With the third overall pick of the 1968 NFL Draft, the Atlanta Falcons selected an All-American defensive lineman out of Tennessee State, Claude Humphrey.
The hulking 6-foot-4, 252-pound defensive end did not come into the league quietly. Humphrey was a force in the trenches, recording 11.5 sacks in his rookie season and earning the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. This performance set the standard for his 13-year career, including 10 dominant seasons in Atlanta.
Humphrey was selected for five consecutive Pro Bowls from 1970-1974 and again in 1977. His total six Pro Bowls is the most by any Falcon in their entire tenure in Atlanta. Sacks were not recorded as an official statistic in his playing days, but Humphrey is still credited with 122 sacks over his career, a great feat.
His fierce play at defensive end paved the way the for future stars and made the team a better unit. Humphrey was instrumental in the famous “Grits Blitz” defense of the 1977 Atlanta Falcons. This team still holds the record for fewest total points allowed in a 14-game season with just 129. That’s an average of less than ten points per game. The famed defense also forced 48 turnovers and allowed just five rushing touchdowns.
Even though Humphrey played with ferocity and determination, the Falcons’ lack of success during him time in Atlanta kept him out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame for a long time. He was finally voted in 2014 on the senior ballot, receiving his much-deserved bust in Canton. Humphrey also has a place in the Atlanta Falcons Ring of Honor, where a banner displaying his number, 87, and years in Atlanta, 1968-1974 and 1976-1978, hangs proudly from the rafters of the Georgia Dome.
It’s shame those early Falcons teams were never successful. Regardless, Humphrey finally got the recognition he deserved. He’s one of the three Hall of Famers that originally Atlanta drafted, along with Deion Sanders and Brett Favre (though Atlanta can’t really claim Favre).
Watch his career highlights here.