One of the nice things about being a fan of the Atlanta Falcons is, this is a pretty easy team to root for these days. On the field, we're looking toward what should be the team's sixth consecutive winning season, with high hopes after falling just short of a Super Bowl appearance last season. Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith have built, and continue to build, this team for sustained success. Off the field, the Falcons pretty much set the standard for community service, based on the expectation, and example, set by owner Arthur Blank.
But, if you were asked to pick one favorite player--the easiest guy to root for on this Falcons team--could you do it? There are several players who come immediately to mind.
Quarterback Matt Ryan was drafted third overall in the 2008 NFL Draft, and his first pass as a pro, a 62-yard touchdown to Michael Jenkins, let fans know with great certainty that the dark days of 2007 were indeed over. Under his leadership, the Falcons have become a model of consistency. The two-time Pro Bowler has a phenomenal win-loss record of 57-26, not to mention a knack for leading last-minute game-winning drives. Ryan put up extraordinary numbers in 2012, finishing with 4,719 yards, 32 touchdowns, and a completion percentage of 68.6.
Wide receiver Julio Jones was a controversial pick in the 2011 NFL Draft because of what the Falcons were willing to give up to draft him, but he has emerged as one of the most dynamic receivers in the NFL. His athleticism and natural talent are matched only by his work ethic. He even had an interception in the end zone to end the divisional playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks. Last season Jones finished with 1,198 receiving yards, good for 11th in the league, plus ten touchdowns. What can't Julio do?
Running back Jacquizz Rodgers is undersized, but doesn't play like it. Quizz ended the 2012 season with 1,356 all-purpose yards, showing value as a rusher, a receiver and a kick return specialist. Rodgers' father spent most of Quizz's life behind bars on a drug conviction, and it's easy to root for a guy who faced that kind of adversity, and has worked his way to success in the NFL despite what most perceive as a size disadvantage. Matt Ryan described Quizz as, "strong, he's physical, he's shifty, he's nonstop, and he's relentless." It's true--just ask Earl Thomas.
Tight end Tony Gonzalez is, objectively, the greatest tight end to ever play the game, and age does not seem to deter him. The thirteen-time Pro Bowler finished last season with 930 receiving yards, and holds position records for receptions (1,242), receiving yards (14,268) and touchdown catches (103). His 1,242 receptions are good for second in the league for all-time, behind Jerry Rice.
Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon is just fun to watch. He assumed a defensive leadership role after the departure of Curtis Lofton to New Orleans in free agency prior to the 2012 season, and has set the tone for the defense with his swagger and aggression. Despite missing some games due to injury, Weatherspoon finished the 2012 second, behind Stephen Nicholas, for total tackles (solo and assists) with 95, and also had three sacks, one interception and one forced fumble. Also, he has arguably the most fun celebration dance.
Safety William Moore is an aspiring rapper with a habit of shouting out the Falcons' entire roster in his lyrics, he hits like a truck, and the last time the Falcons faced the Saints in the Georgia Dome, Moore intercepted Drew Brees twice. What's not to love? Moore finished the 2012 season with 75 combined tackles, one sack, two forced fumbles and four interceptions, which would suggest that he is, indeed, always ready.
Kicker Matt Bryant has been a huge factor in many of Matt Ryan's game-winning drives, including the divisional playoff win over Seattle last season. Many fans around the league cringe when a game comes down to their kicker's leg, but not Falcons fans. To say Matt Bryant is reliable is like saying that Tony Gonzalez is in decent shape--it's a huge understatement. Also, after the Falcons lost to the Panthers in Carolina last season, and Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy ran around yelling, "Get the f--- off our field," like a crazy person, Matt Bryant calmly replied, "Enjoy watching us in January." It's not difficult at all to root for Matt Bryant.
Linebacker Brian Banks seems like a long shot to make the roster, but you have to admit, he's an easy guy to root for given the circumstances. Falsely accused of rape as a high school student, Banks watched his dreams of playing football at the University of Southern California, as well as any chance at playing at the professional level, slip away due to a wrongful conviction. Now exonerated, and given the opportunity to pursue his dream with the Falcons, Banks clearly cherishes every moment of the NFL experience.
Which player on the Falcons roster is easiest to root for on, or off, the field? Discuss!