As free agency fervor dies down and the 2014 NFL Draft approaches (slowly, it seems, since they moved it to May), let's do some reminiscing about Atlanta's success with first round draft picks over the years. Which player would you single out as the Falcons' best first round draft pick of all time?
To get started, let's look no further than Atlanta's first round draft pick prior to the 1966 season, the very first year of their existence. Atlanta selected middle linebacker Tommy Nobis with the first overall pick, and Nobis was an excellent choice. He was named Rookie of the Year in 1966, and was also named to the Pro Bowl following his rookie season--his first of five Pro Bowl appearances. Fun fact: ABC ran a nationwide poll to determine the best pro athlete of the 1960s. Running back O.J. Simpson topped the results, and Nobis was voted second.
In 1968, the Falcons selected Claude Humphrey with the third overall pick. Humphrey is a 2014 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee--the second Falcons player in team history to be inducted. Humphrey was named the defensive Rookie of the Year in 1968. Humphrey was named to the Pro Bowl roster six times, and was a five-time All-Pro first team selection. Humphrey continues to hold team records with 94.5 sacks as a Falcon and 757 sack yards.
The Falcons selected quarterback Steve Bartkowski first overall in the 1975 NFL Draft, and Bartkowski was named Rookie of the Year following the 1975 season. Bartkowski was, at the time, the best quarterback the franchise had ever had by far, and he still holds the team records for the most career passing yards, most career passes completed, and the most career touchdown passes, although Matt Ryan is closing in on that one. Bartkowski held the single season touchdown passes record for the Falcons until Ryan surpassed it in 2012. Bartkowski was a two-time Pro Bowler.
In 1989, Atlanta selected cornerback Deion Sanders with the fifth-overall pick. Sanders is a polarizing player, mainly because he left the Falcons as a free agent and went to a division rival at the time, the 49ers. Sanders was a three-time Pro Bowler and was named first team All Pro in 1992. Sanders was the first Falcon to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated, the only athlete to play two pro sports in the same city and the same season, and the first former Falcons player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Following a 2007 season that could only be described using profanity, the Falcons selected a quarterback out of Boston College with the third-overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. Many fans, myself included, were exceedingly unimpressed with the selection until Matt Ryan hit the field to start the 2008 season. His first pass as a pro was a 62-yard touchdown to Michael Jenkins, and he went on to help the team achieve an 11-5 record and secure a wildcard playoff spot, Atlanta's first playoff appearance since 2004. Ryan was named the NFL Rookie of the Year by the Associated Press following the 2008 season. Ryan has helped lead the team to four playoff bids and five winning seasons in his six-year career.
Which player would you pick as Atlanta's best first round draft choice of all time?