You can name a special special teamer or two from Falcons history without blinking, I’d wager. Morten Andersen, Deion Sanders, Billy “White Shoes” Johnson and now Matt Bryant are all pretty legendary names, and they don’t represent all the great special teamers who have passed through Atlanta over the years.
In what has to be the most comprehensive list of its type, though, Rick Gosselin put together teams upon teams of the best special teamers ever. The Falcons are pretty well-represented on this list, with names you’ve heard and one or two you probably haven’t heard in a very long time. With the team’s focus on special teams this year—the sixth round draft choice for Russell Gage, the Justin Bethel signing, and the team’s retention of rock solid special teamers including Bryant, Kemal Ishmael, and Justin Hardy—it seemed a good time to celebrate the special teamers who have come before.
Here’s the list from Gosselin’s list.
K Morten Andersen
Andersen’s not on here for his field goal kicking, which was consistently good-to-great in his career but pales in comparison to, say, Bryant’s. He’s on here for his effective work on kickoffs, an underrated part of his game that ensured he’d stick in the NFL for about two decades. He’s a Hall of Famer, and a deserving one.
CB Elbert Shelley
Technically a defensive back, Shelley retired as a four-time Pro Bowler because of his awesome work on special teams. He was one of the best gunners of the modern era, piling up more special teams tackles (156) than the widely-celebrated Matthew Slater (136) in a shorter career. He was a fast, fearless, hard-tackling special teamer, the kind of player Keith Armstrong would gladly put in a time machine to have at his peak in 2018.
KR/PR Devin Hester
Hester is simply one of the great return men in NFL history, and with the league mulling culling or eliminating kickoffs, he likely will be one of the last great ones. His short time in Atlanta was marked by a couple of truly insane returns and consistent excellence, something he brought throughout his entire career with the Chicago Bears, as well. He’s one of the few players I’ve seen on special teams who deserved the “electric” label he so often received.
CB Justin Bethel
The Bethel signing confused a few folks who thought he had been a Pro Bowler for his work at corner, but Bethel’s excellence as a gunner is what got him on this list, and what he’ll be primarily asked to do in Atlanta. He’s blocked field goals, forced fumbles, scored touchdowns and made several big stops in that role, and after the Falcons suffered through poor gunner play throughout 2017, he’s an obvious upgrade.
KR/PR Billy “White Shoes” Johnson
In his 15 seasons in the NFL, Johnson proved to be an accomplished returner, including during his stint with the Falcons. He also was a pretty good wide receiver and a man who loved—and arguably pioneered—some familiar touchdown dances.
Who else belongs on this list, in your opinion?