Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Recent history.
In general manager Thomas Dimitroff’s first draft in 2008, the Falcons went almost exclusively with offense, mainly because they wanted to build around quarterback Matt Ryan and left tackle Sam Baker. That draft was a huge success and it helped the Falcons build a solid offensive core. Last year, Dimitroff switched over almost entirely to defense. The jury is still out on that class because defensive tackle Peria Jerry and safety William Moore missed almost all of their rookie seasons with injuries. But both will be back and will fill defensive needs. The products of the last two drafts mean the Falcons are now in a situation in which they can go any way they want. Dimitroff doesn’t mess around and talk about “the best player available." He admits the Falcons draft on need. They’ve narrowed their needs this year. Although defensive end and linebacker currently top that list, the Falcons no longer need to spend the whole draft on one side of the ball.
In recent years, the Panthers have been very daring in the draft. Two years ago, they traded back up into the first round to get tackle Jeff Otah, after already landing running back Jonathan Stewart. That cost them a 2009 first-round pick, but they still traded up in last year’s second round to get defensive end Everette Brown. That cost them this year’s first-round pick and they won’t be picking until the second round -- at least as of now. The last couple of years have shown general manager Marty Hurney is willing to take big chances. After an offseason purge of veterans, the Panthers suddenly have a lot of needs all over the place. Hurney’s demonstrated a recent willingness to trade up and that certainly could come in handy this year. But the problem is the Panthers don’t have a lot of currency to move up.
Mickey Loomis is another general manager who doesn’t try to make you believe he’s only looking for the best player available. Recent history has shown Loomis makes sure he gets what his team needs, even when it’s not always the most popular pick. Take last year’s trade up in the fifth round to get punter Thomas Morstead. Fans griped, right up until Morstead began having one of the best rookie years ever by a punter. The last two first-round picks, Sedrick Ellis and Malcolm Jenkins, were made based solely on need. Loomis had his hands tied last year with only four draft picks, mainly because of the trades he made for Jeremy Shockey and Jonathan Vilma and two draft choices were injured before the season ever started. Loomis has a pretty full complement of picks this year and, although the Saints are the champions, they still have needs. Nothing major, but last year showed the importance of depth and Loomis will make sure the Saints add depth in their areas of need.
We’re talking about two different regimes here. Mark Dominik and Raheem Morris took over last year and Bruce Allen and Jon Gruden were calling the shots before that. These two regimes demonstrated two very different styles. Allen and Gruden were all about winning now and they did plenty of patchwork with veterans and didn’t have great drafts. Gaines Adams, the top pick in 2007, didn’t work out, but 2008 first-round choice Aqib Talib has shown promise. Allen and Gruden also left their successors with a bunch of young offensive linemen, although that group was a little disappointing. Dominik and Morris value the draft more highly than their predecessors and they’re proud of the fact they’ve accumulated 10 picks for this year. They believe in building through the draft and they started that process last year by getting Josh Freeman who they believe is a franchise quarterback. He’s in place and the challenge now is to build around him.