Looking back, some of the largest icons in NFL history are often the ones that can be overlooked. All franchises have had their fair share of historic players, but who were the best of the best? Here, we discuss the four most iconic players to step on the field. We continue our series with the Atlanta Falcons:
Honorable Mentions: Claude Humphrey, Michael Vick, Jessie Tuggle, Roddy White
LB Tommy Nobis (1966-76)
With the first selection in the 1966 NFL Draft, the Falcons selected Nobis in their first year as an expansion franchise. In his first season, he was honored as Rookie of the Year and a Pro Bowl nominee. That season, he totaled 294 combined tackles; a franchise record to date. He secured Pro Bowl honors in each the following two seasons.
He finished his career with 13 fumble recoveries and 12 interceptions, showcasing how diverse he was as a linebacker. Despite being one of the brightest stars on the team, the Falcons only had two winning seasons while Nobis was active.
In total, he secured five Pro Bowls and two All-Pro mentions. He was a member of the NFL’s 1960’s All-Decade team, and his #60 jersey was ultimately retired by the team. At this time, the only thing missing from his resume is a Hall of Fame bust.
QB Matt Ryan (2008-Current)
As the first quarterback selected in the 2008 NFL Draft, Ryan has been remotely successful with the Atlanta Falcons during his 13-year career. He currently ranks 9th in passing yards (53,932) and 11th in passing touchdowns (336).
During his MVP season in 2016, Ryan enjoyed totaling 4,944 passing yards and 38 touchdowns while being limited to only seven interceptions. Ryan, a three-time Pro Bowl talent, has only missed three games in his career to this point. While many will critique the team’s lack of postseason success under Ryan, he is undoubtedly the best quarterback in franchise history.
WR Julio Jones (2011-Current)
In just 10 seasons with the Falcons, Jones already holds a franchise record seven Pro Bowls. To this point, he has three seasons in which he has hauled in 100+ receptions; including a league-high 136 receptions in 2015.
With seven Pro Bowls and two All-Pro nominations in total, the 31-year old has constantly been in the conversation as one of the best receivers in the NFL. At this time, Jones’ 96 receiving yards per game across his career is the most in NFL; 7.9 more than the next-best receiver in Calvin Johnson.
CB Deion Sanders (1989-2000, 2004-05)
Drafted with the fifth overall selection in the 1989 NFL Draft, it’s important to remember how talented this draft class was: The Dallas Cowboys selected quarterback Troy Aikman, the Green Bay Packers took tackle Tony Mandarich, the Detroit Lions elected to pick running back Barry Sanders, and the Kansas City Chiefs chose pass-rusher Derrick Thomas. All were chosen before Sanders.
Despite only representing Atlanta for five seasons, Sanders was one of the most iconic players to represent the franchise. Later in his career, he assisted both the San Francisco 49ers and Cowboys to respective Super Bowl runs.
During his tenure with the team, Sanders totaled 30 takeaways. He also played a role on special teams, where he accumulated five touchdowns.