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What was the greatest single season by a Falcons defensive end?

The Falcons have had some stellar ones, but if you love sacks, one stands out.

Atlanta Falcons v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

We’re back to our best seasons in Falcons history series, where we’ve gone position-by-position to crown the best individual players with the best individual years.

We’re done with the offense—and we’ll share the results of your voting later this week—and now it’s on to the defense. We’ll start with defensive end, where I looked through this team’s history and tried to pull out the very best seasons I could remember and/or find.

There may be a little bias toward the best pass rushing seasons of all-time here, so you should of course let me know if I’ve overlooked a great year because my memory of a defensive end’s run stopping capabilities is not up to snuff.

Poll

Who had the greatest single DE season in Falcons history?

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    1976 Claude Humphrey
    (90 votes)
  • 0%
    1977 Jeff Merrow
    (2 votes)
  • 2%
    1997 Chuck Smith
    (24 votes)
  • 4%
    2004 Patrick Kerney
    (39 votes)
  • 70%
    2008 John Abraham
    (584 votes)
  • 11%
    2016 Vic Beasley
    (92 votes)
  • 0%
    Other (please specify)
    (3 votes)
834 votes total Vote Now

1976 Claude Humphrey

Honestly, you could probably put Humphrey here multiple times for Atlanta, given that he was a Hall of Fame defender very much in his prime while he was playing for the Falcons. But you might as well single out the crown jewel of his career in Atlanta for a list like this, and that’d definitely be ‘76, the year before the Grits Blitz that he was still an integral part of.

This year, Humphrey unofficially record 15 sacks, the third-best total in team history and a huge number for the era, and he was always a top-shelf run defender.

1977 Jeff Merrow

Merrow is the best Falcons defensive end you’ve either completely forgotten about or never know about in the first place. For a short time during that run of quality defenses in the 1970s, Merrow was one of the team’s best defensive linemen, a player who could line up all over and create havoc.

His ‘77 was his best year, when he led the Falcons with 10 sacks, reputedly was a tremendous run defender, and was a key piece of the best defense in team history, the Grits Blitz. Injury slowed him somewhat in the years to come, but he was a terrific player, and this was easily his best year.

1997 Chuck Smith

Speaking of best years, this was the best one from one of the team’s better pass rushers, where he stuffed the stat with 12 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, and a pick, though mysteriously he didn’t earn so much as a Pro Bowl nod for his efforts.

Smith’s 1998, where his numbers were lesser but he was a key cog on a great defensive line, and 1999, where he was just great, also belong in this conversation.

2004 Patrick Kerney

This was an underrated pass rusher enjoyi9ng the best year of his career in Atlanta. On a generally stingy 2004 defense, Kerney was the undisputed star up front, putting up 13 sacks, 17 tackles for loss, and deflecting 9 passes as an athletic, disruptive force on the line.

2008 John Abraham

In terms of pure statistical wizardry, this is the gold standard. Abraham not only managed the franchise single season record for sacks with 16.5, but he did so while hitting the quarterback 30 times, piling up 20 tackles for loss in total and forcing four fumbles. He could’ve hit 20 sacks with a handful of lucky breaks, and his excellence in Matt Ryan’s rookie year helped lift the Falcons to an unexpected playoff berth.

We could list a lot of Abraham seasons here, but this one’s so far above and beyond it deserves to stand alone.

2016 Vic Beasley

I struggled with whether I should put this one on the list, because it clearly was a bit of a fluke season and obviously the bitterness about how Beasley’s career in Atlanta turned out.

Even though Beasley clearly feasted on some weak matchups along the way, he did manage to bring opposing quarterbacks 15.5 times and forced six fumbles, playing solid enough run defense to make this easily his complete year...and one of the best years by a Falcons DE ever.

Who did I miss on this list?