Too late or not? Falcons come back to Gurley after passing on him once

Here's a quick by the numbers look at the NFL career of former UGA running back Todd Gurley.

In the 12 drafts that Thomas Dimitroff has overseen for the Falcons, he has thrown 87 names against the wall, some of them sticking. These nominees came from precincts far and wide, from Oregon State to Yale, Miami to Montana.

That but two of them hailed from the school 45 miles away, the one whose color scheme inspired the Falcons’ own fashion, has always been a minor irritant to those partial to the Georgia Bulldogs, too.

They wonder what does this fellow with the electroshock hair and the highfalutin eyewear have against our lads, good and true? He has selected six from LSU, three from Clemson, three from Alabama and only two from a perfectly good football outlet mall nearby (linebacker Akeem Dent and running back Thomas Brown). What, did Uga get too friendly with his pants leg once?

(Georgia Tech people can gripe if they wish about the one Yellow Jacket – D-lineman Vance Walker – that Dimitroff picked with the Falcons' last choice of 2009).

When that topic came up during a recent conversation with the GM about preparing for this most unusual coming draft, Dimitroff went full debunk mode. For those who have complained about some deep anti-Bulldog bias, know that Dimitroff is not deaf – "Yeah, I've been hearing that," he said.

“It’s never been the case at all. I love watching the Georgia guys,” he said. “It’s so crazy, it just works out that way. We’re not dissuaded by a school or a system, necessarily. It’s sometimes how it all works, how it all plays out.”

One quite prominent Georgia man is set to join the team, if his hinges all pass muster. Some might suggest that it’s a little late. Some, those same people who howled on draft night 2015, will remind you that Todd Gurley was there for the taking many, many hard miles ago, back before his knees developed a bad reputation.

Come the eighth pick of that draft, the Falcons, fresh off a 6-10 season in which 31-year-old Stephen Jackson led the team in rushing (707 yards) and with young Devonta Freeman at understudy, were not thinking running back with that selection. Even if that back was one so obviously built to run for power and speed such as Gurley. Even if many among the local fan base would have given that pick a ticker-tape parade.

The Falcons took Vic Beasley, the pass-rusher good for one fabulous season with whom the team cut ties in February. The Los Angeles Rams took Gurley two picks later. Freeman would have the first of two 1,000-yard seasons for the Falcons in ’15. Gurley was the offensive rookie of the year, with 1,106 rushing yards, and would be the NFL’s offensive player of the year two years later.

Had the Falcons been tempted at all by the best of Todd Gurley five years ago, some of that might have been theirs.

“He was not in the conversation. We were not necessarily looking for a running back at that time,” Dimitroff said. “He was really high on our board, of course. You always look at that and think how can we get this done and still get the other player we’re looking at? In our minds we knew he was going to go somewhere else.”

He further explained the team’s thinking at the time: “In the back of our minds, some of us, you never know how this business goes, maybe there’d be an opportunity (to get Gurley, too). I know there was a lot of outcry about not taking him from the UGA fan base, and I get it, from the standpoint of having a guy stay who was that talented. We were definitely needs-driven, and to double-dip at that point was not necessarily where we needed to go because we had other needs.”

Current needs moved the Falcons to sign Gurley to a relatively low-risk, one-year free-agent deal in an attempt to boost a running game that finished 30th in the league last season. He comes with all the usual questions that surround a player of his caliber who just signed a one-year contract.

He’ll be one of the great intrigues whenever the Falcons play next, and he’ll always be measured against the player this team could have drafted five years ago. Such second-guessing does no practical good, but since when has practicality steered fan emotion?

And as for the belief that Dimitroff holds some grudge against the Georgia player, you can put that one away with so many other unfounded conspiracy theories. He eventually got around to Gurley, right? And he may wear glasses, but Dimitroff’s not so myopic that he couldn’t see any worthwhile player just because of the collegiate colors he wore.

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