Over the last 40 years, the Falcons have not put together a lot of winning seasons, but there have been great players to don the red and black during that time. Tommy Nobis, Jesse Tuggle, and Alge Crumpler are just a few names that come to mind, and with the 2009 season kicking off in three months, I thought this would be a good time to list my 10 greatest Falcons of all-time.
10. Keith Brooking
He is what you call an oddity in the NFL because he played high school, college, and professional football in the same state. During his time with the Falcons, he went to the Pro Bowl five times and was named to the All-Pro team twice. He now plays for the Dallas Cowboys but will always be known as a Falcon.
9. Steve Bartkowski
Before there was Matt Ryan, there was a gun-slinger from California named Steve Bartkowski that made a splash in a major way when he entered the league in 1975. In fact, he was named Offensive Rookie of the Year that season. He also made two trips to the Pro Bowl, and he led the NFL in TD passes in 1980 (31). He is still the Falcons all-time leader in passing yards with 23,470.
8. William Andrews
There have been good running backs for the Falcons, but William Andrews could be considered the best because he was able to perform at a high level for a long period of time. He was a four-time Pro Bowler, a four-time All Pro selection, and was named to the Falcons Ring of Honor in 2004. I think that’s enough credentials to put him on the list.
7. Jessie Tuggle
I don’t think that there hasn’t been a player to wear the Falcons uniform that played and worked as hard as Jessie Tuggle. They called him the hammer because of his bone-crushing hits, and this was a guy that was under 6'0" tall. He went to five Pro Bowls and holds the NFL record for returning fumbles for touchdowns with five.
He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2007.
6. Gerald Riggs
As good as Andrews was in the early 80’s, Riggs was just as good, if not better, as he is the Falcons all-time leading rusher. In his six-year career with the Falcons, Riggs totaled 6,631 yards, which is a team record, and went to three Pro Bowls. His best year was in 1985, when he rushed for over 1,700 yards.
5. Deion Sanders
He was flashy, he was flamboyant, and he was cocky. But he had every right to be like that because he will go down as the best shutdown corner to every play the game. He didn’t put up big numbers, but that was because the opposing quarterback knew not to throw in the area where Deion Sanders was covering.
4. Mike Kenn
He played through some bad seasons with some bad Falcons teams, but Mike Kenn played every game like it was his last. In fact, he holds the club record for most games played and most games started with 251. He was a five-time Pro Bowler and was named to the Falcons Ring of Honor last year.
3. Bill Fralic
Out of all the offensive lineman to play for the Falcons, Bill Fralic could be the best run blocker in franchise history. He made the NFL 1980s All Decade Team and went to the Pro Bowl four times. In 1984, UPI named him Offensive Lineman of the Year.
2. Jeff Van Note
There is probably no member of the Falcons fraternity as beloved as Jeff Van Note. He became one of the premier centers in the league as he reached the Pro Bowl six times. He played in 246 games, which is second most in franchise history, trailing Mike Kenn.
He currently works for the Atlanta Falcons Radio Network as the co-host for the pre and postgames.
1. Tommy Nobis
When the Falcons made their first ever draft pick in 1966, they knew that they chose a superstar. During his tenure with the Falcons, he went the Pro Bowl five times, won Defensive Rookie of the Year, and was named to the 1960s All-Decade Team. In his rookie year, Nobis tallied 294 tackles, which is still an NFL record.
I know that I forgot some players such as Terance Mathis, Alfred Jenkins, Morten Andersen, and Claude Humphrey. But these are the players I thought that made the most impact for the franchise during their career. And with the 2009 season on the brink, I hope players such as Matt Ryan will prove that he can make this list.