My favorite Falcons part 1

By Brandon Bush

 

With the drought in big local sports news lately, I thought I’d take another moment to share some thoughts with you all.

Specifically, I have often seen other sports writers in the state do something a bit fun: naming and discussing their favorite players at each position for a given football team. More often than not, writers around here tend to mostly focus on the Georgia Bulldogs.

Unfortunately for you, I support a college located in “The Loveliest Village on the Plains” rather than the Bulldogs, so I can’t really say I have a favorite Georgia player at any position. However, because I’m not a complete traitor to the state, I could talk all day about the Atlanta Falcons and some of my favorite players on my favorite NFL team.

So, the next two weeks will be a discussion about my favorite Atlanta Falcons at each position. These won’t be the objectively best players at each position, but just my personal favorites who have stood out to me and influenced me as a player and as a fan.

Quarterback: Matt Ryan

This one should be a no-brainer. Ryan is by far the greatest quarterback in franchise history and his accomplishments pulled the Falcons out of the post-Michael Vick fallout and brought them back to relevance. Some of his career feats include being the fastest player to pass for 40,000 yards, being the only quarterback to ever throw touchdown passes to 13 different receivers, being the only Falcon to ever lead the team to an 8-0 start (in 2012) and most consecutive NFL games with 200-plus passing yards.

While it’s true that solid Falcons teams with Ryan at QB have greatly underachieved in the past (including the biggest blown lead in Super Bowl history, which I still seek therapy for), I refuse to believe that Ryan is solely responsible for the Falcons’ shortcomings. I know it gets said every year, but I am confident that Ryan will eventually win his ring before it is all said and done.

Running Back: Jamal Anderson

The original “Dirty Bird” (a nickname which was derived from his signature touchdown dance) amassed 5,336 yards, 156 receptions for 1,645 yards and 41 touchdowns in eight seasons with the Falcons before suffering a career-ending ACL tear. He led the NFC in rushing in 1998 as he helped the Falcons reach Super Bowl XXXIII.

He didn’t have the longest or most spectacular career among Falcons running backs, and it appears that he’s had some troubles since the end of his career, but Anderson was so much fun to watch and brought some life to this team. I only wish he had more time to shine in his career.

Wide Receiver: Julio Jones

Never in a million year did I think I’d love an Alabama player this much. Like Ryan, I also find this to be a no-brainer as I believe Jones is one of if not the best receiver in the league right now. It seems like no matter how much the Falcons struggle and falter in recent seasons, the one constant has been Ryan connecting to Julio and, at times, that has been the very thing keeping the franchise afloat.

Things are odd for Jones right now, considering the whole fiasco of Jones missing training camps waiting for a new contract deal to be done. This is definitely a concern, but I am confident that things will be fine between Jones and the Falcons and we will see many more touchdown passes from Ryan to Julio in the future.

Side note: Sark, if you’re reading this, put down the bottle and throw the ball to Julio. Please.

Tight End: Tony Gonzalez

Although Gonzalez will be remembered first and foremost as a Kansas City Chief, the fact that the greatest tight end to ever play the game (my opinion, of course, but many others will agree) came through A-Town in his final years was one of the biggest blessings the Falcons and their fans could have been given. While I’ve always respected and appreciated Gonzalez for the all-time great he was, my God, I loved those few years with the Falcons.

Before the current tandem of Jones, Mohamed Sanu and, soon enough, Calvin Ridley, there was the receiving core of Jones, Roddy White and Gonzalez, which did some great things in the early days of the Ryan era. Gonzalez is an all-time great and I consider myself lucky to have had the honor of seeing a legend retire as a Falcon.

Offensive Line: Todd McClure

McClure may very well be the best center in franchise history if you ask me (barring a big splash by Alex Mack in the next few years). For his entire 13-year career with the Falcons, McClure has been the anchor of Atlanta’s offensive line and has been a huge factor in Ryan’s early success.

In 2004, McClure was part of an offensive line that allowed the Falcons offense to gain the fourth-most rushing yards in NFL postseason history, including 142 yards from running back Warrick Dunn (a Falcons record) and 119 yards on the ground from quarterback Michael Vick (an NFL record). I think Mack is doing a fantastic job being the anchor of our offensive line for now, but McClure is the gold standard for Falcons centers, if you ask me.

Defensive Line: John Abraham

Another former Falcon who spent time with other teams, Abraham came to Atlanta in 2006 and has become one of the most dominant defensive linemen in the history of the franchise. His career statistics by the end of his time playing included 533 tackles, 133.5 quarterback sacks, 46 forced fumbles and an interception.

Speaking of that interception, Abraham became my favorite Falcons DT when I watched as he picked up his only career pick during a Monday Night Football game against the New Orleans Saints. During a game earlier that season against the Carolina Panthers, Abraham added two more sacks to his career total to make him just the 25th player in history to ever record 100 sacks.

I played defensive lineman myself when I played in high school, so this particular pick is important to me as I cite Abraham as an influence on my game and one of the reasons I love the sport so much today.

I’m about to hit 1,100 words this week so I will have to stop the discussion there for now. Return next week to find out my favorite linebacker, secondary and special teams players to ever represent A-Town.

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