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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Steve Bartkowski, Atlanta Falcons
Steve Bartkowski, Atlanta Falcons. (Photo by Mike Powell/Getty Images) /

Steve Bartkowski is a perfect candidate to get us into the top-10 on this all-time list. Not only is he one of the greatest quarterbacks in franchise history, his No. 10 jersey is ‘retired’ in the Falcons Ring of Honor. Bartkowski is undoubtedly on the Falcons’ Mount Rushmore of franchise quarterbacks.

Drafted No. 1 overall out of Cal, Bartkowski would go on to play 11 of his 12 NFL seasons for Atlanta. Though he took a beating for much of his Falcons career behind lackluster offensive lines, his is widely considered to be the Falcons’ first true franchise quarterback.

Yes, Atlanta had two signal-callers before him who could attempt to claim that sort of recognition. That would be football Randy Johnson and Bob Berry, who went to a Pro Bowl back in 1969. However, it was Bartkowski who was instrumental in establishing this team’s culture and what it means to lead a cast of Falcons into battle on fall Sundays.

In 1975, he would be named NFC Rookie of the Year. Bartkowski was there for Grits Blitz in 1977. Although that defensive-minded football team would fail to reach the NFC playoffs, Bartkowski would get the Falcons there for the first time in franchise history the next year in 1978.

Atlanta made the NFC playoffs three times with Bartkowski on the roster, coming in 1978, 1980 and 1982. He made the Pro Bowl in back-to-back years in 1980 and 1981. Bartkowski led the NFL in touchdown passes in 1980 with 31 and in completion percentage in 1983 with an impressive 67.8 percent.

After 11 years with the Falcons, Bartkowski would spend his last NFL season playing for the 1986 Los Angeles Rams before retiring at age-34. Overall, Bartkowski completed 56.2 percent of his passes in Atlanta uniform for 23,740 yards, 154 touchdowns and 141 interceptions. All of these were franchise records by the time he made his way to Los Angeles in 1986.

One could look at Bartkowski as a good, but not great player. But he was so much more than that in Atlanta. He provided stability to the quarterbacking position for really the first time in franchise history. He was also the man who threw both Big Ben Right and Big Ben II.

These are two of the most spectacular throws in Falcons history. Big Ben Right beat the hated New Orleans Saints in 1978 to help Atlanta reach the NFC playoffs for the first time. Big Ben II helped shock the then-division rival San Francisco 49ers in 1983. He might have been ahead of his time, but Bartkowski threw a beautiful deep ball in Atlanta for over a decade.