Quarterback : Steve Bartkowski
Bartkowski was the first overall pick in the 1975 draft, and the Falcons put him in as a starter right away. Though he missed three games that season, he was named NFL Rookie of the Year.
After playing just 13 games over the next two years, he led the Falcons to their first playoff appearance in 1975. Atlanta won their first playoff game ever against the Philadelphia Eagles after Bartkowski threw two fourth quarter touchdown passes in the 14-13 victory. The Dallas Cowboys defeated them 27-20 the next week.
In 1980, he led the Falcons to a 12-4 season. It was the most wins in team history until the 1998 team won 14 in their Super Bowl season.
Bartkowski threw an NFL leading 31 touchdown passes that year, which was also his career best total. He was named to the Pro Bowl that year.
He went back to the Pro Bowl the next year for the final time in his career. By throwing for 30 scores, he became just the third quarterback ever in NFL history to have consecutive seasons of at least 30 touchdown passes. Hall Of Famer Dan Fouts had become the second a week earlier. Only five more quarterbacks have accomplished this feat since.
In the strike shortened 1982 season, Bartkowski led the league with an 86 yard touchdown pass. It was the longest passing play of his career. He led the league in quarterback rating in 1983, by posting a career best 97.6 mark. He also led the NFL with the lowest interception rating of 1.2 percent. In 1984, he led the league with a career best 67.3 completion percentage, though he missed five games because of injury.
After Atlanta lost their first five games in 1985, he was traded to the Washington Redskins. He did not play, so he joined the Los Angeles Rams for the 1986 season.
He started six games that year, and threw his last career touchdown pass against the Falcons. The Rams would get to the playoffs, but lose to the Redskins. Bartkowski then retired.
Steve Bartkowski has his jersey retired by the Falcons, and he is a member of the teams Ring of Honor.
He still leads the franchise in virtually every statistical category that a quarterback can attain. It is pretty easy to say that he is the greatest quarterback in Falcons history.
Bob Berry, Chris Miller, and Bobby Hebert deserve mention.
Fullback : William Andrews
Andrews was drafted in the third round of the 1979 draft by the Falcons. He earned a starting job immediately and ran for 1,023 yards along with 39 receptions and five touchdowns.
He piled up 1,308 rushing yards the next year, at a career best clip of 4.9 yards per carry, to go with 51 receptions and five scores. Atlanta reached the playoffs after winning 12 games, but lost in the first round. Andrews was named to his first Pro Bowl that year, and would be return to the Pro Bowl in each of the following three seasons as well.
Andrews led the NFL with 2,036 yards from scrimmage via rushing and receiving in 1981, and was second in all-purpose yards. He had a career best 81 receptions for 735 yards and 12 total touchdowns, along with 1,301 rushing yards.
That season saw him, along with O.J. Anderson, join Hall Of Famers Earl Campbell and Tony Dorsett as the first four running backs in NFL history to rush for over 1,000 yards in each of their first three seasons.
The strike shortened season of 1982 stopped his streak of 1,000 yard seasons. He still was able to average a career best 12 yards on 42 receptions, including an NFL long 86 yard touchdown reception, and run for 573 yards in just nine games.
He was the main offensive weapon for Atlanta in 1983. He carried the ball a whopping 331 times and also caught 59 balls. His 390 touches were the second most in the NFL that year, and is still the 51st most in league history.
Gaining a career best 1,560 yards that still ranks 50th best in NFL history, along with 609 receiving yards, his 2,176 all-purpose yards were second best in the NFL that year, and is still the 51st most in league history for one year. He also scored 11 times.
While he was already a star, he was also considered a player on his way to being inducted in the Pro Football Hall Of Fame. As the Falcons prepared for the 1984 season, Andrews suffered a devastating knee injury. It was so severe that it kept him off the field for two seasons.
Though he tried to return in 1986, he had to adjust his role to being a blocking back for Gerald Riggs. Though he still averaged a respectable 4.1 yards per carry, he only had 52 carries and five receptions and scored the last touchdown of his career. He then retired.
He still ranks second in team history with 5,986 career rushing yards. His 277 receptions is the most ever by a Falcons running back, and ranks seventh best overall.
Andrews has his jersey retired by the Falcons, and is a member of the teams Ring of Honor. He is also in the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame.
There is no question that William Andrews is the best fullback in Falcons history.
James "Cannonball" Butler and Dave Hampton deserve mention.
Halfback : Gerald Riggs
Riggs was drafted by the Falcons in the first round of the 1982 draft. That season was shortened to just nine games because of a players strike, yet Riggs was able to score five times on 78 carries for 299 yards. Atlanta made the playoffs, but lost. The franchise would have to wait until 1991 to return to postseason play.
The Falcons ran their offense through fullback William Andrews in 1983, but Riggs was able to contribute with 437 rushing yards and eight scores along with the only 17 kickoff returns of his career. When Andrews got hurt before the start of the 1984 season, Atlanta decided to run the offense through Riggs.
He responded that year by carrying the ball 353 times for 1,486 yards and a career high 13 touchdowns. His 13 touchdowns remained a team record until Jamal Anderson broke it by one in 1998. He also caught a career best 42 passes that year.
Now the teams main weapon, he carried the ball a whopping 397 times in 1985. It led the NFL that year, and is still the sixth most in league history. It was a team record until Anderson passed it in 1998.
He gained a career best 1,719 yards that year, which was also a team record until Anderson passed it in 1998, and caught 33 balls along with 10 touchdowns. He was named to the first of his three straight Pro Bowl nods.
The 1986 season would be the last time he exceeded the 1,000 yard mark. He gained 1,327 yards on 343 carries, along with nine scores. He was able to gain 875 yards in 1987, but played in just 12 games because of a players strike.
Playing injured the next year, he missed seven games. He then joined the Washington Redskins for the 1989 season and gained 834 rushing yards in the 12 games he played. He was part of a backfield that saw him split carries with players like Earnest Byner, Jamie Morris, and Ricky Ervins.
The Redskins decided to use him as their short yardage specialist. He scored 17 times over the next two years. In 1991, the Redskins put together one of the greatest teams in modern football history. They won their first 11 games before finishing 14-2 and setting several team records.
Riggs was put to work in the postseason. He scored two touchdowns against the Falcons in the Redskins 24-7 win. He then had two more in the NFL Championship and in the Redskins Super Bowl XXVI win. His six postseason rushing touchdowns tied an NFL record. He then retired.
His 1,587 carries for 6,631 yards and 48 rushing touchdowns with Atlanta are all team records.
Though Atlanta has had quite a few good halfbacks in their history, none have been better than Gerald Riggs.
Jamal Anderson, Warrick Dunn, Haskal Stanback, Lynn Cain, Junior Coffey, Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, and John Settle deserve mention.
Wide Receiver : Terance Mathis
Mathis was drafted in the sixth round of the 1990 draft by the New York Jets. He was brought along slowly as a receiver in his rookie year, catching 19 passes, but he was also used as a return specialist. He scored on a NFL record 98 yard punt return. The record stood until it was surpassed in 1994, but is still the second longest in league history. He also returned a career best 43 kickoff returns.
The Jets used him mostly as an extra receiver and part time return specialist over the next three years. He was able to grab 74 balls and three scores over that time, as well as run in two touchdowns off handoffs. Tiring of his reserve role, he signed with the Falcons before the 1994 season.
It was his only Pro Bowl year. He caught a team record 111 passes that year while gaining 1,342 yards and scoring 11 times. He followed that up with 78 receptions for 1,039 yards and nine touchdowns despite missing the only two games of his career.
Mathis continued to be the Falcons top receiver for years. The 1998 season was one of his best, averaging a career high 17.8 yards on 68 receptions and matching his career high total of 11 touchdowns. Atlanta would go on to reach Super Bowl XXXIII, where Mathis scored the teams only offensive touchdown off of seven receptions in the Falcons loss.
After getting 1,016 yards on 81 receptions in 1999, he caught 108 balls over the following two seasons. He was released by the Falcons before the 2002 season, so he joined the Pittsburgh Steelers. He had 23 receptions in a reserve role, then retired.
His 573 receptions for 7,349 yards and 57 touchdowns are all the most in Falcons history. Terance Mathis was a self made receiver who worked hard and came into his own in Atlanta. He is certainly one of the best receivers in team history.
Wide Receiver : Alfred Jenkins
Jenkins was signed as a free agent before the 1975 season by the Falcons. He had already played pro football in 1974 for the Birmingham Americans of the World Football League. He was a member of the team that won the only World Bowl championship.
Atlanta put him in the starting lineup immediately, and he soon became the Falcons best deep threat. He had 38 receptions and 6 touchdowns as a rookie, and averaged a career high 20.2 yards per reception. One catch went for a career long 69 yard score.
After 80 receptions and 10 touchdowns over the next two years, Jenkins was hurt in the first game of the 1978 season and missed the rest of the year. The NFL then changed the ten yard chuck rule to just five yards. Blockers were allowed to extend their arms and grab defenders, allowing receivers even more time to get open.
Jenkins had 50 receptions and three touchdowns in 1979, then exceeded the 1,000 yard mark by catching 58 balls for 1,035 yards and six scores. He was named to the Pro Bowl, becoming the first Falcons wide receiver to ever be awarded that honor.
His best season was in 1980, his last Pro Bowl year. He led the NFL with 1,358 receiving yards, 13 touchdown receptions, and a 84.9 receiving yards per game average. All were team records that have now been broken.
After catching 24 balls in the strike shortened season of 1982, he missed six games the next year. He then retired at the end of 1983 with 360 receptions, 6,267 receiving yards, 40 touchdowns, and an excellent average of 17.4 yards per reception. He still has the second most receiving yards in Falcons history, and the third most receptions and touchdowns.
Because he played on just three winning teams in his nine years, many fans did not get to see Jenkins unless Atlanta happened to play their team. In a era where few games were broadcast, the Falcons games were rarely shown outside of the state of Georgia.
But those who got to see him play will probably tell you that Alfred Jenkins is the greatest wide receiver in Falcons history.
Andre Rison, Michael Haynes, Eric Metcalf, Alfred Jackson, Bert Emanuel, Ken Burrow, and Wallace Francis all deserve mention.
Tight End : Alge Crumpler
Crumpler was drafted in the second round of the 2001 draft by the Falcons. His father and older brother also were NFL players.
He was brought along slowly his first two seasons, starting in 21 of the 32 games he played. Atlanta then made him a full time starter in the 2003 season, and he responded with his first Pro Bowl nod after catching 44 balls. It was the first of his four straight Pro Bowl nods.
His 2004 season may have been his best. He caught 48 passes at a career best average of 16.1 yards per reception. He also scored six times, despite missing two games that year because of injury. He had a career best 65 catches for 877 yards the next year, and a career high eight touchdown catches off of 56 receptions in 2006.
After an injury marred 2007 season that saw him grab 44 passes, he was released by Atlanta. The Tennessee Titans signed him, and he has played as a reserve tight end over the last two seasons.
His four Pro Bowl games are the most by any tight end in Falcons history, as is his 316 receptions for 4,212 yards and 35 touchdowns. He is currently has the fourth most receptions and touchdown catches in Atlanta history. His 4,212 yards are the second most by a tight end in Falcons history, and is 146 yards behind Jim R. Mitchell.
This was not an easy choice because Mitchell had such an excellent career with the Falcons. I decided on Crumpler because he had two more Pro Bowls than Mitchell, and was, at one time, the only reliable target the Falcons had in their passing attack.
Jim R. Mitchell and Junior Miller deserve mention.
Tackle : George Kunz
Kunz was a first round pick of the Atlanta Falcons in the 1969 NFL draft. He started right away for the Falcons, and made an immediate impact on the NFL. He was named to the Pro Bowl, despite playing on a young Falcons offensive line that started two more rookies.
He was injured the following year, but was able to start in all of the nine games he played in. He came back strong in 1971, and was named to the Pro Bowl again. He would be named to the Pro Bowl every year until 1977. He also would not miss a game until 1975.
Kunz was traded to the Baltimore Colts before the 1975 season.The Colts relied on Pro Bowl running back Lydell Mitchell, who often would run behind Kunz for huge chunks of yardage.
His last year as an Pro Bowler was 1977, and the Colts would win their division for the third straight season. This time the Colts faced the Oakland Raiders in the playoffs. They would lose a heart breaker as Oakland scored with time expiring.
He would suffer an injury in the first game of the 1978 season. It was so severe that he would not play again until 1980. That year saw him start in six of the nine games he played before retiring at the conclusion of the season.
No other Falcon offensive lineman has been named to the Pro Bowl more than Kunz. In fact, his five nods are the second most in franchise history. Despite the fact he only played three healthy seasons as a Colt, his three Pro Bowls are the third most by any offensive tackle in that franchises illustrious history.
George Kunz dominated his opponents. He may be the best offensive tackle in Falcons history.
Tackle : Mike Kenn
Kenn was the Falcons first round draft choice in 1978. He was immediately put in as their starting left tackle, and would hold that job his entire career. He missed just 10 games his entire 17 years, starting in all 251 games he played. He holds the Falcons record for most starts and games played.
The 1980 season was when the rest of the world found out how great Kenn was. He was named to the Pro Bowl and First Team All-Pro as the Falcons finished the season with a 12-4 record. This was the most wins in team history until the 1998 team won 14 games on their way to a Super Bowl appearance.
He was named five straight years to the Pro Bowl from 1980 to 1984. He then missed the first five games of his career in 1985, but would not miss a game again until the 1989 season.
He was named First Team All-Pro in 1991, but did not play in the Pro Bowl because of injury. When he retired after the 1994 season, he was 38 years old.
His five Pro Bowls is tied with five other players as the second most in team history. He has his jersey retired by the Falcons, and he should one day soon be a member of the teams Ring of Honor.
Mike Kenn may be the best blocker in Falcons history. He certainly had a career worthy of induction into the Pro Football Hall Of Fame.
Bob Whitfield and Chris Hinton deserve mention.
Guard : Bill Fralic
Fralic was drafted in the first round of the 1985 draft by the Falcons. He was soon named a starter and held the job his entire career. He missed just seven games total after his rookie season.
He was named First Team All-Pro in both 1986 and 1987, making him the omly Falcons guard to ever achieve this honor more than once. He went to the Pro Bowl four straight years from 1986 to 1989, which is the most by any guard in team history.
The Detroit Lions signed him at the beginning of the 1993 season, and he caught his only career pass that lost four yards. He retired after that season having started in 131 of 132 games played. He and R.C. Thielemann are the only guards in Falcons history to go to the Pro Bowl.
Bill Fralic is probably the best guard the Falcons ever saw in their uniform.
Guard : R.C. Thielemann
Thielemann was drafted in the second round of the 1977 draft by the Falcons. He started in every game that he played with the Falcons, and missed just three games in his eight years with the team.
He went to three straight Pro Bowls from 1981 to 1983, and was named First Team All-Pro in 1982. He teamed with Jeff Van Note, Mike Kenn, Dave Scott, and Warren Bryant to make the Falcons one of the top NFC offenses several seasons.
Thielemann ended up with the Redskins in 1985. He only played three games that year. R.C. started 13 games in 1986, then 12 in 1987. That year, he earned a Super Bowl ring when the Redskins won Super Bowl XXII and set eight Super Bowl records. He started eight games the following year, then retired.
R.C. Thielemann was the first Pro Bowl guard in Falcons history, and his three appearances are just one game behind Bill Fralic as the most by a guard in team history. He and Fralic are the only guards in Atlanta history to named to the Pro Bowl.
Dave Scott, Andy Maurer, Dennis Havig, and John Scully deserve mention.
Center : Jeff Van Note
Van Note was an 11th round draft pick of the Atlanta Falcons in 1969 as a linebacker. He would go on to play his entire 18-year NFL career as a center for the Atlanta Falcons from 1969 to 1986.
Van Note was soon moved to center by Falcons NFL Hall of Fame head coach Norm Van Brocklin. He eventually became an upper echelon center in the NFL. His 18 NFL years is amongst the top 25 longest in NFL history and is the second longest while staying with the same team. He played in 246 games over this stretch, and his 225 games started is second in Falcons history. Van Note only missed four games in his entire NFL career.
The Falcons retired Van Note's number at halftime of his final home game. He was voted the franchise's favorite player during the Falcons' 25th Anniversary season in 1991 by fans. Van Note was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame, and to the Falcons' Ring of Honor.
He was a athletic, strong, and technically sound player. He languished on some bad teams, but was one of the players the Falcons could rely on week in and week out for many years. His name was constantly bandied about as one of the games top centers during his career. His status as a fan favorite exemplifies this.
The Falcons had great players, but Van Note is the guy many Falcon fans say is the symbol as the franchise best. He may not be the greatest center who ever played, but he is certainly amongst those mentioned as one of the greats.
His five Pro Bowls is tied with five other players as the second most in team history.
Jeff Van Note should be inducted into Canton, and is certainly is the greatest center in Falcons history.
Jamie Dukes deserves mention.
Kicker : Morten Anderson
Anderson was drafted by the New Orleans Saints in the fourth round of the 1982 draft. He stayed in New Orleans for 13 seasons and set virtually every team record for kickers they have.
He was named a Pro Bowler five times and First Team All-Pro twice. He led the league in field goal attempts twice, and field goal conversions and percentage once.
He signed with the Atlanta Falcons before the 1995, and was named to his last Pro Bowl and First Team All-Pro honors. The Saints had let him go because they thought he was at the end of his career, but he repaid them by becoming the first kicker ever to make three field goals in one game that season.
The highlight of his career may have occurred in the 1998 season. In the NFC Championship, he kicked three field goals in the second half. The last one lead the Falcons to a 30-27 come from behind victory. It propelled Atlanta into Super Bowl XXXIII, the first ever in franchise history, where he kicked two field goals in the Falcons loss.
He left Atlanta after the 1999 season to join the New York Giants. He signed with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2002 and played two years there. He led the NFL in extra point attempts and conversions both seasons. He then joined the Minnesota Vikings in 2004 for one season.
After sitting out the 2005 season, he rejoined the Falcons in 2006 at the age of 46 years old. He kicked five field goals in one game that year, making him the oldest player ever to kick five field goals. He stayed there until retiring at the end of the 2008 season, and owns the teams records for the most career field goal and extra point conversions made.
He is all over the NFL record books with the most career points, most games played, most field goal attempted and made in a career, most consecutive games scoring, most field goals attempted of 50 or more yards, and most game winning field goals. He scored 98 points or more 18 times, 90 or more 22 times, and 79 points or more 24 times. All are NFL records.
He might not only be the greatest kicker in Falcons history, but he may very well be the best the NFL ever saw.
Bob Etter, Norm Johnson, Tim Mazzetti, Mick Luckhurst, and Nick Mike-Mayer deserve mention.
Kick Returner : Darrick Vaughn
Vaughn was drafted by the Falcons in the seventh round of the 2000 draft. He quickly became a star. He set a team record by leading the league with three touchdowns off of just 39 kickoff returns. He also led the league with a team record 27.7 kickoff return average. One returns went for 100 yard, which is tied as a team record. His three touchdowns in one year is the second most in NFL history.
He led the NFL with a career high 61 returns the next year for a career best 1,491 yards. It is the 30th most returns ever in NFL history. He took one 96 yards for the last score of his career, and had his only interception.
He got injured and missed the entire 2002 season. He joined the Houston Oilers in 2003, but was primarily used as an extra defensive back. He returned the last three kickoffs of his career. He then was out of the league and retired.
His 2,573 kickoff return yards still ranks fifth most in Falcons history. I could easily have picked Allen Rossum, who owns the team records in returns and yards, but I chose Vaugn because he had two magical seasons that still heads the Falcons record books to this day.
Allen Rossum, Tim Dwight, and Byron Hanspard all deserve mention.
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