Atlanta Falcons: 15 best first-round picks of all-time
Deion Sanders is the greatest cornerback in the history of the NFL. Drafted No. 5 overall in the iconic 1989 NFL Draft out of Florida State, Sanders spent his first five NFL seasons playing in Atlanta. The dual-sport athlete also shined on the baseball diamond, most notably playing in the outfield of the 1991 Atlanta Braves, a team that came out of nowhere to go worst-to-first and win the National League pennant.
Known for his blazing speed and coverage ability, Sanders was the prototype for the flashy, cover corners who would later star in the league. “Primetime” not only was a brilliant ballhawk in the Atlanta secondary, but was an electrifying return man for the Falcons. He was by far and away the coolest player in the NFL at his peak. He was “Neon Deion”.
By his third year in the league, Sanders was part of the 1991 Falcons team that ended a nine-year playoff drought. Atlanta went 10-6 that season and finished in second place in the old NFC West. After beating the arch rival New Orleans Saints in the NFC Wild Card round, Atlanta would fall to the eventual Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins at old RFK Stadium.
In his five years with the Falcons, Sanders had 24 interceptions in 70 games for 520 yards and three touchdowns. As a return man, he had 147 returns for 3,388 all-purpose yards and five total touchdowns. Sanders was one of a kind in Atlanta, as he made three Pro Bowls, two First-Team All-Pros and a Second-Team All-Pro with the Falcons.
Unfortunately, “Primetime” was primed to cash in once he hit free agency in 1994. He would sign a one-year deal to play for the then-NFC West rival San Francisco 49ers. In his one year in San Francisco, Sanders had arguably his best professional season. He was named NFL Defensive Player of Year and was part of the most recent 49ers team to win the Super Bowl. San Francisco throttled the then-San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX.
After that one year in San Francisco, Sanders would join the 49ers’ biggest rival at the time in the Dallas Cowboys. Sanders would be a part of the Super Bowl XXX Championship team over the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1995. He made four straight Pro Bowls with the Cowboys from 1996 to 1999.
Sanders spent the 2000 NFL season with Washington before retiring. After three years out of the league, Sanders came back to play two more years with the Baltimore Ravens in 2004 and 2005. Sanders finally hung up the spikes after the 2005 campaign at age-38.
In his first year of eligibility, Sanders would be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the Class of 2011. He was the first player to make it into Canton with a good chunk of his NFL career having been played in Atlanta. Claude Humphrey, Morten Andersen and Tony Gonzalez would later join him. A member of the NFL 1990s All-Decade Team, Sanders is one of 10 former Falcons to have been inducted into the Ring of Honor.