As we witness those tedious weeks leading up the this year's draft slowly roll by, it also helps remembering that no one can truly determine the quality of a class until about two or three years down the road.
For all of the post-draft "grading" that pundits partake in right as Mr. Irrelevant is selected, we realize that it means almost nothing. Sure, trading up for Michael Vick was probably lauded in during the prime of his Atlanta career. In 2007, perhaps not so much.
On that note, we turn back our clocks to the first and only Falcons draft class spearheaded by Bobby Petrino, quitter extraordinaire! Let's dive in, shall we?
Round 1: DE Jamaal Anderson
Welcome to bust central. The pick made sense at the time: the Falcons had just let Patrick Kerney leave in free agency and needed a pass-rushing complement to John Abraham. But pressuring the QB was something Anderson simply could not do.
Even though his ability to play the run actually wasn't too bad, the former Razorback could only manage 4.5 sacks in four full seasons with the Falcons. Essentially, one sack per year. The ability to rush the passer was literally non-existent in his game.
The pick looks even worse when you consider some of the players still available when the Falcons picked, which include Patrick Willis and Darelle Revis. That's right, two of the best players at their position on the board and the Falcons took JA98.
Round 2: OG Justin Blalock
Petrino's second pick went far smoother. Blalock, a nice, big guard out of Texas, was exactly what the Falcons needed on their O-line. A mauler in the run game and able to hold his own against your average pass-rushing d-tackle, Blalock would spend most of his rookie year on the bench and then go on to start every game for the next four seasons.
He's probably the most balanced, consistent O-lineman in a Falcons uniform, and his quiet efficiency would earn a nice contract extension in 2010. Blalock has been a quality starter, and that is almost exactly what you'd expect out of a second-rounder.
Round 2: CB Chris Houston
I say "C" because his play exclusive to Atlanta was none too pleasant.
Though the potential was always there, for whatever reason Houston never quite lived up to expectations with the Falcons. Sometimes players take time to develop. Others simply need a change of scenery. But regardless, Houston's departure to Detroit would precede a breakout 2011 season from the Arkansas cornerback.
The real question here is whether Mike Smith's staff could develop him properly. Petrino and his crew obviously saw something in him that the Falcons didn't, and to be fair his play was consistently lacking. And yet somehow the Lions turned him into a Pro Bowler. Was it scheme? Coaching quality?
Whichever way you look at it, the Falcons gave away a good player and only got a sixth-round pick in return. Not too impressive.
Round 3: WR Laurent Robinson
Robinson is another case of a player who struggled in Atlanta, only to flourish somewhere else.
His rookie campaign under Petrino was, understandably, pretty productive, because he was intended to be pretty involved in the offense. 37 catches for 473 yards was not too shabby, considering the absolutely awful QB play (Joey Harrington, anyone?).
But Robinson would essentially disappear under Mike Mularkey. The Falcons would ship him off to the Rams for a draft pick, where he had two rather unproductive seasons, only to then watch as he amassed over 850 yards and 11 touchdowns as a Cowboy. In hindsight, this pick doesn't look half-bad.
Round 4: OLB Stephen Nicholas, TE Martrez Milner
Though it took a few years, the Falcons would eventually find a starter in Nicholas. While he won't really blow anyone away with speed or tackling ability, he's the definition of solid. A serviceable starter. He can get the job done without looking out of place.
Milner, the other fourth-rounder, was a little more disappointing, and wouldn't stick around much longer than Petrino.
Round 6: DT Trey Lewis, CB David Irons, C Doug Datish, S Daren Stone
The Falcons took four players in the sixth round, and exactly none panned out. While Lewis made his home on the team as a capable member of Mike Smith's d-line rotation for the next couple of years, none really lasted in the long term.
But these are sixth round picks, so can we really be that critical?
Round 7: RB Jason Snelling
Here's the definition of a great late-round pick. Snelling, who signed a three-year extension with the Falcons last month, is your ideal offensive utility man.
Hand the ball off, and he can run with power. Send him out on third downs, and he can catch the ball in the flat as well as anyone. Put him at fullback, and he'll block for you as well. Snelling does almost everything well, and brings a versatility to the table that not many backs can. All in all, an excellent pick.
UDFA: WR Eric Weems
Though it's easy to forget, Weems also came from the Petrino regime, making the team as an undrafted rookie wideout out of tiny Bethune-Cookman.
But wouldn't take long before he became the team's special teams ace. While with the team, he was a quality kick and punt returner, along with being probably the best kickoff coverage player on the roster. He even made the Pro Bowl in 2010.
Whichever way you look at it, Weems was a fantastic find.
Overall Grade: B
Despite Anderson casting himself as the ultimate bust, there were enough quality late-round picks in this class to really balance things out. Blalock and Nicholas ended up being solid selections, while Snelling and Weems were absolute gems that went unnoticed.
I think we can all agree that our hatred for Petrino will never really cool off. But honestly, his one and only draft class was pretty dang solid.
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