Atlanta Falcons: 15 best first-round picks of all-time

Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images) /
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Claude Humphrey, Atlanta Falcons
Claude Humphrey, Atlanta Falcons. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images) /

DE. Tennessee State Tigers, 1968 (No. 3). Claude Humphrey. 6. player. 44.

Claude Humphrey is the greatest pass-rushing force to ever play for the Falcons. As one of the first star players in Atlanta, Humphrey was taken No. 3 overall out of Tennessee State University in the 1968 NFL Draft. He would go on to play 10 of his 13 professional seasons with the team that drafted him.

Though sacks were never an official statistic at any point during Humphrey’s outstanding playing career, as the NFL didn’t officially record them until the year after he retired in 1982, he is widely considered to be one of the most influential pass rushers of his era.

In 10 seasons with the Falcons, Humphrey made six trips to the Pro Bowl. He was named AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1968. By year two in the league in 1969, Humphrey was an All-Pro player. He made eight All-Pro teams in his NFL career. Humphrey was First-Team All-Pro twice in 1972 and 1973.

After not playing in 1975, Humphrey was far from over being a dominant player in the NFL. He was named Second-Team All-Pro in both 1976 and 1977. His final Pro Bowl nod came in 1977, as he was the motor that made the historic Grits Blitz defense so menacing. Shockingly, only he and cornerback Rolland Lawrence made the Pro Bowl that season on the Falcons’ greatest defense in franchise history.

Humphrey played briefly with the 1978 Falcons, appearing in only four games for the first playoff-bound team in Atlanta franchise history. That would also be his last season in Atlanta. He spent the final three years of his NFL career as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles, playing on the NFC Championship team in 1980 that lost to Jim Plunkett and the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XV.

Despite being one of the most physically dominating defensive ends of his era, Humphrey had to wait far too long to earn eventual Canton enshrinement. As early as 2003, Humphrey was a finalist to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. After his initial eligibility was exhausted, again, Humphrey could try his candidacy as a senior candidate.

Though he didn’t get in as a senior candidate in the Class of 2009, Humphrey finally got the call in 2014, well over 30 years since he last played for the Eagles. One of his Canton classmates was New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, a guy who Humphrey helped pave the way for as a small-school pass-rushing prowess.

Humphrey is one of 10 former Falcons greats to be inducted into the Ring of Honor. He and perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Mike Kenn were recognized back in 2008 for their contributions to Falcons lore. Though it has been 40 years since he last played for the Falcons, Atlanta is still chasing for a preeminent defensive end of Humphrey’s caliber.