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Falcons Uniform History #34: Some worthy contenders

Several memorable Falcons have worn the number 34, which should spark a debate amongst Falcon fans of all ages.

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

After easy choices such as Jamal Anderson and Michael Turner have been featured for their respective jersey numbers, circumstances change dramatically for the number 34. This list features several premier players that played in the 1970's to 2011. You'll recognize a bulldozing running back and hole-opening full back that will bring back fond memories. The memories won't stop there, as playmakers at the cornerback and safety position wore the number 34 as well. It was extremely difficult to choose a winner following my breakdown of these fourteen players.

RB: Steve Broussard

The former first round pick never lived up to expectations in Atlanta. At five-foot-seven, Broussard was always going to be a role player that would be utilized in a structured format. He wasn't able to create those explosive plays that made him so coveted out of Washington State. Fumbles plagued his career, particularly during his rookie season. Broussard had six fumbles in 1990, which is a staggering amount for any player. After four seasons, Broussard wasn't re-signed and went to Cincinnati. His career ended in 1998 following four seasons with Seattle.

FS/SS: Ray Brown

Brown actually started his career at free safety in 1971. The former sixth round pick moved to strong safety and proceeded to have an incredible career. In 1974, Brown had eight interceptions and became one of the most feared ballhawks. He was always considered as a team-first player, as Brown moved back to free safety in 1975 for the benefit of the team. Eventually, they moved him back to strong safety in 1976, although it never affected his productivity. After seven seasons in Atlanta, Brown had 31 interceptions and proudly holds the record for most interceptions in Falcons' safety history. Some fans were bitter that his career ended by playing for New Orleans in 1980. In the end, he will always be remembered as one of the few ballhawks that this franchise ever had.

CB: Ray Buchanan

For a franchise that notoriously lacks stability at the cornerback position, Buchanan is revered greatly in Atlanta. When he signed for them in 1997, Buchanan was an immediate hit and embraced the challenge of covering the opposing team's best receiver. He saved his best for the 1998 Super Bowl team, as the former third round pick secured seven interceptions. In seven years with Atlanta, Buchanan had thirty interceptions. "Big Play Ray" was adored in Atlanta and played at a high level until 2003, when age caught up to him. He ended his career in Oakland, where most declining Pro-Bowlers tend to finish their career. Buchanan was a two-time All-Pro and will always be one of the greatest Falcon defensive players of all-time. His brilliance on the microphone can't be forgotten as well.

RB: DeAndra Cobb

After being drafted in the sixth round of the 2005 draft, Cobb played only one season in Atlanta. A knee injury did hinder his development. Eventually, he was limited to returning kicks and wasn't really given many opportunities within the offense. With Warrick Dunn declining and Jerious Norwood strictly being a change-of-pace back, Cobb may have had an opportunity for more carries. That never came to fruition and he was out of the league shortly afterwards.

RB: Junior Coffey

Coffey had a solid two-and-half seasons in Atlanta. Between 1966 and 1967, he combined for over 1400 rushing yards in 28 games. The former Washington Huskie was traded to the Giants during the 1969 season and retired in New York after the 1971 season. Coffey retired early following multiple injuries and decided to become a racehorse trainer.

FB: Bradie Ewing

Injuries absolutely decimated Ewing's career, who played just two games in two seasons for Atlanta. Those injuries forced him to retire last April.

CB: Blane Gaison

Gaison was mostly a backup through his four seasons with Atlanta. From 1981 to 1984, he would mostly play special teams. Gaison's career was over following the 1984 season.

RB/FB: Craig Heyward

The well-acclaimed "Ironhead" was adored in Atlanta, despite only playing three seasons. After playing for New Orleans and Chicago, Heyward signed with Atlanta in 1994. It was his first real opportunity to be a three-down running back. He didn't look back, as Heyward punished opposing defenses on a weekly basis. In 1995, Heyward ran over 1,000 yards for the first time in his career and helped push Atlanta into securing the final playoff spot. As for all running backs, age caught up to Heyward and he converted back to playing full back at age 31. Atlanta didn't re-sign him after the 1996 season, which led to St. Louis acquiring him. His career ended in 1998 playing for Indianapolis. The entire NFL community still mourns his loss following a recurring brain tumor that ended his life in 2006.

FB: Marlion Jackson

The well-traveled fullback played for five NFL teams. If you want to include AFL teams, Jackson has played for ten football teams. He played only one season in Atlanta during the 2006 season. That season ended with him suffering a torn pectoral muscle. Jackson's NFL career ended in 2007 from being cut by Carolina during training camp.

CB: Mike Lush

Lush only played three games for Atlanta in 1987. It was the last team that gave him an opportunity following failed stints with Minnesota and Indianapolis.

WR: David Mims

After going un-drafted in the 1993 draft, Mims was given an opportunity. He was released after two seasons of mostly being a fourth receiver. Carolina gave him an opportunity through their expansion draft. He didn't make it past training camp and his career ended afterwards.

SS: Robert Moore

Moore played four seasons in Atlanta, while producing a few quality seasons. His main accomplishment came in the 1988 season, where he had five interceptions and started every game. Injuries took a toll on him and his career ended following the 1989 season at just 25 years old.

FB: Ovie Mughelli

The two-time second team All-Pro will always be remembered fondly in Atlanta. After being a poor fit under Bobby Petrino's scheme in 2007, Mughelli flourished in 2008 and contributed heavily to Michael Turner's success. He was always considered as one of the best lead blockers during his prime. That was showcased in 2010, as he was a second-team All-Pro and helped Atlanta ascend towards having the best record in the NFC at 13-3. Unfortunately, Mughelli tore his MCL in 2011 and was released following that season. The selection of Bradie Ewing basically pushed Mughelli out the door, along with his hefty salary. They haven't found a replacement for his big shoes. After a failed stint in St. Louis, his career ended in 2012 and has now become an analyst on 120 Sports.

RB: Jerome Smith

The current fourth-string running back could enter Atlanta's plans this season. At 226 pounds, he could be the ideal short-yardage back for a team lacking in that department. It will be interesting to see how Kyle Shanahan utilizes Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Neither player inspires full confidence in converting a third-and-one or getting in the end zone at the one yard-line. Smith should be closely watched throughout pre-season.

Final Verdict

This pick is genuinely a tossup, given the talent level of players that wore this number. Buchanan and Brown were both massive difference-makers during their respective careers. Mughelli was a difference-maker as well, but it's hard to justify choosing a full back over two All-Pro defensive players. Both players are similar in the interception category, along with their longevity as a Falcon. I'm going to choose Buchanan for the sole purpose of his presence in Atlanta's secondary. Without him, it's hard to see them beating the Vikings in the 1999 NFC Championship game. Randy Moss and Cris Carter would have gotten open all game long. Buchanan was capable of matching up against any top receiver without needing much safety help in his prime. Shutdown cornerbacks are a rare breed compared to ballhawking safeties. Buchanan wasn't quite a shutdown corner, but he was an absolute playmaker and played a significant part for the best Falcons team of all-time in 1998.