFL Draft pick of Julio Jones is the most controversial personnel move the team has made since ... ever? The 2000 trade for Michael Vick was a big deal, but only involved a couple picks, and the 2008 selection of Matt Ryan over Glenn Dorsey was only Code Yellow risky compared to this one*.
But some Atlanta sports commentators aren't quite so concerned about all those draft picks the Falcons gave up to get Jones.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Jeff Schultz and Mark Bradley both wrote stories Monday in support of the Jones pick. While I think I sort of semi-mostly am on board-ish (HELP) with the Jones trade despite the staggering cost, Schultz and Bradley focus on the prize itself: how big of an impact Jones will make in the team's lineup. The potential is exciting, and we all hope the Alabama Crimson Tide star can make Thomas Dimitroff look like a genius instead of becoming another Troy Williamson**.
But when Bradley writes, "Know who they'd have drafted had they kept the 27th pick? Gabe Carimi," he's overlooking that a Julio-less 2011 class wouldn't include just a hypothetical Carimi -- a player who, by the way, could certainly challenge for a starting job as Matt Ryan's protector. It would also include a second-rounder such as big, playmaking UNC WR Greg Little, the player who went No. 27 in the second, or maybe UGA's Justin Houston. And a fourth-rounder as well; I'd take likable Arkansas TE D.J. Williams among those who were available in the second 2011 spot Atlanta gave up.
Plus those two other 2012 picks, one of them a first. So the choice isn't Jones vs. Carimi, it's Jones vs. Carimi and four other players. Four!
Schultz gets his stats on to show that the Falcons offense will benefit from adding Jones. Of course it will, provided he offers even a bare minimum effort. So what if the team used all five of those picks to build its offense? There were explosive players available at No. 27 -- there are still explosive players available in the UDFA crop. The Saints, Colts, Eagles and Packers have explosive arsenals that aren't exactly packed with top-10 picks.
Bradley acknowledges that the Falcons gave up a lot, but adds the caveat "on paper." That's some pretty substantial paper, especially if disaster strikes and the Falcons have to give up a top-15 pick.
Jones could become the best player in Falcons history. He could become Atlanta's first Super Bowl MVP and first lifer to make the Hall of Fame. If so, nobody will remember those lost draft picks. But if this team has a losing record at any point in the next four years or so or doesn't help win a NFC Championship, Julio is going to be held against Dimitroff for the rest of his football career, whether that's fair or not -- think Mike Ditka doesn't still hear about Ricky Williams?
* - Little-known fact: Deion Sanders was actually the Falcons' first-ever draft pick. Until the late-'80s, the team's roster was composed entirely of wayward members of the Allman Brothers Band.
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