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Top 10 Atlanta Falcons in NFL History
They've had their share of success and misfortune. Today I rank the top 10 Atlanta Falcons of all time.
The Falcons joined the NFL in 1965 as an expansion team, after the NFL offered then-owner Rankin Smith a franchise to keep him from joining the rival American Football League. In their 48 years of existence, the Falcons have compiled a record of 316–414–6 with division championships in five of those seasons and their only Super Bowl appearance in 1998.
For this list, I take into account career success, their importance to the franchise, and Hall of Fame status.
10. Tommy Nobis
Unless you're a die hard Falcons fan, you probably don't remember Tommy Nobis. And that's not how it should be.
You can't underestimate what Tommy Nobis means to the Atlanta Falcons. He was their first ever draft pick, their first Hall of Fame-type player, first Rookie of the Year, first everything. The man compiled 294 tackles in his rookie season and it is still the all-time NFL record. You can't exaggerate his contributions to the franchise he played 11 years for. Where as a team like the Saints had to suffer for decades with retreads and guys on their way out of football, at least Atlanta had Nobis. E was the 1966 defensive rookie of the year, made five pro bowls, and his #60 has since been retired by Atlanta
When Norm Van Brocklin coached the Falcons he once gestured towards Nobis' locker and said to a reporter, "that's where our football team dresses." That's the sort of thing written for B-movies, not reality, but during his tenure in Atlanta, that could truly be said about Mr. Nobis. The fact that he played for the expansion Falcons should not diminish his chances as a Hall of Famer.
9. Keith Brooking
He helped make the Falcons defense relevant in the 2000's.
As a rookie in 1998, Brooking helped Atlanta reach its first Super Bowl. Sure, Deion Sanders' flash gets a lot of attention and Tommy Nobis is the franchise's Moses, but Keith Brooking manned the interior of the Atlanta defense in times both good and bad. Obviously he couldn't be everywhere at once, but Brooking in the middle the Falcons at least had a chance, even in years where they were terrible.
Brooking left for Dallas after 2008 making five pro bowls and two All-Pro teams with Atlanta. While with the team he was always towards the top in the team lead in tackles averaging over 100 tackles a season in his 11 years with the Falcons.
8. Jamal Anderson
He was the cornerstone for Atlanta's Super Bowl run.
A seventh round draft pick in 1994, Jamal Anderson quickly gained the starting job. In 1998, he led the NFC in rushing with over 1,800 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. Anderson was well known for his "Dirty Bird" touchdown celebration, in which he flapped his arms as if they were wings and gyrated in the crowd's direction. The dance has been widely copied by other Falcons players.
Anderson played eight seasons with the Falcons and amassed 5,336 rushing yards, 156 receptions for 1,645 yards, and 41 touchdowns before he suffered what became a career-ending tear of his ACL in 2001. He will always be remembered for being a key to Atlanta's offense in the late 90's.
7. Steve Bartkowski
With the play of Matt Ryan in recent years, many fans forget about Bartkowski.
Sure, the Falcons could have drafted Walter Payton instead, but franchise quarterbacks don't grow on trees and that's exactly what Steve Bartkowski was in his prime. He's one of only nine players to throw for 30 or more touchdowns in consecutive seasons, went to two Pro Bowls, and led the league in passing in 1983. For a team that hadn't won squat, having a guy like him under center gave the franchise legitimacy and made them dangerous. Go back and watch old film of the Falcons from 1979 to 1983 and you'll see a supremely gifted quarterback who still holds almost every Atlanta team passing record.
Okay , he didn't get the Falcons to the promised land, but for a couple of years in the early 80's he helped put the Falcons in the discussion for pre-season Super Bowl favorites.
6. Roddy White
He's quietly has had one of the most productive career's in Falcons history.
A first round pick in 2005, Roddy White was an instant starter. While playing relatively quiet in his first three years, White broke out with the addition of Matt Ryan in 2008. He would go on to make four straight pro bowls and lead the NFC in receiving yards in 2010. In his nine years with Atlanta, he has amassed nearly 700 receptions, over 9,000 receiving yards, and 55 touchdowns.
White is Atlanta's all time leader in receiving yards and receptions. He also holds team records for most seasons with at least 1,000 receiving yards and most receiving yards in a game.
5. Claude Humphrey
If Atlanta would have had a decent offense in the 70's, Claude Humphrey would have made the Hall of Fame sooner.
A first round pick in 1968, Humphrey was a revolutionary pass rushing defensive lineman who paved the way for guys like Reggie White, Bruce Smith, and Michael Strahan. He was named the defensive rookie of the year and went on to produce many stellar seasons. In his 13 seasons, he recorded 126.5 sacks and two safeties.
He spent his final seasons in Philadelphia where he played in Super Bowl XV. Humphrey finished his career as an eight time All-Pro and a six rime pro bowler.
4. Matt Ryan
He isn't nicknamed "Matty Ice" for nothing.
After the Mike Vick scandal, the Falcons selected Ryan in the first round in 2008. In his first regular season game, Ryan completed his first NFL pass for a 62-yard touchdown to Michael Jenkins and was named the offensive rookie of the year. In 2012, he led the Falcons to the NFC Championship game for the first time since 2005. In his six seasons with the team, he has already become the franchise's all time leader in passing yards. Ryan also holds Falcons single season records for completions, attempts, passing yards, and touchdowns.
Ryan gas made two pro bowls in his six seasons in Atlanta. He has thrown for over 23,000 passing yards and 157 touchdowns in that time.
3. Jeff Van Note
When people think of the great centers in league history, Jeff Van Now's name doesn't come to mind.
Van Note was drafted as a linebacker by the Falcons in the 11th round of the 1969 draft. He was soon moved to center by head coach Norm Van Brocklin. Despite his modest draft status and lack of experience at the position, Van Note established himself as one of the finest centers in the NFL, making six Pro Bowls and helping the young Atlanta franchise to some of the greatest seasons in team history. His 18-year tenure with the Falcons is one of the 25 longest in NFL history and is the second longest while staying with the same team.
He played in 246 games over this stretch, and his 225 games started as a Falcon is second in team history to Mike Kenn. Van Note missed a mere four games in his entire NFL career.
2. Mike Kenn
One of the most forgotten tackles ever to play is the best lineman ever to play in Atlanta.
If you draft a tackle in the first round, it's with the hopes that he will man the position for at least 15 years without fail. Mike Kenn did that and then some. For 17 years he was a mainstay on the Falcons offensive line starting all 251 games he played in setting franchise records in starts and games played. He went to the Pro Bowl five years in a row and was named first team All Pro three times.
His play wasn't flashy, just strong and reliable like the foundation of your house. If he had played on a more talented team, Kenn would be seen as a Hall of Famer.
1. Deion Sanders
He is easily one of the greatest athletes ever to play and the greatest shutdown cornerback in league history.
Deion Sanders was the fifth pick overall in the 1989 NFL Draft by Atlanta. He played primarily at cornerback, but also as a kick returner, punt returner and occasionally as a running back or wide receiver. During his rookie year he hit a major league home run and scored a touchdown in the NFL in the same week, the only player ever to do so. During his time in Atlanta, he intercepted 24 passes and returned three of them for touchdowns. Over his five years with the Falcons, Sanders found his way to the end zone ten times.
Sanders went on to play for four other teams in a 14 year career. He holds the NFL record for most defensive and special teams returns for touchdowns with 19.