I'll again point out that we reached mightily for Baker.
Baker was not a mighty reach. He was projected as a player taken in the top part of ROund 2 (picks 33-40) that we took at Pick 21. He was really no more than a reach of 12-15 spots, or half a round, which is not a mighty reach. On the other hand, Peria Jerry was a late 2nd round talent that was marginally a Top 50-60 talent that we took at Pick 23, which was a reach of 25-30 spots, i.e. a full round.
The issue with Baker was not his initial selection. Although hindsight tells us that Duane Brown has become a much better player. But that choice of Baker over Brown makes perfect sense given that Baker was universally hailed to be more NFL ready coming out of USC and having played LT for 4 years there. Brown OTOH spent his first 2 years at Virginia Tech as a TE, then moved to RT as a junior, and only started at LT for a single season (his senior year). Brown was the more athletic of the two, but much rawer. And despite his current success, people probably forget that Brown was widely considered a liability his first 2 or so years in Houston, as Dwight Freeney famously abused him in all those games where the Texans got stomped by Manning and the Colts.
The "mistake" with Baker really wasn't his selection. There was a run on tackles. Gosder Cherilus went off the board 4-5 picks too early, when they took him at 17, which forced Carolina to take Otah at 19. Forcing the Falcons to move up from 34, where they initially were likely planning on taking Baker to 21.
But again the mistake for Baker was after the 2010 season it was very clear that Baker was not a fit in the man-blocking scheme employed by Mike Mularkey, and never would be. He played exclusively in a Gibbs-style zone blocking scheme at USC. Bakerl acked size, power, and strength to really push the pile, as a run blocker. And despite 2 injury-plagued seasons in 2008 and 2009 that led to struggles, he was completely healthy in 2010 and was no better a player. At that point at the outset of 2011, IMHO the Falcons should have started to make plays to move on without him. He and Blalock were both the weaker aspect of that OL on the left side, while Dahl & Clabo were the strength. The Falcons should have been willing to blow up the left side of their line at that point. Instead, they went in the total opposite direction, and invested it in, and ultimately decided that within 2 years to blow up the right side. This weakened the entire unit (because they no longer had a strength). Baker & Blalock are better than they were, but marginally. And certainly not $80 million (their combined contracts) better.
In 2011, had they not traded up to get Julio JOnes, they could have taken Gabe Carimi at the end of Round 1. Yes, Carimi has struggled in his NFL career, thanks in part to injuries as well. But Carimi is a very good run blocker, and unlike Baker has the potential to play multiple positions, meaning that if he had failed at one spot he could be moved to another. There has long been the belief that Baker could be moved to RT and the Falcons OL would be improved or at least not suffer for it. I disagree with this belief.
Had they kept their 2012 pick from the Jones trade, they could have drafted Riley Rieff or David DeCastro, currently starting for the Lions at LT, and Steelers at RG respectively. Or even Kevin Zeitler if they were so inclined, who is the Bengals starting RG.
I don't want to get into the should they or shouldn't they aspect of the Jones trade, just pointing out that I think there is a strong evidence that the weakness of the O-line was a trade-off of making that move. There are consequences to every personnel move, even good ones.
But instead the Falcons opted to overpay Baker. And basically locked themselves into Baker for another 3-4 years, when his performance over the past 5 years indicated that at most he was deserving of 2. The Falcons basically had 3 off-seasons to rid themselves of the "reach" and opted not to. I think that is going to hurt them. Let's hope the Sam Baker we see the rest of the season is the 2012 version of him, which was serviceable to good most of the year, as opposed to the previous versions of him.