Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: decision-makers.
Make no mistake, general manager Thomas Dimitroff is the man running the draft room in Atlanta. He comes with a heavy personnel background from his days as a scout with the New England Patriots and this is the time of year he enjoys most. Dimitroff has a good working relationship with coach Mike Smith and the two often watch film together. That gives Dimitroff a strong feel for what his coach wants in players. So far, this arrangement has worked very well, with the Falcons producing winning records in each of the three seasons Dimitroff and Smith have been together. One last thing on Dimitroff -- he’s not a dictator. He values the opinions of those around him and that includes more people than you’d expect. Even though the Falcons were almost certain they were going to take quarterback Matt Ryan in 2008, Dimitroff was asking an Atlanta staffer who was at some of the pre-draft media events in New York for updates on the quarterback’s demeanor.
In the early years of the regime of coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney, there was a lot of talk about them running an equal partnership, and that was very true. But Fox is gone and Ron Rivera is in his place. Even before Fox left, the partnership stopped being equal. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment, but Hurney has been calling the draft shots for at least a couple of years. That was extremely evident last year when the Panthers used a second-round pick on Jimmy Clausen, a quarterback Fox wanted no part of. Rivera and his coaching staff will have input and college scouting director Don Gregory is an important cog. But more than ever, Hurney is the person running the draft in Carolina.
General manager Mickey Loomis isn’t a real public person and that probably prevents him from getting the full recognition he deserves. He and coach Sean Payton are very much in this together and their track record has been very impressive. Loomis is at his best as an administrator. He knows what Payton and his staff are looking for and he matches up that knowledge with what his scouts give him. Anybody can hit on first-round picks, but the Saints have had some big success in the middle (Jahri Evans and Jimmy Graham) and later (Marques Colston) rounds. That’s the mark of a machine that’s working well.
Mark Dominik is the general manager and he prides himself on being a person who carries (the best) parts of people like Rich McKay, Jerry Angelo, Tim Ruskell, Bruce Allen, Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden in his thinking. So far, it has worked out pretty well. In his first draft, Dominik landed Josh Freeman, who has turned out to be the first true franchise quarterback this team has ever had. Amid a lot of distractions, Dominik never has taken his eye off the fact that the Bucs are building everything around Freeman. Coach Raheem Morris and scouting director Dennis Hickey play big roles in the process, but you started to see Dominik’s blueprint take hold last season when the Bucs went 10-6.