Next up in our Franchise 9 are the Atlanta Falcons. They fit my Super Bowl criterion perfectly because they came into the NFL as an expansion team in 1966, which just so happened to be the year of the first AFL/NFL Championship Game. This list reflects the entire history of the franchise. Throughout most of its history, though, Atlanta has muddled through mediocrity. They had some good teams in the 90s, and have had quite a bit of success in recent years. They looked like they had their first Super Bowl victory in hand a few years ago, but then watched it slip away in the second half. The upshot of recent success is that this is the first team I've done to have more than one current player already considered one of the team's all-time greatest. A third is just recently retired. This list may have some of the more recent players on it, but don't expect to see a ton of household names. This franchise just doesn't have a whole lot of those in its history.
Quite simply, he’s the best QB the Falcons have ever had. He’s had the helm of the offense for over a decade now, and he’s performed remarkably well. He’s the franchise leader in pretty much all passing categories. And he’s the only Falcon to ever win an MVP. Whether he will go to Canton is to be determined, but he is bar-none the best field general Atlanta has ever seen.
In the 80s, the Falcons actually had two solid running backs in Gerald Riggs and William Andrews. At the end of the decade, they were sitting 1-2 as the franchise’s career rushing leaders. To this day, they are still #1 (Riggs) and #3 (Andrews). For this team, Andrews gets the nod because of his added value as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. Andrews’s receiving yards almost doubles Riggs’s, and Andrews added 11 TDs through the air. As an all-around back, Andrews made four Pro Bowls and gets the nod for this team.
3. Julio Jones, WR (2016 Score Franchise)
In just 100 career games, Jones has moved into 2nd place on the team’s receiving yardage list. In those 100 games, he’s averaged an eye-popping 96 yards per game. He’s found paydirt 43 times. In short, Julio Jones has been nigh unstoppable throughout his career. And he has yet to turn 30. He’ll probably be productive for a few more years to come.
4. Roddy White, WR (2012 Absolute)
Only White ranks ahead of Jones on the Falcons’ receiving ranks. His 808 catches, 10,863 yards, and 63 touchdowns are all Falcon records. He was a four-time Pro Bowler and one-time All Pro. The Falcons took him with a 1st round pick in 2005; he spent 11 years in the NFL, all with the Falcons. I think the investment was worthwhile.
5. Mike Kenn, T (1992 Score)
Mike Kenn spent 17 years in the NFL and missed only seven games. In those 17 seasons protecting his QB’s blindside at left tackle, Kenn was one of the best in the game. From 1980-1984, Kenn was named to five consecutive Pro Bowls and received All Pro honors in 1980. In 1991, at the age of 35, Kenn received his second All Pro nomination. Though it seems his career has been largely forgotten, Pro Football Reference lists Hall of Famers like Jackie Slater, Art Shell, and Ron Yary as having comparable careers.
In 1968, the fledgling Falcons began their third season by selecting Claude Humphrey with the third overall pick in the draft. He won Defensive Rookie of the Year and proceeded to make the Pro Bowl in six of the next eight years after that. No Falcon has ever spent more time in the opponents’ backfield. Unofficially, he had 94.5 sacks for Atlanta, and that would be the franchise record. It took a while, but Humphrey entered the Hall of Fame in 2014.
Two years before Humphrey joined the team, the expansion Falcons made Tommy Nobis the first pick in the draft—and in franchise history. Like Humphrey, Nobis got right to work. He was named to the Pro Bowl as rookie and 1st-Team All Pro the following year. Nobis anchored the defense from his middle linebacker position for 11 years, and retired as a career Falcon. Heck, he even earned the nickname “Mr. Falcon” and had his number 60 retired by the team before his election to the Hall of Fame.8. Jessie Tuggle, LB (1993 Upper Deck)
Like Nobis, Jessie Tuggle spent his entire career quarterbacking the defense in Atlanta. Tuggle was true Georgia, too, having been born and raised in the state and then spending his entire playing career with the hometown team. In 14 years, he racked up almost 1700 solo tackles, including a five-year span (1988-1992) in which he averaged 194 solo stops per season. Amazingly, he was only named to one Pro Bowl during that span. It was the first of five career Pro Bowls for Tuggle. He never received much recognition, but he was Atlanta’s most consistent performer during the 90s.
9. Deion Sanders, CB (1992 Upper Deck)
Deion is quite simply one of the best corners to ever play. He’s the very model of a shutdown corner, with speed to burn and a knack for big plays. Though he only spent the first 5 years of his career in Atlanta, that was all he needed to establish himself among the best. For the Falcons, Deion picked off 24 passes and took three of them to the house. He also returned kicks and punts for the Falcons, leading the league in kickoff return yardage in 1992 and scoring on 5 kicks. Prime Time was always exciting whenever he was on the field.
The Falcons Franchise 9 were a tough team to put together. There have been some good players in team history who excelled for a short time. Guys like Mike Vick, Andre Rison, or Tony Gonzalez were incredible in the time they played, but they just didn’t play long enough in Atlanta to pass some of these players on this list. Other players, like Bill Fralic or Jeff Van Note, mirrored some of the players on this list who were solid, but never stars. I feel less certain about this team than others. I’m open to feedback, especially if anybody considers themselves a knowledgeable Dirty Birds fan. Any disagreements out there? Let me know!