Atlanta Falcons: 30 greatest players in franchise history

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /
22 of 30

QB. (2001-06). Michael Vick. 9. player. 44.

  • 3x Pro Bowl w/Falcons (2002, 2004-05)
  • NFL record for most career rushing yards by a quarterback (6,168)
  • NFL record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a season (1,039) in 2006
  • 38-28-1 as Falcons starter (2001-06)
  • Best yards per carry average (7.0) in NFL history

Fran Tarkenton might have cultivated a hall of fame career scrambling out of the pocket for the Minnesota Vikings. Randall Cunningham may have been Buddy Ryan’s secret weapon with the Philadelphia Eagles. Even Steve Young showcased outstanding dual-threat playmaking ability as the star quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers in the 1990s. But the football world had never seen anything like Michael Vick.

Atlanta traded up from No. 5 to No. 1 with the San Diego Chargers to take the unbelievably athletic quarterback out of Virginia Tech in the 2001 NFL Draft. It’s cool though. The Chargers used that No. 5 overall pick on Pro Football Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson out of TCU. Vick may not be a hall of famer, but there is no doubt how he changed the quarterback position going forward.

He was a southpaw signal caller from Newport News, Virginia. His left arm was the strongest in football. Man, could he zip that thing. Though he wasn’t overly accurate with that howitzer of his (56.2 career completion percentage), he was also probably the fastest person whenever he stepped on the gridiron. Vick gave the once-bland post-Super Bowl Falcons some much-needed zest in the early 2000s.

His first full year as a starter in 2002 set the NFL world on fire. Defenses were largely unprepared for his ability to make plays with his legs. Atlanta would make the NFC playoffs at 9-6-1 that year. His 46-yard game-winning touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings in overtime goes down as his greatest single play as a Dirty Bird.

Atlanta might have been a massive underdog in the NFC Wild Card round, but Vick found a way to make a few plays with his arm and legs to beat the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Before that frigid January night in Green Bay, the Packers had never lost a home playoff game at home, 13-0 to that point. Atlanta won 27-7, but were demolished by the Philadelphia Eagles a week later in the divisional round.

Vick’s time in Atlanta was a roller coaster ride at Six Flags Over Georgia to say the least. He broke his leg in the 2003 preseason, as the Falcons imploded. Atlanta and Vick would bounce back in 2004 under first-year head coach Jim Mora. The Falcons won the NFC South for the first time, and advanced to the NFC Championship in franchise history. Too bad they ran into the Eagles…

Vick would continue to be a great runner and a sub-average passer during the Mora years. He set the record for most rushing yards in a season by a quarterback in 2006 with 1,039. That would end up being his last season in Falcons uniform.

Vick was involved in a dogfighting scandal in his native Virginia, where he was ultimately suspended by the NFL for two years for personal conduct. He served 21 months in federal prison. After his release from incarceration, Vick would be released by the Eagles.

He did bounce back with the Philadelphia Eagles, making one last Pro Bowl in 2010 and earning NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors. Vick retired after the 2015 NFL season after backing up Ben Roethlisberger for a year with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Overall, Vick’s greatness in Falcons uniform is unquestioned. However, he remains a very polarizing player in NFL circles. While most of Atlanta has forgiven him for his role in the highly publicized dogfighting scandal, it’s up in the air if he will be inducted into the Falcons Ring of Honor. The Michael Vick Experience was simply unforgettable.