Rod Coleman spent four years with the Falcons organization in the mid-2000s. His tenure in Atlanta coincided with the entire Jim Mora era (2004-06) and the forgettable Bobby Petrino year (2007). Coleman had been a former fifth-round pick by the Oakland Raiders out of East Carolina in the 1999 NFL Draft.
After playing sparingly as a rookie for head coach Jon Gruden in 1999, Coleman would begin to carve out a rotational role along the Oakland defensive line in year two in 2000. He was part of the AFC Championship team in 2002 that lost to Gruden’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego.
Coleman was a dominant pass-rushing force on the defensive interior for his last four years with the Raiders. He totaled 28.5 quarterback sacks and 40 tackles for a loss of yardage from 2000 to 2003. Coleman would hit free agency in 2004, landing with a new team on the rise in the Falcons.
Atlanta made it all the way to the NFC Championship Game in 2004, as this was the peak of the Michael Vick experience in Atlanta. Under Mora, Atlanta won with defense and a dominating rushing attack, winning the NFC South for the first time since realignment. Atlanta beat the then-St. Louis Rams in the NFC Divisional Round at home before falling to the top-seeded Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship Game on the road.
That would be Coleman’s last trip to the NFL playoffs. Despite having 11.5 quarterback sacks and 14 tackles for a loss of yardage in 2004, Coleman was unable to reach the Pro Bowl. Had he played in all 16 regular season games instead of just 13, maybe he would be a multi-time Pro Bowler?
Regardless, Coleman had another strong campaign in 2005, as he finally made the Pro Bowl that season. He had 10.5 quarterback sack and nine tackles for a loss of yardage. However, Atlanta would come up short of reaching the NFC playoffs that fall. Coleman’s production would dip a bit in 2006 to just 6.0 quarterback sacks in what was Mora’s final season leading the Dirty Birds.
2007 was an unmitigated disaster for the Falcons. Vick went to prison and Petrino left in the middle of the night for the Arkansas Razorbacks job in the SEC mid-season. Petrino’s name is guaranteed to make members of the Falcons faithful cringe at the mere mention of it.
Frankly, the only redeeming parts of that lost 2007 NFL season were Roddy White’s emergence as a receiving threat and Atlanta getting in position to draft Boston College Eagles quarterback No. 3 overall in the 2008 NFL Draft. Coleman had just 2.0 quarterback sacks in five games with the miserable 2007 Falcons. He retired after that season at age 31.
In four years with Atlanta, Coleman had 30.0 quarterback sacks in 49 games, all being starts. He had 31 tackles for a loss of yardage, forced nine fumbles and recovered four himself. His peak was from 2002 to 2005.
Often overlooked, one could argue that Coleman was the best defensive lineman of the 2000s for the Falcons, giving a shining example of how to thrive being an undersized interior player for the Falcons’ current star defensive tackle Grady Jarrett.