The Pro Football Hall of Fame snubbed Tommy Nobis, a player his peers described as an all-time great. That is not surprising in and of itself, given that Falcons have traditionally not made their way to Canton.
That won’t be true forever, however, and it’s increasingly not true now. Deion Sanders and Claude Humphrey are both in, and there has been renewed appreciation for players like Nobis and Mike Kenn, even if their excellence has unfortunately still not been recognized with enshrinement. With that in mind, who might be the next Falcons Hall of Famer?
I’ve got six names in mind.
Qualifications: NFL Rookie of the Year, 1x First Team All-Pro, 5x Pro Bowler, 1960s NFL All-Decade Team
Nobis is from an era before stats were compiled in the same way, so stacking him up against someone like (to pull a relevant recent name out of the hat) Luke Kuechly is difficult. But there’s no question Nobis was recognized in his time as a legend on par with Hall of Famer Dick Butkus, a brutally physical linebacker and completed player who dominated in all 133 games he played in for Atlanta.
He was nominated this year and got some deserved attention, so perhaps he’ll wind up there someday.
Qualifications: 190-159-2 regular season record, 11-9 post-season record, 2x Super Bowl winner, 4x Conference Champion
Reeves, another nominee this year, didn’t make the cut either. His overall record isn’t all that impressive, but he was a well-regarded coach who made four trips to the Super Bowl and won two of them. Something that I should have noted earlier, given the number of bewildered comments, is that he won one as a player and one as an assistant coach, not as a head coach. Also unfortunately, neither of those wins were with the Falcons, but he was at the helm of maybe the greatest team in franchise history. That’s a good enough resume to earn consideration for a spot in the Hall.
Qualifications: 251 starts in 251 games, 3x First Team All-Pro, 5x Pro Bowl
I’d argue that Kenn is the worthiest Falcon who isn’t in the Hall of Fame. He had a truly remarkable career, playing more games for the Falcons than anyone else. He’s still 44th all-time in games played, and he played all those games at a high level, as evinced by his All-Pro nods and stellar reputation.
Here’s a couple of factoids that feel particularly remarkable in this era where the Falcons are getting killed in pass protection and by penalties: Kenn once went 26 consecutive games without a penalty, and during the playoff year in 1991, Kenn allowed just one sack all year. Had the Falcons been the sort of team anyone paid attention to, Kenn would be in Canton today.
It’s sort of criminal that he’s not in the Hall, honestly.
Qualifications: 1,809 tackles, 21 sacks, 6 interceptions, 3x All-Pro, 5x Pro Bowl
Tuggle is far and away the leader in tackles for this franchise, and depending on who you believe and what metric you use, the leading tackler in NFL history. Tackles do not a great player make, but Tuggle’s particular brand of bone-jarring hits were legendary and he was a terrific, complete player. In 1990, he piled up 201 tackles, 5 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles, which is sort of insane.
He’s also my favorite player ever, not that my bias crept in here or anything. He’s been overshadowed by guys like Ray Lewis, but Tuggle at least deserves more consideration for Canton.
Qualifications: Top 10 in most passing categories, 1x NFL MVP, 1x All-Pro, 4x Pro Bowl
By the time Ryan retires, there’s a strong chance he’ll be top five in every major passing category you can think of. The problem is that he’s not the best quarterback of his era, and that despite his best efforts, he doesn’t have a Super Bowl ring. The statistical profile is going to be virtually impossible to ignore at some point, but unfortunately there a lot of people willing to look right by him.
If the Falcons do manage to hoist the Lombardi in his tenure, the last major criticism of Ryan falls away and he’s probably a virtual lock for the Hall of Fame. I think he’s still a strong bet if he doesn’t get one, but his game has been underrated for so long that the possibility of Ryan being shut out feels all too real.
Qualifications: On track to be top ten in yards, receptions, yards per game, and potentially touchdowns; 2x All-Pro, 7x Pro Bowl
Julio feels like the closest thing to a lock on this list. While fans sometimes bemoan the lack of scoring, his peers and NFL media generally acknowledge that #11 is one of the best receivers in the history of the NFL. If he played just two more seasons at his current reception and yardage pace, he’d be top ten in both. Three more seasons like that and only Jerry Rice and Larry Fitzgerald will be in front of him, and I think Julio Jones probably has at least that many left in him.
The biggest knocks on Julio will be the relative lack of touchdowns and maybe comparison to his peers, though Antonio Brown and A.J. Green are falling away as we speak. He’s a very strong bet for Canton.
Sadly, I think Kenn, Tuggle, and Nobis are probably destined not to make it, though I’ll keep hoping and pushing for them to make it. Reeves feels like the likeliest entrant in the short term, but it would not be at all surprising if Ryan and Julio are in there in a decade or so.
Who would you guess will make the Hall of Fame?