At this stage of the uniform history list, the stars begin to become recognized. We’ve seen the likes of Terrance Mathis, Alge Crumpler, and Roddy White featured over the past few days. Unfortunately, the number 85 doesn’t showcase a true headliner. This particular list of players have either underwhelmed or overachieved depending on their draft status. Here are the players that have worn the number 85 in Atlanta Falcons history.
WR: Anthony Allen
Despite being drafted in the sixth round of the 1983 draft, Allen started his career in the USFL. The former Washington Huskie became a star through playing in Los Angeles, Portland, and Michigan. Eventually, the Falcons gave him an opportunity in 1985 as a punt returner. Allen had limited opportunities as a backup receiver, but mostly made his mark as a punt returner.
He won a Super Bowl in 1987 with the Washington Redskins. For a player who was deemed not good enough at the start of his career, Allen had a respectable five-year NFL career. His career ended in 1989 after playing one season for San Diego.
WR: Lew Barnes
The explosive diminutive receiver didn’t last long in the NFL. Chicago took a gamble on him in the fifth round of the 1986 draft. After one season, Atlanta acquired him to become their main punt returner. Barnes was simply too undersized to be effective at five-foot-eight without any plays designed for him. His career ended in 1989 following a short stint with Kansas City.
TE: Dwayne Blakley
Not many tight ends were labeled as a pure blocker. Blakley was strictly utilized in run-blocking situations through four seasons in Atlanta. After being signed in 2004 as an undrafted free agent, Blakley was an asset under Atlanta’s run-first offense.
With only 21 career catches in four seasons, his limitations couldn’t be overlooked. Atlanta chose not to re-sign him, as they started their major rebuilding process in 2008. Blakley was signed by Tennessee, but failed to make their regular season roster.
WR: Shawn Collins
After a promising first season, Collins was unable to develop into a number one wide receiver. The former first round pick dealt with injuries and depression throughout his career. Atlanta chose not to re-sign him following the 1991 season, which was ravaged by injuries.
Collins had stints at Cleveland and Green Bay that didn’t lead to any monumental moments. His five-year career ended in 1993. Thankfully for his sake, happiness and peace have been found throughout his retirement.
WR: Paul Flatley
The 1963 rookie of the year was one of the more explosive receivers throughout the 1960’s. Minnesota’s decision to use a fourth-round pick on him ended up being one of the most brilliant judgments in franchise history. Atlanta decided to sign him in 1968, as Flately’s production started to dip. He played relatively well for Atlanta in three seasons. The former Northwestern Wildcat ended his career in 1970 to conclude a successful eight-year career.
WR: Drew Hill
Any player that plays fourteen seasons deserves to be highly commended. Hill was five-foot-nine and still remained durable throughout his prime. Similar to many other great players, Atlanta didn’t acquire Hill until he started to decline. The former twelfth round pick was expected to be a kick returner for Los Angeles. After five seasons as a kick returner, Houston signed him in 1985 to play wide receiver.
Hill had a sensational career with five 1,000-yard seasons out of seven for the Oilers. The two-time Pro Bowler signed with Atlanta at 36 years old in 1992. In two seasons, he still managed to contribute with over 1,000 yards combined. Father time caught up to him in 1993, as Hill decided to retire in completing his remarkable career.
WR: Alfred Jackson
The seven-year Falcon established himself into becoming a valuable contributor. Despite being strictly utilized as a backup, Jackson was versatile in fulfilling different tasks. As the team began to struggle in 1983, Jackson was inserted into a starting role. Injuries unfortunately obstructed his golden opportunity in starting for a rebuilding team.
While he was one of the bigger fan favorites on below-average teams, Jackson couldn’t evolve into becoming a reliable starter. His career ended in 1984 following his most productive season with 52 receptions and 731 yards. The former seventh round pick exceeded expectations throughout his seven-year career.
FB/TE: Brian Kozlowski
When it comes to success stories from undrafted players, Kozlowski deserves more recognition. The fourteen-year veteran earned a reputation for his work ethic and blocking ability. After three seasons as a backup for the Giants, Atlanta signed him in 1997. Kozlowski never missed one game through seven seasons with Atlanta.
When Bob Christian dealt with injuries, Atlanta turned to the versatile tight end in attempting to replace a valuable player. Washington signed him in 2004, as they needed another blocker for Clinton Portis. Kozlowski ended his career in 2007 at 37 years old. Falcon fans will always remember him for being the ultimate team player.
TE: Billy Martin
The hometown hero from Georgia Tech played only two seasons for Atlanta. After being drafted by Chicago in the 1964 draft, Martin only played two seasons as a backup. Atlanta groomed him into a starting role during their expansion season in 1966. He never progressed into being a true NFL starting-caliber tight end. Martin’s career ended in 1968 following a brief stint with the Vikings.
WR: Roell Preston
Preston can be truly classified as a journeyman player. The former fifth round pick played for five different teams in seven seasons. After two seasons as a kick returner in Atlanta, they chose not to re-sign him. Green Bay signed him in 1997 and benefitted greatly from their excellent acquisition. Preston became an All-Pro through an outstanding 1998 season with two touchdowns as a kick returner.
San Francisco signed him in 1999, which led to him being moved to Tennessee and Miami through the same season. His six-year career ended from playing in the CFL.
It’s no secret that the number 85 features a very underwhelming list. Based on consistency and longevity, Jackson deserves the nod. Seven seasons as a solid contributor deserves credence. Collins only had one productive season, which isn’t enough to be considered. Jackson has proven to be worthy of being the greatest number 85 in Falcon history. Fans will be hoping that Leonard Hankerson can surpass that by being more productive within the next three to five years.