Atlanta Falcons: 30 greatest players in franchise history

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Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The Atlanta Falcons are in the midst of an excellent era in franchise history. Here are the 30 greatest players to have played for the Falcons all-time.

The Atlanta Falcons are heading into year four of the Dan Quinn era down in Flowery Branch. Atlanta has been an above-.500 football team since Quinn arrived in 2015. The Falcons have made the NFC playoffs in back-to-back years, including a trip to Super Bowl LI at the end of the 2016 NFL season. Atlanta is the only team in the NFC to have made the playoffs the last two years.

So there is reason to believe that the Falcons’ championship window is very much open. The roster is deep, the coaching is excellent and the front office is in lock-step. Atlanta will inherit a third-place schedule and could end up being the first team to play the Super Bowl in its own building. Super Bowl LIII will be at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta in early February. We’ll see.

While this seems to be a great period of Falcons football, there honestly wasn’t a lot to cheer about before Arthur Blank bought the team in back in February 2002. Atlanta has made the playoffs eight times in the 16 years he has owned the team. The Falcons made the playoffs just six times prior to The Home Depot founder purchasing the club from Taylor Smith.

But even since day one, the Falcons have certainly had their fair share of star players. From inception in 1966, to Grits Blitz, to Prime Time, to the Dirty Birds, to the Michael Vick Experience to sadly, 28-3, here are the 30 greatest players in franchise history of the Falcons.

Honorable Mentions: Jonathan Babineaux, Vic Beasley, Scott Case, Chris Chandler, Devonta Freeman, Chris Hinton, John James, Alfred Jenkins, Deion Jones, Jim Mitchell, Keanu Neal, Elbert Shelley, R.C. Thielemann, Desmond Trufant, Bob Whitfield

30

Rolland Lawrence

CB, (1973-80)

  • Franchise leader in career interceptions (39), interception return yards (658)
  • 1x First-Team All-Pro (1977)
  • 1x Pro Bowl (1977)
  • One of two 1977 Falcons to make Pro Bowl from Grits Blitz

When it comes to the greatest single-year defense nobody talks about, the 1977 Falcons defense takes the cake. Better known as Grits Blitz, the 1977 Falcons allowed just 9.2 points per game in a 14-game season. Atlanta had the best pass defense in the league that year, surrendering just 1,384 yards through the air and 3,242 in total, the second fewest in football.

Yes, that year was an anomaly for the Falcons defense, as the pass defense would worsen the next year in 1978. Despite a catchy nickname and a fiery architect of the defense in future Falcons head coach Jerry Glanville, Atlanta only sent two players of Grits Blitz to the Pro Bowl: future Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive end Claude Humphrey and underrated ball-hawking cornerback Rolland Lawrence.

Lawrence came to the Falcons undrafted out of Tabor College in 1973. He would play his entire eight-year NFL career with Atlanta. Lawrence played in 118 career games with Atlanta, showcasing his great hands in the secondary beginning in year three in 1975.

From 1975 to 1979, Lawrence had at least six interceptions each season. While he only took one errant pass to the house in his career, Lawrence’s proclivity for coming up with picks set him apart in the early part of Falcons lore.

While he retired after the end of the 1980 NFL season, Lawrence did play a part of Atlanta’s first two trips to the NFC playoffs in 1978 and 1980. Yes, Grits Blitz wasn’t good enough to yield the Falcons their first-ever playoff berth. You need to play well on offense too to probably make the playoffs.

That being said, Lawrence’s 39 career interceptions remains the gold standard in the Atlanta secondary nearly 40 years since his pro football retirement.

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