The Atlanta Falcons number 86 is perhaps the most storied of any jersey number. We remember special teamer Mike Smith, with his eight kick returns in 1980. Imagine the Falcons without his contributions.
The pool of talent is overwhelming. So many future Hall of Famers. The Chase Coffman era. Bear Pascoe's immeasurable contributions. I literally cannot count Tommy Gallarda's touchdown catches. Adam "Clutch" Nissley. Ryan "Elite" Winterswyk. How many Super Bowls would the Falcons have without Perry Tuttle's one catch in Atlanta? And a number of other quality players that I should not even have to mention, because you know their names.
But the best of the best? This battle is clearly between career-long Falcon Jim Mitchell and fan favorite Brian Finneran.
Jim Mitchell spent 11 years with the Falcons, totaling 155 games in red and black from 1969 to 1979. The 4th rounder finished with over 300 catches, 4,300 yards, and nearly 30 touchdowns. The 6-foot-1, 234-pound tight end had a solid career with the Falcons, and after retirement coached Morehouse and Morris Brown college.
If this roundup was on a third down, I have no doubt that Finneran would have caught it. Finneran spent nearly a decade as Atlanta's third down pass catcher, and the 6-foot-5, 210-pound wide receiver filled that role perfectly. James Rael summed up Finneran's contributions perfectly:
Atlanta Falcons alumnus Brian Finneran is best described as scrappy and old school. He wasn't the most dynamic wide receiver during his time in the NFL, but he got the job done. What he lacked in straight line speed, he made for with smart route running, length, and sheer determination.
Indeed, Andrew Hirsh (hey, I remember him) from Atlanta Falcons official website had an article about Finneran working with the younger players like Roddy White.
"By the time I left, Roddy was watching more tape than anybody in this building," Finneran said. "He just learned as he went and gained more experience. Two and a half, three years in the league, he had it just about figured out. And when he did, you’ve seen what he’s done. He’s been special."
This may be because Mitchell was out of the league years before I was born, but Finneran was one of the few consistents in the 2000s Falcons, and he is the best 86 the Atlanta Falcons have had.