The Atlanta Falcons have established a long and proud history since joining the National Football League in 1965. Since the turn of the millennium, the team has experienced a roller coaster of success and turmoil, but always seems to be able to "Rise Up" when times get too dreadful. Currently, the Falcons are one of the "it" teams in the NFL and will represent the NFC in the upcoming Super Bowl LI against the legendary Tom Brady led New England Patriots.
A win would mean so much to the city of Atlanta. It would help erase the hurt that occurred when Michael Vick was arrested and charged with running a dog-fighting ring. It would establish Matt Ryan as being a true franchise quarterback, capable of winning the biggest of big games. And it would be a significant time for a major city, brimming with diversity to come together as one to support their beloved Dirty Birds.
With that in mind, this list reflects on the Falcons franchise since the year 2000. It provides insight on who the best players have been since that time, while also calling out several of the worst. The players mentioned here were either all-time greats for the Falcons (best), or were frustratingly unable to live up to their expectations (worst). In that regard, some of the worst players mentioned here were not terrible players, but they hurt the franchise by not fulfilling their true potential. As the Falcons prepare for Super Bowl LI, let's take a look into the brief past to find out who were/are the best 8 and 7 worst Falcons players since the year 2000.
15 Best: Tony Gonzalez, TE
By the time Tony Gonzalez joined the Falcons, he had already established himself as the greatest tight end of all time. Gonzalez was stuck on a muddling Kansas City Chiefs team and wanted to spend the twilight of his career with a Super Bowl contender. Atlanta was coming off an 11-5 record in 2008 and an upset loss to the Arizona Cardinals (who would go on to the Super Bowl that year) in the wild card round of the playoffs.
14 Worst: Michael Jenkins, WR
Michael Jenkins was a stud in college at Ohio State and was key piece in the Buckeyes' 2002 National Championship. His impressive collegiate career led to him being drafted 29th overall in the 2004 NFL Draft by the Falcons, who were desperate for a big time receiver to pair with young quarterback Michael Vick. Instead, Jenkins ended his rookie season with 7 receptions for 119 yards.
13 Best: Roddy White, WR
Although they had just used their 2004 first round draft pick on receiver Michael Jenkins, the Falcons could not pass up on the opportunity to select Roddy White, the monster wide-receiver out of University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2005. It took a few seasons for White to adapt to the speed of the NFL, but in 2007 he broke out with his first 1,000 yard campaign and also added 6 touchdowns. This was just the start of White's illustrious career in Atlanta.
12 Worst: Joey Harrington, QB
Joey Harrington is often considered one of the biggest draft busts in NFL history. Harrington was drafted #3 overall by the Detroit Lions in the 2002 NFL Draft and proceeded to have an uninspiring career for the talent deprived Lions and Dolphins. In 2007, Harrington was signed by the Falcons to compete with Chris Redman for the back-up quarterback position behind Michael Vick.
11 Best: John Abraham, LB
After finishing his career with the 12th highest sack total (133.5) in NFL history, it was clear that John Abraham was one of the best pure pass rushers the league had ever seen. Falcons fans were fortunate enough to witness Abraham's skill set and dominance for seven seasons, in which he consistently provided the team with their only true pass rushing threat. He posted a double digit sack total in four of his seasons with the Falcons, but somehow was only named to one Pro Bowl in his time with the team.
10 Worst: Chris Houston, CB
For some reason, the Falcons have always had trouble at the cornerback position. The team always has a true #1 corner (i.e., DeAngelo Hall, Dunta Robinson, Asante Samuel, etc.) but cannot seem to sign their studs to long-term contracts, and the no.2 corners always seem to struggle. Houston was drafted in 2007 to be a potential replacement for DeAngelo Hall and was immediately given great responsibility in the Falcons defense, starting 11 games in his rookie season.
9 Best: Warrick Dunn, RB
Although Warrick Dunn is often remembered for his two stints with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, some of his best play occurred during his six seasons with the Falcons. Dunn was signed by Atlanta in 2002 and eventually created a three-headed rushing attack with quarterback Michael Vick and fellow running-back T.J. Duckett. The Falcons became a team centered around the rushing attack and the trio caused many headaches for opposing defensive coordinators.
8 Worst: Jamaal Anderson, DE
I'm sure when most people hear the name Jamal Anderson in reference to the Falcons they immediately think of the great running back by the same name. But this list refers to the other Jamaal Anderson, a defensive end out of the University of Arkansas who the Falcons drafted with the 8th overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. Anderson, who switched from the wide receiver position to defensive end in college, was a disruptive force for the Razorbacks and finished his career with 17.5 sacks.
7 Best: Keith Brooking, LB
As the 12th overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, the Falcons were banking highly on the idea that Keith Brooking would become a cornerstone for their franchise for years to come. Brooking didn’t just become a reliable linebacker for the team, he became one the best defensive players in franchise history. Brooking was selected to the Pro Bowl in five straight seasons from 2001 to 2005, and had a career high 144 tackles in 2003.
6 Worst: Steven Jackson, RB
If this were a list for the “eight best St. Louis Rams since 2000,” Steven Jackson would surely make the list. While with the Rams, Jackson ran for over 1,000 yards in eight straight seasons and established himself as one of the premier running backs in the NFL. Atlanta made a big offseason splash in 2013 when they signed the aging Jackson to a three year, $12 million contract.
5 Best: Julio Jones, WR
Although the Falcons clearly had their wide-receiving issues in the early 2000s, the team made sure that they were set at the position for years to come when they drafted Julio Jones with the no.6 overall pick in the 2011 draft. Measuring at 6’3”, 220 pounds, and running a 4.39 40-yard dash, Jones is an absolute freak of nature. Jones has the size and strength to be a possession receiver, but also has the speed and elusiveness to be a big-play threat from anywhere on the field.
4 Worst: Peerless Price, WR
As a member of the Buffalo Bills, Peerless Price showed serious potential to be a future star at the wide receiver position. In 2002, his last season in Buffalo, Price caught 94 passes for 1,252 yards and 9 touchdowns. The Bills wanted to keep Price but knew they would not be able to afford his heavy free agent price tag, so they franchised him and allowed him to seek a potential trade suitor.
3 Best: Michael Vick, QB
When fans think of the Atlanta Falcons since the 2000s, for many the first thought will be of Michael Vick. Obviously the first thought when people think of Michael Vick, however, is his arrest and subsequent jail sentence for leading an illegal multi-state dog fighting ring. Vick ultimately served 21 months in federal prison for his role in the illegal activity. But viewing his legacy with the Falcons from purely a statistical standpoint, it is clear that Vick is one of the greatest Falcons of all time.
2 Worst: Michael Vick, QB
A friend of mine who is from Atlanta once told me that Michael Vick was the best and worst thing that ever happened to the Falcons franchise. That sentiment hit home while writing this piece and it holds much truth as it pertains to creating this list. Michael Vick was one of the greatest Falcons of all time based on his play and aura that brought to the city and the franchise. But Michael Vick also really caused a lot of damage to the team and his loyal followers with his horrible off-field actions.
1 Best: Matt Ryan, QB
As previously mentioned, Falcons fans can’t hold a grudge on Michael Vick for too long because their consolation prize for losing in 2007 turned out to be Matt Ryan, already the franchise's best quarterback of all-time. Ryan was immediately thrusted into the starting position as a rookie and made a great first impression by completing his first ever NFL pass for a 62-yard touchdown bomb. Since that day, Ryan has gone on to start 142 of the next 144 games for the Falcons and is one of the most reliable quarterbacks currently in the NFL. The one knock on Ryan throughout his career was that he has struggled in the playoffs.
In 2016, Ryan put-up MVP caliber numbers in the regular season, throwing for nearly 5,000 yards, 38 touchdowns, and only 7 interceptions. He is also putting the negative playoff stigma behind him as he has absolutely embarrassed the competition so far this playoff season. Through the divisional and conference championship rounds, Ryan has already thrown for 730 yards and 7 touchdowns. Even more notable is that Ryan threw zero interceptions in those games. If he can continue his stellar play in the Super Bowl, he will surely go down in Falcons lore.
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