50 years ago this season, the Atlanta Falcons made their debut in the NFL after becoming one of the rare (at the time) southern teams. It hasn’t always been easy, as the Falcons did not have their first division title until 1980, back when they played in the NFC West and we learned what geography was all about. A big part of reaching the top is finding a franchise quarterback, something that the Falcons seemed to struggle with for decades.
There have been some very good quarterbacks over the years, though clearly their best ones have come in recent years. Before the 2016 season, the Falcons had only reached one Super Bowl and that came with a 19-34 loss to the Broncos. Chris Chandler was the quarterback at the time, so where does he rank among the best starting quarterbacks in Falcons history?
There have been a total of 37 signal callers that have gotten the start for Atlanta, starting with Randy Johnson and is now in the capable hands of Matt Ryan. Let’s take a look at all 37 of those quarterbacks, ranking them from worst to best. We start with one of the franchise’s first quarterbacks.
36 Steve Sloan
Our list begins with Steve Sloan, a former Alabama quarterback that joined the Atlanta Falcons out of college and lasted just two NFL seasons (both with Atlanta). Sloan appeared in eight games for the Falcons, but only started in one game, which turned out to be a loss. All in all, Sloan connected on just 10 of his 31 passes in 1966 and 1967 for a total of 134 yards, no touchdowns and four interceptions.
35 Kim McQuilken
Just getting edged out by Sloan as the worst quarterback in Falcons history is Kim McQuilken, a former third round draft pick in 1974 by the Falcons. McQuilken remained with the team for four seasons, making seven starts in the process with 23 total appearances. McQuilken won just two of those starts, finishing with a 39.9 completion percentage and four touchdowns. However, the eye opening stat is the fact that he threw for 28 interceptions. That’s an interception rate of 10.4 percent, and that’s disturbing in any era.
34 Bruce Lemmerman
Back in the early days of the Atlanta Falcons, Bruce Lemmerman was brought in to be a backup quarterback that made 11 appearances in both the 1968 and 1969 seasons. During that time, Lemmerman made two starts (both in 1969), losing both of them. Lemmerman would finish with a 36.4 completion percentage, for a total of 370 yards, one touchdown and five interceptions.
33 Jeff Van Raaphorst
Arizona State quarterback Jeff Van Raaphorst did not get drafted in the 1987 NFL Draft, but the Atlanta Falcons did pick him up as a free agent afterward. His rookie season would be his only one in the league, however, as Van Raaphorst started just one game with two appearances. The start ended up being a loss, and Van Raaphorst finished his two-game NFL career with 18-for-34 passing, 174 yards, one touchdowns and two interceptions.
32 Pat Sullivan
Since the 1990’s started, Pat Sullivan has been more known as a head coach as he was leading the charge for TCU from 1992 to 1997 and then Samford from 2007 to 2014. Before that, he was a Heisman Trophy winner at Auburn that was picked up by the Falcons in 1972. Over four seasons with the team, Sullivan would make 30 appearances with four starts, losing all of them.
31 Terry Nofsinger
Back when there were tons of rounds in the NFL Draft, Terry Nofsinger had to wait until the 17th round to hear his name called by the Steelers in 1961. Nofsinger went from the Steelers to the Cardinals in the 1960’s, finally landing with Atlanta for the 1967 season. Nofsinger would start just one game, but put up some solid numbers in all of his appearances. Nofsinger’s final stat line was 30-for-60 passing with 352 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
30 Kurt Kittner
Kurt Kittner is one of those names that really jogs your memory as you might remember his time with the University of Illinois. Kittner became a fifth round pick in 2002 by the Falcons, and made his first appearance in 2003. Kittner would end up making four starts that season, finishing with an ugly 38.6 completion percentage. He also tallied just 391 yards with two touchdowns and six interceptions as he helped fill in for Michael Vick along with Doug Johnson.
29 Dennis Claridge
Nebraska quarterback Dennis Claridge started his NFL career with the Packers, and then joined the Falcons for the 1966 season, the first one in Falcons history. Claridge would make three starts in the inaugural season, losing all of them. Even though he lost those starts, his numbers were still solid with 40-for-70 passing on 471 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
28 June Jones
June Jones is certainly more known for his college playing career (Oregon and Hawaii) and his coaching career (Falcons, Hawaii, SMU) than he is for his NFL career. Jones played with the Falcons for from 1977 to 1981, making a total of 17 appearances with five starts. Jones won just one of the starts and threw a total of 166 passes (75 of which were completed). Jones had 923 yards, three touchdowns and seven interceptions, never playing for another NFL team.
27 Tony Graziani
Late in the 1997 NFL Draft, the Falcons used a selection on Oregon quarterback Tony Graziani (who might be the most forgetful Ducks QB). Graziani spent four seasons with the Falcons, making all of his appearances in the first three seasons. Graziani would win two of his five starts, while throwing 174 passes (85 completions). Graziani came up just short of a milestone with 999 passing yards and just two touchdowns compared to eight interceptions.
26 Turk Schonert
After playing with the Stanford Cardinal for his collegiate career, Turk Schonert was a ninth round selection in the 1980 NFL Draft. Schonert would appear on the Bears and Bengals rosters to start the decade before being picked up by the Falcons in 1986. Schonert made eight appearances with five starts, amassing a 2-3 record. The touchdown to interception ration was poor at four-to-eight, but he did finish with 1,032 yards and a completion percentage above 60 percent.
25 Mike Moroski
Back in 1979, the Falcons used a sixth round pick on UC Davis quarterback Mike Moroski, but never really with the intention to have him as a starter. Still, Moroski would make a total of 49 appearances as a Falcon, with seven of them coming as the starting quarterback. Moroski would finish 2-5 in those games, but did complete 179 of his 318 passes (56.3 percent). He also had 2,122 yards and five touchdowns, but the glaring negative came from his turnover problems as he had 14 interceptions.
24 Steve DeBerg
One of the biggest journeyman quarterbacks of the 1980’s and early 1990’s, Steve DeBerg would start his career with San Francisco before making it to Denver, Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Tampa Bay (again) and then Miami. From 1994 to 1997, DeBerg did not have an NFL team, but then joined the Falcons for the 1998 season. DeBerg would make eight appearances with one start, finishing 0-1 with 369 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
23 Erik Kramer
Another quarterback that could be considered a journeyman like DeBerg, but not to the same extent. Kramer would go undrafted in 1987 out of NC State, though the Falcons would pick him up. Kramer’s rookie year would be his only in Atlanta, and he started in two games, splitting one win and one loss. He also had another appearance in a non-start, with a total of 45-for-92 passing, 559 yards, four touchdowns and five interceptions.
22 Byron Leftwich
Byron Leftwich was a highly touted quarterback while at Marshall, and he proved to be worth the hype for his first few seasons in the league while with Jacksonville. After 2006, Leftwich would be relegated to a backup role, signing with the Falcons for the 2007 season. In his only season with Atlanta, Leftwich would start two games (both of them losses), throwing for 279 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions. Leftwich also wasn’t as dynamic of a runner, collecting just seven yards on the ground.
21 Hugh Millen
Though the Rams would end up using a third round pick on Washington Huskies quarterback Hugh Millen in 1986, he would only play one season with the team. Millen then joined the Falcons in 1988, staying with the team for a total of three seasons. Millen started in three games, winning two of them. Millen would end up throwing for 1,074 yards on a 56.9 completion rate, collecting two touchdowns and four interceptions.
20 Bob Lee
A very very late (17th) rounder from Pacific, Bob Lee started his first three seasons as an NFL player with the Vikings. For the 1973 and 1974 seasons, he became a member of the Atlanta Falcons. Lee got his chance as a starter for the first time in his career, making 19 starts in those two seasons with a respectable record of 10-9.
Danny Kanell is one of those guys that is known for his pre and post NFL career, as he was a standout at Florida State in the 1990’s and is a recognizable host with ESPN Radio these days. Between those stints, Kanell would spend nearly a decade as a professional quarterback, starting out with the Giants for three seasons. Kanell then joined Atlanta in 1999, making just two starts and eight appearances in his two seasons.
19 Randy Johnson
Not to be confused with one of the greatest pitchers of the last 30 years in baseball, this Randy Johnson is a graduate of Texas A&I that the Falcons picked in the first round of the 1966 NFL Draft. Johnson would stick around in Atlanta for his first five seasons on what was an expansion team, meaning that he got tossed into the fire immediately. Johnson started 37 total games with Atlanta, finishing with a record of 8-28-1.
18 David Archer
David Archer was a member of the Iowa State Cyclones as their signal caller during the early 1980’s, though he wasn’t selected in the 1984 NFL Draft. Atlanta took a flyer on the prospect, and he would remain with the team for four seasons. Archer was never meant to be a starter, and didn’t get much playing time in his rookie season. He would then start 22 games in the next two seasons before going back to the backup role in 1987.
17 Dick Shiner
One of those names that people only know because it’s so humorous, Dick Shiner was never really a standout as a quarterback. Shiner started with the Redskins in the 1960’s, and would round out the decade with the Browns and Steelers before joining the Giants in 1970. After one season, Shiner joined the young Falcons team and would stay for three seasons.
16 Matt Schaub
Former Virginia Cavalier Matt Schaub was considered to be a project quarterback coming out of college, and Falcons selected him in the third round back in 2004 to backup Michael Vick. Schaub would eventually become a star with the Texans, where he made two Pro Bowls. Before that, though, he had to showcase that he could one day become a starter, and did that with Atlanta.
15 Scott Campbell
The 1984 NFL Draft didn’t have nearly the star power at the quarterback position as the previous year’s, but it did still have some gems like Boomer Esiason. Among one of the many average quarterbacks from the draft was Scott Campbell, who was selected in the seventh round by the Pittsburgh Steelers. During the 1986 season, Campbell would join the Falcons, making just one appearance with three passes.
14 Scott Hunter
Another Alabama quarterback on our list, Scott Hunter entered the NFL in the early days of Falcons, though he started his career with the Packers after being a sixth round pick. Hunter then spent the 1974 season with the Bills, and then did not play at all during the 1975 season, making it appear that his career was over. However, Hunter would find a home in 1976 with the Falcons.
13 Joey Harrington
There was a lot of hype surrounding Joey Harrington out of Oregon back in the 2002 NFL Draft, and the Lions selected him third overall with hopes that he would turn the franchise around. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t happen that way and Harrington joined the Dolphins in 2006. The next season, Harrington would become a member of the Atlanta Falcons in what would be his second to last season.
12 Chris Redman
At one point, Chris Redman was thought to be a future NFL star, and drew a lot of attention in college at Louisville. Redman was drafted in the third round of the 2000 NFL Draft by the Ravens, where he spent four seasons as a backup. Redman couldn’t find a spot that would take him on the regular season roster for several years, until the Falcons came calling in 2007.
11 Doug Johnson
After playing for Steve Spurrier’s Florida Gators in the late 1990’s, Doug Johnson went undrafted in 2000. Johnson was picked up by the Falcons for his rookie season, and he would make two starts in his rookie campaign. Johnson finished his Falcons career with a total of four seasons, winning two of his 11 starts. The numbers were decent with 2,532 passing yards, 13 touchdowns (and two rushing) and 18 interceptions. Johnson would then join the Jaguars, Titans, Browns and Bengals before calling it quits after the 2006 season.
10 Wade Wilson
While you might think of the actual identity of superhero Deadpool when you hear the name Wade Wilson, Cowboys fans know this Wade Wilson as their quarterbacks coach for the past decade. Wilson was once an NFl quarterback, spending 10 years with the Vikings before joining the Falcons in the 1992 season.
9 Billy Joe Tolliver
Another one of the many mid 1990’s quarterbacks on our list, Billy Joe Tolliver had been drafted out of Texas Tech by the Chargers in the second round during 1989’s NFL Draft. After two seasons, Tolliver signed with the Falcons, where he would spend three seasons. Tolliver would make at least two starts in each of those seasons for a total of 10 (winning five of those starts).
8 Bob Berry
We have yet another Oregon quarterback on our list, this time in the form of Bob Berry. Berry was a late round pick by Philadelphia, though he didn’t make his first appearance until 1965 with the Vikings. Berry would mainly serve as a backup until signing with the new Falcons squad in 1968. Berry spent five seasons in Atlanta, getting a total of 50 starts. He would end up finishing with a record of 19-28-3.
7 Jeff George
Jeff George is one of those ultimate what-if stories as he was supposed to have all the talent in the world. As many have said about George, though, he had a million dollar arm and a two cent head. The Colts took a chance on George and drafted him first overall in 1990, making him a starter in his rookie season. After four mediocre years, George became a member of the Falcons.
6 Bobby Hebert
Before the Falcons were able to breakthrough in the late 1990’s, they had to get through some tough times at quarterback as they looked for a franchise player. One of the many mid 90’s quarterbacks that filled the void was Bobby Hebert. Hebert had been playing in the USFL before joining the Saints from 1985 to 1992, putting up some strong numbers in the process.
5 Chris Miller
We now finally get to the top five, which is a big step-up from the rest of the list. We start with Chris Miller, the final quarterback on our list that attended college at Oregon. Miller was the 13th overall pick in the 1987 NFL Draft by the Falcons, and would spend seven seasons in Atlanta. Miller made one Pro Bowl appearance in that time, starting a total of 66 games with a 23-43 record.
4 Chris Chandler
Of the top five picks on our list, Chris Chandler is the only one that did not get selected in the first round. Instead, he had to wait until the third round in 1988, being drafted by the Indianapolis Colts. Chandler then became a journeyman quarterback, spending time with the Buccaneers, Cardinals, Rams and Oilers before joining the Falcons in 1997.
3 Steve Bartkowski
The next quarterback (but not the last) on our list to be selected with the number one overall pick, Steve Bartkowski was drafted by the Falcons in 1975 in hopes that he would turn the franchise around. The former Cal Bear got off to a shaky start in his rookie season, but would end up becoming a reliable quarterback later on in his career. All in all, he played for 11 seasons with the Falcons.
2 Michael Vick
You probably guessed who the top two quarterbacks on the list would be, but there are some that would put Michael Vick at the top since he changed modern football. Vick was the first overall pick from Virginia Tech back in 2001, and was as dynamic as any quarterback we’ve ever seen. Vick would spend his first six seasons with Atlanta, finishing with a 38-28-1 record and becoming the first quarterback to win a playoff game at Lambeau Field not wearing a Packers jersey.
1 Matt Ryan
The top spot on our list goes to the man who’s currently at the helm for the Falcons, and that’s Matt Ryan. The Falcons were in desperate need of another franchise quarterback after losing Michael Vick, and they spent the third overall pick in 2008 on Ryan. It has turned out to be a great decision, as Ryan has been a four-time Pro Bowler that led the team to Super Bowl LI on his All-Pro season.
After nine seasons as the starter, Ryan has amassed an 85-57 regular season record, throwing for nearly 65 percent on 37,701 yards. Even more impressive are his 240 touchdowns compared to just 114 interceptions. He’s also not a slouch in the pocket, as he has rushed for 880 yards and five touchdowns. Ryan already holds the record for most Falcons passing yards by more than 13,000 and touchdowns by more than 80.
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