Atlanta Falcons: 15 best first-round picks of all-time
Tommy Nobis was known as “Mr. Falcon” for a reason. Nobis was the first draft pick made by the Falcons as an expansion team in 1966. The All-American linebacker and Outland Trophy winner was selected No. 1 overall by Atlanta in the 1966 NFL Draft. He played all 11 years of his incredible NFL career in Atlanta uniform.
The standout with the Texas Longhorns had a tough choice to make after his college career came to an end, as he was taken No. 5 overall in the 1966 AFL Draft by his home state’s Houston Oilers. Though Nobis could have been a star in The Lone Star State professionally, he made the wise choice of being on-field cornerstone of this expansion Falcons franchise.
As a rookie in 1966, Nobis was named NFL Rookie of the Year, as he led the league with an official 294 combined tackles. Though unofficial, this is the largest amount ever granted to a player in an NFL season. He would also make his first of five career trips to the Pro Bowl after a phenomenal rookie season in the league.
Nobis’ best season may very well have been his second year in the league. He made his second trip to the Pro Bowl, earning his only First-Team All-Pro nod of his NFL career. Nobis would be a Pro Bowl player three more times in his Falcons career, with those coming in 1968, 1970 and 1972.
Though he only played in a combined nine games in 1969 and 1971, he would bounce back resoundingly to remain one of the best linebackers in the sport in 1970 and 1972. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Nobis made the NFL 1960s All-Decade Team, as he was a magnificent middle linebacker to begin his professional career out of Texas.
In total, Nobis played in 133 games for the Falcons. All but one of them was a start. However, not one of them was a playoff game, as Atlanta would clinch its first playoff berth two years after Nobis retired. Had Nobis played two more seasons, he would have been part of two of the most memorable teams in the earlier years of Falcons football.
1977 was best known for its punishing defense known as Grits Blitz. Though Atlanta failed to reach the NFC playoffs that fall, the Falcons would punch their first ticket into the NFC in 1978. By that time, the team was starting to become a more offensive-minded one with Steve Bartkowski at quarterback and William Andrews about to explode onto the scene at running back in 1979.
Though Nobis is one of 10 former Atlanta greats inducted into the Falcons Ring of Honor, Canton evades his football legacy. Sadly, “Mr. Falcon” will have to be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame posthumously, whenever that day comes. Nobis passed away at the age of 74 in December 2017. For now, he’ll just have to be remembered as a legendary Longhorn and a foundational Falcon.