But for , the engineer of the boldest player transaction in an off-season filled with them, the notion of paying a king’s ransom for one college player who was not the consensus leading pick at his position began brewing soon after Atlanta hired him.
Dimitroff, 45, caught wind of wide receiver Julio Jones in 2008, when he was the Southeastern Conference freshman of the year at Alabama. In time, he grew smitten with Jones’s skills, admiring of his grit, blown away by his humble nature.
“The fact that he was as talented as he was on the field, sans the diva qualities you sometimes have at that position, was very attractive to this organization,” Dimitroff, who has 22 years in player evaluation, five as the director of scouting with the New England Patriots, said last week.
As the approached, with the Falcons picking 27th, Dimitroff began calculating the cost of taking an unprecedented leap toward the front of the line to select Jones. This year’s first-round pick, he figured. Ka-ching. Next year’s, too. Ka-ching. Probably a No. 2. Ka-ching. Some likely middle-rounders.
“We got our heads around it quite quickly, after the initial sticker shock wore off,” he said.
Dimitroff dug into the N.F.L. archives, which reminded him that a one-for-many trade carries risks that can rise to embarrassment. There was the Great Train Robbery of 1989, which involved 18 players but boiled down to Minnesota’s sacrificing eight draft choices to the .
“It eased my mind when we looked at our compensation package and I thought, ‘Ah, ours isn’t that bad,’ ”Dimitroff said.
Ten years later, New Orleans Coach Mike Ditka concocted a swap of all six of that year’s draft picks for the experienced Ricky Williams. The Saints promptly went 3-13 and Ditka was fired, along with his entire staff and the general manager.
A more comparable exchange, at the 2004 draft, sent Eli Manning to the Giants from San Diego for four draft picks.
The Falcons also were undeterred by the foot surgery Jones had in March, by the sketchy legacy of first-round receivers or by the implied advice against a move from a numerical guideline.
The computer-based Trade Value Chart assigns a points total to each spot in the draft. (Example: No. 1 over all is 3,000, No. 32 is 590.) It allows general managers to comparison-shop. Some ignore it. Dimitroff does not. Ultimately, the numbers did not favor the Falcons, but the difference was within a range he found acceptable.
Then there were various analyses, combining statistics and subjectivity, that concluded that waiting until later rounds for receivers is the wiser course. Some cited the Detroit Lions, with one of four receiver draftees in a five-year span panning out. Others reached back to the last quarter of the 20th century, when the Cincinnati Bengals spun the wheel six times on first-round wideouts.
Dimitroff processed the data, sniffed and assembled the package to offer. “We all took a deep breath in saying: ‘This is significant. Let’s make sure we’re doing the right thing,’ ” he said, meaning Coach Mike Smith and the owner Arthur Blank.
They found a suitor in the Cleveland Browns, who were sixth in the draft, and parted with five picks, including two fourth-rounders.
Research had determined that fewer than half of N.F.L. fourth-rounders in the previous five years had been activated for a game.
The Falcons’ daring reflected the here-and-now philosophy of a team that craves another outlet for quarterback Matt Ryan, Dimitroff’s other heavily scrutinized draft-day call.
“We have thought for the last three years that we’d love to have a 1 and a 1-A receiver, not a 1 and a 2” that characterized the Falcons squads, he said.
Jones was not apprised of the steep price he bore until news media interviews the night of the draft. His first thought, as he recalled this week: “They really want me.”
Jones is trying to tamp down expectations that accompany someone who prompted Dimitroff to “bet the farm” on him, as one analyst wrote.
“I’m human,” said Jones, no shrinking violet to contact, which leads to his theory why many first-round receivers flop.
“Guys ain’t used to hitting and getting hit,” he said. “Some can’t really handle that.”