I'm not suggesting just because you draft a guy high means he's going to automatically be a good player. Just saying that if you want a good player at a position, it is a better strategy to draft him higher. That isn't rocket science. At the end of the day, you have to draft good players regardless of when you take them.
Teams that typically draft well over time consistently knock it out the park with their 1st and 2nd round picks, then occasionally stumble upon a 3rd or 4th rounder that plays like a 1st or 2nd rounder, and then every now and then can turn a 5th-7th rounder into a 3rd/4th round guy (i.e. solid starter). You do that over the long haul, and you're going to build a pretty good team.
Obviously, one of the big issues with TD has been the amount of 1st/2nd round picks that the team has given up. And obviously you can't knock it out of the park with those picks when you don't have them. They gave up a #2 for Tony, and a #1 and #2 for Julio. Now we can debate over and over whether those moves were smart ones. They certainly benefited us in the short-term (2009-12), but long-term probably hurt us, and we will be spending much of the upcoming offseasons trying to replace that talent. And of course, the thing I'm sure we can all agree on regardless of where we fall on those trades being worth it, if you're going to give up those premium picks then you have to do a good job drafting with the 3rd-7th round picks that you do retain. And that is really where TD has failed.
Coupled with this team's inability to hit on recent FA signings (Robinson, Edwards, Manuwai, Tatupu, Jackson, Osi, etc.) it's a perfect storm of suck.
The 4 pillar positions in the league are QB, LT, edge pass rusher, and CB. Those are the positions that there is the biggest premium on. They get drafted the highest year in and year out, and they get paid the most money. Now, QB is obviously higher than the rest. And I'm of the belief that if you have a elite shutdown cornerback like Sherman, Revis, or Peterson, then he is worth just as much as any dominant edge rusher like Peppers, Freeney, Ware, or Suggs. The "5th wheel" to that group is probably DT, which to paraphrase Jimmy Johnson who basically said that a dominant pass-rusher at that spot is more valuable than anything else on defense. The problem of course is that those players are much more rare than the edge guys, but explains why there was so much put on guys like Suh, McCoy, Dorsey, and Dareus in recent years.
I think LT of those 4 spots is probably the least important. The correlation between teams that win at highest levels and having good players at QB, DE/OLB, DT, and/or CB is typically going to be high, but is not nearly as high when it comes to LT. The fact that David Diehl, Jonathan Scott, Charlie Johnson, and Mike Gandy have been starting LTs for Super Bowl teams in recent years suggests that.
If you're a team helmed by a QB that has a tendency to hold onto the ball a long time (see Russell Wilson, Joe Flacco, Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Newton), then having a good LT is probably a smart move. But if you're helmed by a QB that gets rid of the ball quickly (see Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan), then the need for a top-notch LT is much lower. Hell, Brady didn't really have one either for most of his career. Matt Light is revered, but by and large was average to above average throughout his career (basically a rich man's Sam Baker).
And that goes back to another key point I've made in the past, is that self-evaluation is key. You have to know who and what you are. And it's the hardest and most difficult aspect of the "process" of team-building.
A lot of those goes back to issues of identity that we've discussed quite a bit on this forum over recent years. And this is another aspect that I think needs to change for the better as we move forward.
Ultimately you have to ask yourself, "What is the Super Bowl-winning Team that is helmed by Matt Ryan going to look like?" And whatever that answer is, as the GM that has to be your singular mindset. And if you come across a player that isn't fitting into that picture, then you move on. And I think another criticism of TD is that the Falcons have been slow to do that because they are all about "development" yet it isn't reaping the benefits quite like they suggest it is/should be doing.
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