Our series of best season ever articles rolls on with offensive line. While this team has had some Hall of Fame and Ring of Honor caliber players in its history, picking individual best years for these guys is a bit more challenging.
That’s partly because it’s difficult to parse out who was most responsible for a great year by the offensive line. That’s why you won’t see a 2010 nominee on here despite the fact that the team had a truly incredible year, with Tyson Clabo, Todd McClure, and Justin Blalock combining to commit just one penalty. Other years, someone overshadows someone else despite a terrific season, as was the case with 1980 Mike Kenn over Jeff Van Note. There are also franchise greats like Van Note who don’t rate a mention here, but that shouldn’t be taken as a slight given their stellar body of work overall.
This list, more than any other, is difficult to put together purely off of statistics and a quick review of history. If you have worthy nominees that aren’t here—don’t say 2012 Sam Baker—I’d welcome those in the comments.
1973 George Kunz
Kunz is one of the best players in franchise history who is virtually never discussed today, but the bonafides speak for themselves. He was a Pro Bowler 8 times in 9 seasons, was an All-Pro multiple times,
Why 1973 as his best season, then? The Falcons were actually good that year, putting up the best record in franchise history to that point and only the second winning season in team history at that point, and they somehow were competent on offense with Bob Lee and Dick Shiner leading the way at quarterback that year. It’s fair to say that Kunz was the key to that on an otherwise largely anonymous offensive line.
1980 Mike Kenn
Kenn was already brilliant by his third year, earning All-Pro honors after allowing just 3.5 sacks and not getting flagged once all year during one of the best years in franchise history up to this point. He also paved the way for the franchise’s best year on offense up until this point, which is no mean feat.
1986 Bill Fralic
Fralic’s career wasn’t quite long enough for him to get the shine he deserves, but he was nasty in a way that earned him the respect (and maybe fear) of his peers. The fact that the Falcons came within a half-game of .500 this year owes plenty to Fralic, the most effective man on the unit by a pretty wide margin and one of the few reasons a team featuring Dave Archer, Turk Schonert, and Scott Campbell at quarterback managed to not finish dead last in the league on offense. That may sounding like damning with faint praise, but this was a herculean effort from Fralic.
1991 Mike Kenn
Kenn helped key a playoff run this year as part of an utterly dominant unit that allowed just 31 sacks, a team record on 531 dropbacks. What’s even more ridiculous about that is that Kenn only allowed one of those sacks that year, nabbing first team All-Pro honors more than a decade after his career began. That season almost defies belief.
1993 Chris Hinton
Hinton was an All-Pro just once in his career, and it was this year at right guard for the Falcons, which means he wasn’t coasting on reputation. To understand why this was such a remarkable year, it helps to have a little context for the team’s woes.
Bobby Hebert started 12 games in 1993, with Billy Joe Tolliver and Chris Miller each starting two. Somehow the team only allowed 40 sacks to that bunch, or 10 fewer than Matt Ryan and Matt Schaub took just last year with five first round picks getting time on the line. Erric Pegram received nearly 300 carries yards this year as the team’s undisputed feature back, and the team’s receiving options were their weakest they would be in the 1990s. This was not a team stacked with talent.
Yet Pegram went over 1,000 yards, Hebert had maybe his best season ever, and the Falcons stunk less than you’d expect given everything working against them. Hinton’s phenomenal work at guard was a stabilizing force for that entire line, and maybe the most underrated season by an OL in team history.
2004 Todd McClure
McClure wasn’t alone in propelling the 2004 Falcons to some of their most ridiculous rushing numbers ever, nor was he the only man paving the way for them when Michael Vick, Warrick Dunn, and T.J. Duckett ran for 327 yards in the playoffs that year.
He was the most essential man on the line that year, I would submit, and while pass protection gets its shine, McClure was a nasty run blocker in his prime whose work speaks for itself here. Underrated for his discipline, McClure was also penalized just once in 2004.
2016 Alex Mack
It would not be an exaggeration to say that Mack, more than anyone else on that very capable line, was the key to Atlanta basically doing whatever they wanted on offense during their Super Bowl year. He was the guy who made everything work on Kyle Shanahan’s agile line, delivering one of the best Pro Football Focus grades of his entire career, leading the way in keeping Matt Ryan clean during his MVP season, and blocking effectively for the team’s dynamic running back group.
Who’s your choice?
Which Falcons OL had the greatest season in team history?
1973 George Kunz(2 votes)
1980 Mike Kenn(38 votes)
1986 Bill Fralic(18 votes)
1991 Mike Kenn(50 votes)
1993 Chris Hinton(4 votes)
2004 Todd McClure(28 votes)
2016 Alex Mack(124 votes)