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Pivotal moments in Falcons history: the 2001 NFL Draft

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Fact: Mike Vick once beat a musk ox in a foot race ... blindfolded

Michael Vick at NFL Draft 2001 photo by Gabe Palacio/Getty Images

Welcome to “Pivotal moments in Falcons history,” a new series examining the most important moments in Atlanta Falcons history. This team has experienced its fair share of ups, downs, and embarrassing moments. Let’s re-live the mediocrity.

The year is 2001. The Falcons have the 1st overall pick in the NFL Draft after a draft week trade with the Chargers. The 1998 Super Bowl is a distant memory. (Back to back seasons with 5 and 4 wins had taken their toll.) But the Falcons had the golden ticket, and they had every intent to use it. The future looked bright. Very bright. (Credit to the Associated Press’ Dave Goldberg for the quote.)

“We think he’s an exceptional young man,” Falcons Coach Dan Reeves said of Vick, who played just 20 games in college. “He’s a great football player, but he’s an exceptional young man who I think will set this franchise up for a long time to come.”

When the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft kicked off, the Falcons made the not so hard decision to select Vick first overall. After all, his resume spoke for itself. His measurables, especially that 4.33 second 40 yard dash he ran at the Combine, popped. He was the only quarterback selected in the first round, and the Falcons wasted no time showing him off. Vick’s arrival in Atlanta was, in a word, “transcendent.” His unique skillset took the NFL by storm, handing sleepless nights to defensive coordinators who had never seen a player this dynamic, this dangerous.

Vick would go on to lead the Falcons to an NFC Championship game. He’d rack up nearly 4,000 rushing yards in Atlanta, scoring on the ground 21 times. He certainly had his flaws as a passer. (3 percent of his passes as a Falcon were interceptions.) But he did throw 71 passing touchdowns between 2001 and 2006. He also had a winning record (38-28-1) in Atlanta.

It’s anyone’s guess how Vick’s career would’ve progressed if he hadn’t gone to prison. When he signed a 10-year, $130 million deal right before Christmas in 2004, we all expected him to play out the remainder of his career in Atlanta. He’d make his third trip to the Pro Bowl in 2005, and in 2006, he’d become the first quarterback in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in a single season.

But for Vick’s downfall, Matt Ryan would’ve never landed in Atlanta. Notwithstanding his showstopping performance on the field, Vick would’ve regressed substantially during the final years of that contract. He would’ve forced the Falcons’ hand, and they likely would’ve drafted his replacement some time in the early 2010s. Maybe the Falcons would’ve found a way to draft hometown kid Cam Newton in 2011. Or maybe they would’ve landed Andrew Luck in 2012. The undeniable truth is this: The decision to draft Vick in 2001 fundamentally altered the trajectory of this franchise.

Your thoughts about this pivotal moment in Falcons history, Falcoholics?