Longtime Falcons fans might remember Bryant Young as a disruptive force on the 49ers defensive line during the 1990s, back when the Falcons and 49ers were both in the NFC West and the Falcons had the misfortune of facing dominant 49ers teams twice a season. Young joined the 49ers as a 1st round pick in 1994 and quickly teamed with Dana Stubblefield to give the 49ers a devastating interior defensive line. That fantastic 49ers defense led the team to win a Super Bowl in Young’s rookie year (demolishing the Falcons along the way twice, 42-3 and 50-14).
After that 1994 season, the 49ers went on to make the playoffs in the following 4 seasons and in six of the next eight seasons, with Young becoming havoc-wreaking force who earned a Pro Bowl nod four times, and who had four seasons with 9.5 or more sacks during that eight-year stretch.
Hey, guess who happened to coach him for four years in San Francisco? That’s right, this guy:
Success against Atlanta
It probably won’t surprise you all that Young was outstanding against the Falcons’ oft-overmatched offensive line during that stretch. For six consecutive seasons between 1996 and 2001, Young managed to pull off two sacks per season against Atlanta (equating to a 16-sack season pace). During his 14-year career, Young played against the Falcons 18 times, registering 13 sacks, with the 49ers compiling a 12-6 record against the Falcons in those match-ups.
In retrospect, the Falcons appear to be have been quite fortunate that Young was unable to play when the Falcons and 49ers met in the playoffs following the 1998 season, when the “Dirty Bird”-era Falcons scraped by with a 20-18 victory.
As if revisiting Young’s history of obliterating the Falcons weren’t a painful enough gut-punch, it turns out that the draft pick the 49ers used to select Young in 1994 was originally the Falcons’ pick. One month before the 1994 NFL draft, the Falcons traded that pick to the Colts for quarterback Jeff George, who like Young, also wrecked the Falcons during the 1990s, albeit in a much different way.
That Falcons draft pick - which turned out to be the 7th pick in the 1994 draft - cycled through the grasp of the Colts and Rams before the 49ers traded their first 3 picks to move up and select Young. The rest, as they say, is history.
Of course, even if the Falcons had kept that draft pick, it would be naïve to assume that they would have decided to select Young. We’re talking about a franchise that one year earlier had drafted non-factor Tony Smith over better players. A franchise that two years earlier had drafted CB Bruce Pickens third in the draft, ahead of eventual greats like Herman Moore, Todd Lyght, and Eric Swann. A franchise that before that surprised everyone (then and now) by selecting Aundray Bruce ahead of Neil Smith, Tim Brown, and Sterling Sharpe at the very top of the draft.
And even if the Falcons had kept that 1994 pick and decided to select Young, who’s to say that they wouldn’t have given up on him after a year and traded him away, as they had recently done for a player they drafted early in the draft - someone else who went on to have a breathtaking career and lead his team to a Super Bowl victory:
Ah, the Falcons 1990s drafts and personnel decisions are full of woulda-shoulda-coulda moments. Just like a much more recent event in Falcons history.
But enough of that. The Falcons have belatedly corrected their past error, and 23 years after allowing Young out of their draft grasp, have added him to their coaching staff. At this point, Dan Quinn deserves the benefit of the doubt when it comes to assembling his coaching staff, and Quinn is very familiar with Young. That familiarity is not only due to having coached him when he was a 49ers player, but also having coached University of Florida’s defensive line along with Young in 2011 and 2012, coaching up Dominique Easley and Dante Fowler, Jr. along the way.
So will Young be able to teach his disruptive pass-rush prowess tricks to young interior Falcons Ra’Shede Hageman and Grady Jarrett so that the Falcons develop their own modern day version of Bryant Young-Dana Stubblefield?
One can hope, and we’ll find out beginning next season.