The Atlanta Falcons played their first season in 1966. The team had their first winning record in 1971 and first playoff appearance in 1978. They have been to two Super Bowls in 1998 and 2016 and lost both. Though the Falcons do not officially retire numbers they have 11 players in the Ring of Honor whose numbers they no longer use. Here is a starting line up comprised of the best players to ever play for the Atlanta Falcons.
QB: Matt Ryan (2008-Present)
Here is a starting line up comprised of the best players to ever play for the Atlanta Falcons. NFL Most Valuable Player 2016
The all-time leading passer in Falcons’ history is their current quarterback Matt Ryan. Ryan has 51,186 yards passing so far and 321 passing touchdowns which is also the franchise lead. He was the first quarterback selected in the 2008 NFL Draft and won rookie of the year the following season. He has been to four Pro Bowls over the course of his career. In 2016 Ryan was the league MVP throwing 38 touchdowns to seven interceptions and leading the Falcons to their second Super Bowl appearance. In 2016 Ryan was named a First-Team All-Pro and was the Offensive Player of the year. With a few good seasons left in him, Ryan will only continue to show why he is the best quarterback in team history. It is also fair to mention that the quarterback that follows Ryan in every major category is Steve Bartkowski. Bartkowski played for the Falcons from 1975-1985. He has his number retired by the team and is in the Atlanta Falcons Ring of Honor.
RB: Gerald Riggs (1982-88)
Selecting one running back to put on this list was difficult. There were many options to choose from. The options were Michael Turner, Warrick Dunn and Gerald Riggs. Turner is the second leading rusher in Falcons’ history and franchise leader in rushing touchdowns. He was two-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro, but was only a member of the team for five seasons. Warrick Dunn has a case to be in the Hall of Fame one day. He has a great resume, however he only made on of his three Pro Bowls with the Falcons. He played more years for the Buccaneers than the Falcons. Devonta Freeman would be a consideration looking at his resume alone, but his stats are nowhere near the previously mentioned. Riggs got the nod because he is the franchise’s leading rusher, is a two-time All-Pro and two-time Pro Bowler. Riggs is also a member of the Falcons Ring of Honor. Outside of his time in Atlanta, Riggs won a Super Bowl with the Washington Redskins.
FB: William Andrews (1979-86)
Retired Number #31
It is rare to find appreciation for the fullback position today more than ever. By the year, fullbacks are being used less by NFL teams. William Andrews was a versatile fullback who was a great rusher, blocker and receiver. He is third all-time in rushing yards for the Falcons and could have been higher on that list if not for career-ending injuries. Andrews was a four-time Pro Bowler and has his number retired by the team. Though his career was short, Andrews is considered by some to be one of the best fullbacks to ever play the game.
WR: Julio Jones (2011-Present), Roddy White (2005-15)
The two best receivers in Falcons’ franchise history happened to be teammates from 2011-2015. During that span, the duo of Julio Jones and Roddy White was considered one of if not the best wide receiver duo in football. Roddy White is second in team history in receiving yards with 10,863, but first in receptions (808) and receiving touchdowns (63). White was a four-time Pro Bowler, First Team All-Pro in 2010 because he was the league’s reception leader, and a member of the Falcons Ring of Honor. The Falcons traded multiple draft picks in 2011 to trade up to get Julio Jones. The trade was worth it because it gave them the franchise leader in receiving yards (12,125). Jones is currently second in receptions and tied for second in touchdowns, both are records that he looks to break this upcoming season. The Falcons drafted Jones, because they realized that White was getting older and the team will be needing a receiver to move into his role as the team’s number one. The Falcons got a seven-time Pro Bowler, five-time All-Pro, two-time receiving yards leader and the receptions leader in 2015 (tied with Antonio Brown) when they drafted Julio Jones. Jones is far from done and could very well break every Falcons’ receiving records and some after he retires.
TE: Tony Gonzalez (2009-13)
Pro Football Hall of Fame 2019
The Falcons all-time leading receiver at tight end might be Jim Mitchell, but Tony Gonzalez mirrored Mitchell’s production and accomplished more in a shorter period of time. Mitchell played for the Falcons for 10 years. But during Gonzalez’s time in Atlanta he finished ninth in team history in receiving, seventh in touchdowns, went to four Pro Bowls, and was a First-Team All-Pro twice. He was also voted to the 2000’s All-Decade Team. Gonzalez is not only the best tight end in Falcons’ history, but arguably the best tight end in the history of the league.
LT: Mike Kenn (1978-94)
Retired Number #78
Mike Kenn is hands down the best-left tackle in franchise history. Over the course of his career, Kenn played in five Pro Bowlers and was a five-time All-Pro. He won the NFC’s best offensive lineman award twice and is in the Atlanta Falcons ring of honor. Kenn also has his number retired by the team. Bob Whitfield is an honorable mention for the left tackle position for the Falcons All-Time team. Whitfield played with the Falcons from 1992-2003 and was a Pro Bowler in 1998.
G: R.C. Thielemann (1977-84)
R.C. Thielemann was a three-time Pro Bowler during his eight years with the Atlanta Falcons. Thielemann was a Pro Bowler in 1981, 1982 and 1983. He was also a First Team All-Pro in 1982.
C: Jeff Van Note (1969-86)
Retired Number #57
Jeff Van Note played great football for the better part of 18 years. Van Note was a six-timePro Bowler and two-time Second Team All-Pro. He also has his number 57 retired by the team. Todd McClure was another Falcons starting center for over a decade. He was a seventh-round pick that became the Falcons starting center. McClure played for the Falcons from 2000-2012.
G: Bill Fralic (1985-93)
Bill Fralic was one of the best guards of the 1980s. He had high expectations coming into the league getting drafted second overall in 1985. Fralic is a member of the 1980s All-Decade Team. He was a four-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro (two-time First Team All-Pro).
RT: George Kunz (1969-74)
George Kunz did not play for the Atlanta Falcons for a long period of time, but was fantastic during his time with them. Kunz made five Pro Bowls in six years in Atlanta. He was also a three-time Pro Bowler during his time with them as well. Kunz ended his career an eight-time Pro Bowler and a five-time All-Pro.
DE: Claude Humphrey (1968-78), John Abraham (2006-12)
Pro Football Hall of Fame 2014 (Humphrey)
Claude Humphrey was the Atlanta Falcons first-round pick in 1968. Humphrey was taken with the 3rd overall pick. He was Defensive Rookie of the Year (1968) six-time Pro Bowler, seven-time All-Pro and a member of the Falcons Ring of Honor. Humphrey was also inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014. Unfortunately for Humphrey, he played in an era where sacks were not a registered stat. So it is unsure how many career sacks Humphrey had during his career.
John Abraham on the other hand is the All-Time sack leader for the Atlanta Falcons with 68.5 sacks. He also has the most forced fumbles (24), most quarterback hits (115) and second-most tackles for loss (79) in team history. Abraham was a five-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro (three-time First-Team All-Pro) in his career. Right behind Abraham is Chuck Smith who is also one of the best defensive ends in the team’s history. Smith played with the Falcons from 1992-1999. Third in team history in sacks is Patrick Kerney who was a member of the Falcons from 1999-2006.
DT: Travis Hall (1995-2004), Jonathan Babineaux (2005-16)
Though they are not considered two of the best of all time, Travis Hall and Jonathan Babineaux had very good careers with the Falcons. Travis Hall has the fourth most sacks in team history with 41.5. He is also ninth in Falcons’ history in tackles with 335 and tenth in tackles for loss with 34.
When Travis Hall moved on from the team was around the same time that the Atlanta Falcons drafted Jonathan Babineaux in the second round in 2005. Babineaux is 10th in team history in sacks with 27, but he is the franchise leader in tackles for loss with 91. Though is numbers don’t stick out on paper he was a staple of the Falcons’ defense for years. Though he has only been in the league since 2015, Grady Jarrett has shown that he could one day pass Hall or Babineaux in stats for their position and one day be considered the best defensive tackle in team history. Also, Roderick Coleman was a force for the Falcons during his four years on the team.
LB:Tommy Nobis (1966-76), Jessie Tuggle (1987-2000), Keith Brooking (1998-2008)
Retired Number #60 (Nobis)
Retired Number #58 (Tuggle)
Tommy Nobis was the inaugural draft pick of the Atlanta Falcons franchise. He was selected with the first overall pick in the 1966 NFL Draft. In his first year, he won Rookie of the Year and was voted to the Pro Bowl. Throughout his career, Nobis went to five Pro Bowls, was a First Team All-Pro the next season in 1967, and was a Second Team All-Pro in 1968. He is also a member of the 1960s All-Decade Team, Georgia Sports Hall of Fame and Atlanta Falcons Ring of Honor. Nobis also has his number 60 retired.
Jessie Tuggle has the franchise record in tackles with 1,639. He also has five fumbles returned for touchdowns which is the most in team history, 10 forced fumbles which is seventh and 21 career sacks which is 17th all-time in Falcon history. Tuggle is a five-time Pro Bowler and was a Second Team All-Pro in 1998. He is a member of the Falcons Ring of Honor and number 58 is retired.
For a few years, Jessie Tuggle got to play next to Keith Brooking. Brooking has 888 tackles during his time with the team which ranks him third in team history in that category. He is fifth in team history in tackles for loss with 44 and 10th in team history in forced fumbles with eight. Brooking was a five-time Pro Bowler from 2001-2005 and was a two-time Second Team All-Pro.
CB: Rolland Lawerence (1972-80), Deion Sanders (1989-1993)
Pro Football Hall of Fame 2011 (Sanders)
Rolland Lawerence might not be a household name, but he is the Atlanta Falcons all-time leader in interceptions (39) and in fumble recoveries (13). Lawerence was also a Pro Bowler and All-Pro in 1977.
Though he did not play there long, Deion Sanders is one of the most notable Falcons of all time. From 1991-1993 Sanders was a three-time Pro Bowler and four-time First Team All-Pro. Sanders was made a First Team All-Pro twice in 1992 as a cornerback and kick returner. He is a member of the 1990s All-Decade Team, NFL 100th Anniversary Team and Pro Football Hall of Fame. Sanders is also a part of the Atlanta Falcons Ring of Honor. Sanders has the second most pick-sixes in team history with three and seventh-most picks with 24. His former teammate Ray Buchanan was in consideration for this list. Buchanan played for the Falcons from 1997-2003. So was long-time Falcon Bobby Butler who was on the team from 1981-1992.
DB: Scott Case (1984-94)
Scott Case is listed as a safety, however, he did play at cornerback at times as well during his career. That is why he makes the list as the team’s defensive back. Case is second in team history in tackles with 946 and third in team history in interceptions with 30. He led the league in interceptions in 1988 which led him to his first and only appearance in the Pro Bowl.
S: Tom Pridemore (1978-85), Ray Brown (1971-77)
During Tom Pridemore’s eight years with the team, he had 21 interceptions which is eighth in team history. Thomas DeCoud is also a candidate to be the free safety on the Falcons All Time team.
Ray Brown has the second-most interceptions in Falcons history with 31. William Moore is another name to mention when discussing the best strong safety in Falcons history.
K: Matt Bryant (2009-19)
Matt Bryant is the Atlanta Falcons All-Time leading scorer. He has scored 1163 points with the Falcons. Bryant was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2016. Morten Andersen is a Hall of Famer and former Falcon, but Bryant had done more with the Falcons than Andersen.
P: John James (1972-81)
John James has the most punting yards in Atlanta Falcons history with 35,633. James is a three-time Pro Bowler from 1975-77 and a two-time Second Team All-Pro in 1976 and 1977. James led the league in punting yards from 1976-1978. Matt Bosher also had a great career as the Falcons punter from 2011-19.
HC: Mike Smith (2008-14)
Mike Smith is the only head coach in Falcons’ history with a winning record that has coached over 100 games. Smith also has the highest win percentage of any long term coach. The only glaring stain on Smith’s time with the Falcons was his 1-4 playoff record. He also won coach of the year in 2008.