Although the Atlanta Falcons are not the first franchise you would think of when considering all-time great player’s franchises, they have some modern greats that will have their eye on making an “all-time” position list in the near future. Their early seasons were characterized by losing, but they have turned it around recently notching two trips to the Super Bowl in recent history and if some of the players on this list keep producing at high levels, more trips in the future can be counted on.
Things to keep in mind:
- Players who contributed to team success were worth more than players who had individually great seasons
- Players were ranked according to their accomplishments while present in the Falcons franchise
10. Tommy Nobis (1965-1976)
Nobis was the first player drafted by the expansion Falcons back in 1965. He quickly established himself as a fan favorite and won Rookie of the Year, was voted to the Pro Bowl, and collected 294 combined tackles which is still the Falcons season record. Nobis went to 5 Pro Bowls, 2 All-Pro selections, and was elected to the All-Decade team for the 1960’s despite only playing for half the decade.
9. Steve Bartkowski (1975-1985)
Bartkowski was chosen first overall by the Falcons in 1975 after a successful college career at Cal. He is one of ten quarterbacks in the history of the NFL who have thrown for 30+ touchdowns in consecutive seasons. Bartkowski still holds many of the Falcons all-time passing records although they may be surpassed by another player on this list in the future.
8. Jamal Anderson (1994-2001)
Anderson was drafted by the Falcons in the 7th round of the 1994 draft. Within a couple years, Anderson was already a 1000 yard rusher including a stellar 1998 season where he rushed for 1846 yards and 14 touchdowns with 4.5 yards per carry. He helped the Falcons to an appearance in the Super Bowl that year. Unfortunately, Anderson suffered a career-ending ACL tear in 2001.
7. Deion Sanders (1989-1993)
One of the great two-sport players of all time, Sanders was drafted by the Falcons fifth overall in 1989. An explosive punt returner, Sanders returned a punt for a touchdown in his first game. He intercepted 24 passes over his Falcons career, 3 of which he returned for touchdowns. In 1992, he led the league in kickoff return yards (1067), yards per return (26.7), and return touchdowns (2). He scored 10 touchdowns over his career in a multitude of ways including three defensive, three kick returns, two punt returns, and two receptions.
6. Michael Vick (2001 – 2006)
A superstar in the making from a young age, Vick was drafted first by the Falcons in 2001. He subsequently became the first African-American quarterback to be drafted first overall. Over the next five years, Vick transformed the quarterback position from a sedentary pocket passing position to a mobile, attacking rover capable of scoring rushing touchdowns anytime he was in the Red Zone. Vick holds 3 of the top 7 QB rushing seasons of all time. He also holds 5 of the top 9 QB single game rushing games. In 2006, Vick was the first QB ever to rush for more than 1000 yards in a single season, and became the first quarterback-running back duo with Warrick Dunn for each to surpass 1000 yards rushing in the same season. Vick was eventually suspended and cut from the Falcons for participating in the infamous Bad Newz Kennels dog fighting case.
5. Julio Jones (2011 – Present)
Jones was drafted sixth overall by the Falcons after a great college career at the University of Alabama. Despite suffering from injuries throughout his career, Jones has consistently been among the top wideouts every year he’s been in the league. In 2015, he recorded 1871 yards which was the second most ever recorded behind Calvin Johnson’s 1964. Against the Panthers in 2016, Jones recorded the sixth 300 yard game in NFL history.
4. Jeff Van Note (1969 – 1986)
Van Note anchored the center of the offensive line for the Falcons for almost two decades. His 18-year career solely with the Falcons is the second longest in NFL history with a single team. Despite being drafted in the 11th round and his relative unfamiliarity with the center position, he established himself as one of the best and most durable centers of all time.
3. Roddy White (2005-2015)
White was drafted in the first round by the Falcons back in 2005. He saw action right away, but it wasn’t until 2007 where he really announced himself with his first 1000 yard season. This started a streak of six consecutive 1000 yard seasons where White introduced himself as one of the premier receivers in the league. He holds a slew of Falcons receiving records including most career receiving yards (10,863), most seasons with 1000 yard seasons (6), and most receiving touchdowns in a career (63).
2. Mike Kenn (1978-1994)
Kenn was drafted 13th overall in the 1978 NFL draft and started a career with the Falcons that spanned 17 seasons and included the remarkable stat of starting all 251 games in which he played, an amazing feat for an offensive lineman. Kenn played in five consecutive Pro Bowls from 1980-1984, and was a 5 time All-Pro player as well.
1. Matt Ryan (2008-Present)
Matty Ice was drafted third overall by the Falcons in 2008. He seemed destined for greatness after his first NFL pass was a 62-yard touchdown. Despite leading the Falcons to 11 wins in his first season, it was 2010 where Ryan really shined. Leading the Falcons to 13 wins, Ryan threw for 28 touchdowns and over 3500 yards. After a few seasons in the playoffs, the Falcons faltered for a few years despite the best efforts of Ryan who threw for multiple 4000 yard seasons. In 2016, Ryan peaked with a 4944 yard season, throwing for 38 touchdowns, and a quarterback rating of 117.0 en route to the MVP award. Unfortunately, his Falcons team devastatingly blew a 28-3 lead against the New England Patriots. However, if Ryan has more seasons like 2016, the Falcons can be sure they’ll be back in the Super Bowl sooner rather than later.