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Falcons Value Character Over Troubled Talent

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The Falcons passed on WR Dez Bryant of the Cowboys to select LB Sean Weatherspoon in the 2010 draft, one of several instances where character prevailed over talented troublemakers in Atlanta. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images.
The Falcons passed on WR Dez Bryant of the Cowboys to select LB Sean Weatherspoon in the 2010 draft, one of several instances where character prevailed over talented troublemakers in Atlanta. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images.

Since the beginning of the Atlanta Falcons era under GM Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith in 2008, the team has posted a 56-24 record. After having never posted back-to-back winning seasons in the first 42 years of the franchise, the Falcons have now put together five straight winning seasons. While drafting Matt Ryan has been a primary reason for the team’s success, the organization’s commitment to talent with character is an important factor as well.

Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells has often said that, “Dumb players make dumb plays. Smart players make fewer dumb plays.” Some teams in the NFL make it a regular practice to draft talented players with maturity and character issues. That is not the case with the Falcons, who have placed a higher priority on character and discipline. In 2012, the Falcons were the least penalized team in the NFL. Since 2008, they have been among the top five least penalized teams in four of the last five seasons.

Looking back at some of the Falcons previous drafts, one can see the emphasis on character in evaluating talent. Here are just a few examples:

2012

55th overall – Peter Konz – C – Wisconsin – Atlanta Falcons

56th overall – Mike Adams – T – Ohio State – Pittsburgh Steelers

The Falcons came into the 2012 draft looking for quality offensive linemen with their top pick in the second round. Talented Ohio State tackle Mike Adams was one of several players to test positive for marijuana at the NFL Scouting Combine. Atlanta bypassed Adams and selected offensive tackle Lamar Holmes in the third round.

2010

19th overall – Sean Weatherspoon – LB – Missouri – Atlanta Falcons

24th overall – Dez Bryant – WR – Oklahoma State – Dallas Cowboys

The Falcons took a game-breaking receiver in 2011 when they moved up to select Julio Jones in the first round. The year before, Atlanta chose to draft a solid linebacker rather than Dez Bryant, who dropped in the draft due to character issues at Oklahoma State. Bryant missed a majority of the college football season after having contact with an agent and having a questionable upbringing.

98th overall – Mike Johnson – G – Alabama – Atlanta Falcons

101st overall – Mike Williams – WR – Syracuse – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The most talented player on the board at this point in the draft was wide receiver Mike Williams of Syracuse. Williams’ stock dropped from the top of the draft after academic issues had him miss the 2008 season. He returned to play in seven games in 2009 before mysteriously quitting the team. Mike Johnson, while not as talented, will get another opportunity to start for the Falcons in 2013.

117th overall – Joe Hawley – C – UNLV – Atlanta Falcons

120th overall – Geno Atkins – DT – Georgia – Cincinnati Bengals

Joe Hawley is a backup in Atlanta. Geno Atkins is an all-pro level defensive tackle. Atkins' reputation for being unmotivated in his final years at Georgia caused some to question whether he was willing to put in the work in order to be a quality NFL player. Moving forward, the Bengals will have to decide if making Atkins wildly rich will help prove or disprove his draft day reputation.