The Atlanta Falcons are not the New England Patriots. If they were, then they’d be the ones with the most decorated coach/quarterback combo in NFL history. No, the Falcons are not the Patriots. And yet, perhaps that’s not the worst thing in the world.
For a franchise that made only its second ever Super Bowl appearance, there’s a lot we liked about last season’s “Dirty Birds.” They built a high-powered offense that’s playing with incredible confidence, and they have a physical defense that’s finally starting to come into its own. In fact, this group actually reminds us of another NFC juggernaut.
Still, it’s true; the Falcons haven’t had the same big-game success as their AFC counterpart. However, that doesn’t mean the organization lacks success in all areas. In this particular case, we’re talking about all-time great players. After doing our fair share of research, it’s safe to say that many a superstar has donned the Falcons uniform. The way we see it, these 12 individuals — in no particular order — stand a cut above the rest.
1. Andre Rison
Wide receiver Andre Rison had his most productive years as a member of the Atlanta Falcons. From 1990–94, the man they called “Bad Moon” caught 423 passes, amassed 5,633 receiving yards (fifth in franchise history), averaged 72.2 receiving yards per game, and caught 56 touchdown passes. During this span, Rison also went to four Pro Bowls and earned the only First-Team All-Pro selection of his career.
2. Jessie Tuggle
Jessie Tuggle spent the entirety of his 14-year career with the Atlanta Falcons. It’s safe to say he made the most of it. The linebacker racked up 21 sacks, had six interceptions, and went to the Pro Bowl five times. To this day, he remains the organization’s all-time leader in tackles with 1,640.
3. Keith Brooking
Continuing with premier linebackers, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Keith Brooking. The former Georgia Tech standout spent 15 years in the NFL. However, like Rison, he spent his best days with the Atlanta Falcons. After being selected with the 12th overall pick in the 1998 draft, Brooking played his first 11 seasons in the ATL, amassing 11 interceptions, 17 sacks, and 882 tackles (third-most in franchise history). He went to the Pro Bowl five consecutive seasons (2001–05) — all as a member of the Falcons.
4. Jeff Van Note
Centers don’t usually get the love they deserve. Yet, in Jeff Van Note’s case, we think it’s important to give credit where credit’s due. Despite being selected in the 11th round (No. 262 overall) in the 1969 draft, Van Note went on to play 18 seasons with the Falcons (the most in franchise history). During that time he set a team record for the most consecutive games played, at 155. At the time of his retirement in 1986, Van Note was selected to six Pro Bowls, tying for the most appearances by a Falcons player.
5. Claude Humphrey
Taken with the third overall pick in the 1968 draft, Tennessee State’s Claude Humphrey played his first 10 seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. During this time, the defensive end played in six Pro Bowls — five straight from 1970–74 — and became the organization’s all-time leader in sacks with 94.5. Humphrey was selected First-Team All-Pro in 1972 and 1973; he was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014.
6. Morten Anderson
Morten Anderson didn’t become a member of the Atlanta Falcons until he was 35 years old. Yet, he still managed to make a lasting impression. In eight seasons with the organization, the left-footed kicker earned one First-Team All-Pro selection and one trip to the Pro Bowl. He connected on 82.1% of his kicks. With 806 career points as a Falcon, Anderson holds the No. 2 spot on Atlanta’s all-time scoring list.
7. Michael Vick
Atlanta selected Michael Vick with the first overall pick in the 2001 draft. Almost immediately, he became one of the most electric players the game had ever seen. In six seasons with the Falcons, the lefty threw for 11,505 (fifth in franchise history), added another 3,859 yards on the ground (sixth in franchise history), and went to three Pro Bowls. Controversy aside, few players have ever possessed the natural athletic ability of Atlanta’s former signal caller.
8. Roddy White
Roddy White holds almost every major receiving record in franchise history. During his 11 NFL seasons (all with the Falcons), the former first-round draft pick (No. 27 in 2005) made four Pro Bowls, earned one All-Pro selection, and finished as Atlanta’s all-time leader in receptions (808), receiving yards (10,863), and touchdown catches (63). One could make the argument White is the greatest wideout in Falcons history. Then again …
9. Julio Jones
White may currently hold the records, but Julio Jones is destined to finish as the greatest wide receiver to ever put on a Falcons uniform. Since Atlanta took him with the sixth overall pick in the 2011 draft, Jones has amassed 497 catches, 7,610 receiving yards (second most in franchise history), and 40 touchdown receptions. He’s made four trips to the Pro Bowl and earned two First-Team All-Pro selections. Jones has quickly established himself as one of the best receivers in all of football. His career is far from over, but it’d be foolish not to include him in this list.
10. Deion Sanders
The Atlanta Falcons hit the jackpot when they selected Florida State’s Deion Sanders with the fifth overall pick in 1989 draft. Whether he was blanketing top wideouts as an All-Pro cornerback or taking it the house as a return specialist, Neon Deion never ceased to amaze. During his five seasons with the Falcons, Sanders had 24 interceptions, made three Pro Bowls, and earned two First-Team All-Pro selections. In short, the Hall of Famer was “Prime Time.”
11. Matt Ryan
Atlanta hoped it had a franchise quarterback when the team selected Matt Ryan with the third overall pick in the 2008 draft. After watching the former Boston College product carve up defenses over the past nine years, it’s clear the organization got its wish.
Ryan has a 64.9% career completion percentage, has been to four Pro Bowls and earned one First-Team All-Pro honor, and is the Falcons’ all-time career leader in passing yards (37,701) and touchdown passes (240). A victory in Super Bowl 51 would go a long way toward further cementing his status among the elite. Still, there’s no denying Ryan is already the greatest quarterback to ever put on a Falcons uniform.
12. Tony Gonzalez
Tony Gonzalez only played five seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, but it was enough to warrant a spot on the franchise’s all-time greats list. During his brief tenure with the club, the superstar tight end caught 409 passes, amassed 4,187 receiving yards, and finished with 35 touchdown catches. For his efforts, Gonzalez made four trips to the Pro Bowl and earned one First-Team All-Pro selection.