Atlanta Falcons: 15 best first-round picks of all-time

Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images) /
1 of 16
Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

The Atlanta Falcons have made some outstanding first-round selections in their NFL Draft history. Here are their 15 best first-round picks of all-time.

It’s that time of the year again. The NFL Draft is upon us with all 32 teams aiming to build a better team. The Atlanta Falcons are no different. After making the NFC playoffs in back-to-back seasons in 2016 and 2017, Atlanta stumbled into a disappointing 7-9 campaign in 2018.

Injuries were clearly an issue, but if there is a positive besides a potential return to good health, it is that the Dirty Birds should have a great opportunity to land an excellent collegiate player picking at No. 14. This is an NFL Draft deep in offensive and defensive line talent, as well as capable playmakers in the secondary. Atlanta has needs in all three departments heading into 2019.

Given that the Falcons have almost no cap space to work with in NFL free agency, it really means two things for Atlanta entering the upcoming draft. The first is more obvious in that the Falcons will need to take advantage of their nine picks available to them this spring. The other is not as obvious, but admittedly, a very good problem to have.

Typically, when a team lacks ample cap space heading into free agency, it means that franchise has made plenty of outstanding draft-day decisions in the few years prior. It’s not a perfect correlation, as a foolish organization could have thrown a ton of money at mid-tier lackluster free agents over the same time span. Fortunately for the Falcons and their fan base, that is not the case.

Since general manager Thomas Dimitroff left the New England Patriots to take over for team president Rich McKay in 2008, Atlanta has made several incredible picks, especially in the first round. Dimitroff has had his issues in later rounds, but almost never whiffs on a Thursday in the NFL Draft.

Often times, he’ll be bold enough to move up to get his guy. This goes against the trend of NFL general managers normally wanting to move back to accumulate assets, unless they are in need of a franchise quarterback. In that case, said general manager will go all-in to draft the cornerstone signal-caller who he’ll attach his NFL livelihood to.

Dimitroff, however, has moved up at least three times in the last decade to move up and get a non-quarterback he likes. He went up to No. 6 to draft wide receiver Julio Jones out of Alabama in a 2011 deal with the Cleveland Browns.

Dimitroff called up his former mentee Les Snead with the then-St. Louis Rams to move up to No. 22 to take Washington cornerback Desmond Trufant back in 2013.

Then in 2017 after a run to the Super Bowl, Dimitroff moved up again to draft UCLA defensive end Takkarist McKinley in a draft-day trade with the Seattle Seahawks. Who could ever forget McKinley bringing a photo of his late grandmother up on the stage to shake NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s hand?

But even before Dimitroff arrived in Flowery Branch, Atlanta has had a strong history of nailing its picks in the first round. Atlanta seems to have drafted Pro Bowler after Pro Bowler with its first-round selections. Without further ado, here are the 15 best first-round picks in the history of the Falcons professional football franchise.

Honorable Mentions: Sam Baker, T.J. Duckett, DeAngelo Hall, Patrick Kearney, Jake Matthews, Chris Miller, Junior Miller, Keanu Neal, Sean Weatherspoon, Bob Whitfield