Atlanta Falcons: 30 greatest players in franchise history

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /
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Claude Humphrey, Atlanta Falcons
(Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images) /

Claude Humphrey. 5. player. 44. . DE. (1968-78)

  • Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2014
  • Atlanta Falcons Ring of Honor (2008)
  • NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year (1968)
  • 6x Pro Bowl (1970-74, 1977)
  • 5x First-Team All-Pro (1971-74, 1977)
  • 3x Second-Team All-Pro (1969-70, 1976)
  • 126.5 unofficial quarterback sacks in NFL career

It took WAY too long, but defensive end Claude Humphrey finally got the credit he deserved as one of the greatest pass rushers of his era. Humphrey came to the Falcons as the No. 3 overall pick in the 1968 NFL Draft out of Tennessee State. He would end up winning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year during his first season in the league.

Atlanta already had an outstanding linebacker in the form of Tommy Nobis, the franchise’s first-ever selection. Together, they set the foundation for many great Falcons defenses to come. While Nobis roamed the field as a tackling machine, it was all about driving the opposing quarterback into the turf for Humphrey.

Humphrey made eight All-Pro teams and six Pro Bowls during his 11-year Falcons career over 10 seasons. He accumulated an unofficial 126.5 quarterback sacks during his time split between the Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles. Humphrey is best known as only future hall of fame player on the historically underrated 1977 Falcons defense, better known as Grits Blitz.

This was the first season after Nobis called it a career. Defensive backs coach Jerry Glanville pioneered what famed defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan would use to develop his 46 defense with the Chicago Bears. Grits Blitz was all about getting after the quarterback with Humphrey as the primary playmaker of that defense.

That Falcons defense held the opposition to under 10.0 points per game. That mark is better than the 1985 Bears, the 2000 Baltimore Ravens and the 2013 Seattle Seahawks. If only the Falcons offense that year would have been even remotely competent…They didn’t even make the playoffs.

In Humphrey’s last season with the Falcons, he would be a part of the team that reached the postseason for the first time. He would then go on to play his last three NFL seasons with the Eagles, where he would make it all the way to the Super Bowl in 1980. Humphrey hung up the spikes for good in 1981.

In the years following his NFL retirement, it became increasingly apparent just how influential Humphrey was as a pass-rushing defensive end. The guy was basically the prototype for New York Giants Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive end Michael Strahan.

After being a finalist for enshrinement several times in the 2000s, Humphrey would receive his bronze bust in Canton in 2014. One of his Canton classmates was Strahan. Only a few years before that in 2008 did Humphrey get inducted into the Falcons Ring of Honor.

While his spot on the Falcons’ Mount Rushmore has been challenged in recent years, Humphrey is easily the greatest pass rusher in franchise history.