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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Keith Brooking, Atlanta Falcons
Keith Brooking, Atlanta Falcons. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Squire/Allsport /

Keith Brooking played his college ball in the shadows of the old Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Brooking starred on the gridiron for the Ramblin’ Wreck of Georgia Tech. The Sharpsburg, Georgia native would join his hometown team as the No. 12 overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft.

Brooking would land with the Falcons quite literally at the perfect time. The standout middle linebacker at Georgia Tech got to play in the same Atlanta front-seven as rookie alongside perennial Pro Bowlers the like of Cornelius Bennett and Jessie Tuggle. Bennett was a star in college at Alabama and in the NFL previously with the Buffalo Bills. Tuggle was “The Hammer” in the middle of the Atlanta defense for over a decade.

Over time, both Bennett and Tuggle would leave the team, paving the way for Brooking to become a star in his own right. He made five straight trips to the Pro Bowl from 2001 to 2005, coinciding with the best years of the Michael Vick experience. Though he never was a First-Team All-Pro, the tackling machine from East Coweta High School made the Second-Team in both 2002 and 2004, Vick’s best years in Atlanta.

It might be a tad bit of a stretch to say it at this time, but for that five-year peak of Brooking’s career, he was arguably the third best middle linebacker in football. The only two defensive signal-callers certainly ahead of him in that pecking order would be Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens and Brian Urlacher of the Chicago Bears. Those two legends have in recent years been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

As for Brooking, he’s a prime candidate to stay in the Hall of Very Good. That being said, his first 11 seasons of his 15-year NFL career came as a one of the best players on the Falcons. One has to believe that he will one day be inducted into the Falcons Ring of Honor.

After seeing the Falcons lose in the NFC Wild Card round to the eventual NFC champion Arizona Cardinals in the 2008 NFL playoffs, Brooking went on to play four more years in the league. He spent the 2009 to 2011 campaigns as a member of the Dallas Cowboys. Brooking briefly played for the 2012 Denver Broncos before retiring at the age of 37.

In total, Brooking amassed 1,435 tackles in 225 career games. During his 11 seasons with the Falcons, Brooking had 1,128 in 161 games for the Dirty Birds. For anyone watching the Falcons regularly in the 2000s, Brooking was a model of consistency in the middle of the Atlanta defense. His ability to take the reins from Tuggle could not have been more seamless, who retired after the 2000 NFL as a career Falcon.

Interestingly enough, Brooking would go on to mentor another great linebacker himself in the form of Sean Lee with the Cowboys. Overall, to draft a local kid in the top-half of the first round and get 10 years of high-end production out of the guy, there is no other way to look at Brooking’s tenure with the Falcons as anything short of an overwhelming success. He carried the torch of elite Atlanta linebackers for the better part of a decade in the 2000s.