What is the best jersey number in Atlanta sports history?
That simple question led me on a journey through time to find the answer. Icons can come packaged in every feasible way. Whether it be in a crisp clean single digit like No. 7 (Michael Vick), a classic like No. 21 (Deion Sanders, Dominique Wilkins) or a relatively unassuming numeral like 31 (Greg Maddux), each of these numbers means something in Atlanta sports lore.
Jersey History series: Nos. 1-5 | Nos. 6-10 | Nos. 11-15 | Nos. 16-20 | Nos. 21-25 | Nos. 26-30 | Nos. 31-35 | Nos. 36-40 | Nos. 41-45 | Nos. 46-50 | Nos. 51-55 | Nos. 56-60 | Nos. 61-65 | Nos. 66-70 | Nos. 71-75 | Nos. 76-80 | Nos. 81-85 | Nos. 86-90 | Nos. 91-95
Over the coming weeks, I’ll be unveiling my findings five jersey numbers at a time. I looked at each of the major sports franchises in the city’s history, from the Falcons, Braves, Hawks, Dream, United, Thrashers and Flames, all in order to catalog the definitive list of jersey numbers and whose worn them.
Before we get to the list, a few rules: A player had to play multiple seasons in Atlanta to be considered. I did not include any player who played for a franchise while it was located in another city; they had to have played in Atlanta.
To determine value and talent, I used a value-related stat for each sport such as Wins Above Replacement (baseball) or Point Share (hockey). Sometimes, I will make a subjective call. You may disagree, but that’s the fun of all of this, right? So, feel free to debate in the comments and let’s have a fun walk down memory lane. Let’s go!
Jersey No. 96
Best player: Falcons DT Tyeler Davison (2019-21)
Honorable mentions: Falcons DT Paul Soliai (2014-15)
Total number of Atlanta athletes to wear No. 96: 12
Summary: Think about this for a second before you close this article and throw your laptop out of the window. Tyeler Davison is among the three most underrated Falcons players since he came to Atlanta, and a case could be made he’s No. 1 on that list. After finishing 26th in defensive rush DVOA in 2018, the Falcons made a concerted effort to shore up their run defense. The only real addition they made to the interior of the defensive line, however, was Davison.
That proved to be a good signing, as Atlanta jumped to No. 13 in defensive rush DVOA in 2019, and they continued that climb to No. 6 in 2020. While the Falcons defense hasn’t been great in recent years, the run defense has actually been a quality part of this team. While Grady Jarrett gets a lot of attention among the Falcons’ defensive tackles, and deservedly so, Davison has been a great run defender the last two years.
Jersey No. 97
Best player: Falcons DE Patrick Kerney (1999-06)
Honorable mentions: Falcons DT Grady Jarrett (2015-present)
Total number of Atlanta athletes to wear No. 97: 6
Summary: If I were to bet on any player in this entire series to overtake a spot in the next two to three seasons it would be Grady Jarrett. Honestly, it’s a testament to how good Patrick Kerney was that he is still deserving of this top honor – for now. A late-first-round draft pick in the 1999 NFL Draft, Kerney was part of a rotation as a rookie before taking over a full-time role the next season. He quickly developed into Atlanta’s top pass rusher, notching 12 sacks in his third season and 10.5 sacks in his fourth season. In 2004, the second time the Falcons made the playoffs in the Michael Vick era, Kerney made his lone Pro Bowl as a Falcon after registering 13 sacks – his top mark while in Atlanta.
Prior to the 2007 season, Kerney opted out of the final two years of his deal with the Falcons and signed with the Seattle Seahawks. Given how 2007 worked out in Atlanta, you can’t really blame him. But, Kerney put together a career year with 14.5 sacks, 16 tackles for a loss and five forced fumbles en route to making first-team All-Pro and being named NFC Defensive Player of the Year. Would have been nice to have that kind of production in Atlanta.
If Grady Jarrett continues to improve even incrementally in the next few seasons, I think he will be the next best bet to play his entire career in Atlanta. If that happens, I wouldn’t count it out that he ends up in the Falcons Ring of Honor. Now, it’s still way early, but he’s probably the next logical candidate as of now behind Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, with Jake Matthews also potentially on the list.
After breaking out in the Super Bowl, Jarrett has built his reputation as one of the league’s best attacking defensive tackles. In the last three seasons, Jarrett has 17.5 sacks and 28 tackles for a loss. Watch him closely, though, and you’ll notice that despite extra attention, Jarrett is rarely out of a play and he still can shut that play down in the blink of an eye. Arthur Smith has been singing Jarrett’s praises throughout camp, and I’d be buying a lot of five-year Grady Jarrett stock at this point.
Jersey No. 98
Best player: Falcons DT Travis Hall (1995-04)
Honorable mentions: None
Total number of Atlanta athletes to wear No. 98: 6
Summary: Travis Hall went from being a sixth-round draft pick to becoming a six-year starter for the Falcons by his second season. Hall started 89 games between 1996-2001, peaking in the 1997 season when he registered a career-high 10.5 sacks. With players like Brady Smith and Patrick Kerney playing alongside Hall for much of his career, the Falcons had one of the better lines they’ve had in the last 30 years.
Hall was part of three different playoff teams during his run in Atlanta, including the team’s trip to the Super Bowl after the 1998 season. When his decade-long run with the Falcons came to an end after the 2004 season, Hall had recorded 435 tackles, 41.5 sacks and 34 tackles for a loss, putting together a very underrated career.
Jersey No. 99
Best player: Falcons DE Tim Green (1986-93)
Honorable mentions: Falcons DE Adrian Clayborn (2016-17, 19)
Total number of Atlanta athletes to wear No. 99: 15
Summary: A first-round pick by the Falcons in 1986, Tim Green spent his entire eight-year career in Atlanta. Playing alongside Falcons legend Jessie Tuggle and former No. 1 overall pick Aundray Bruce, Green didn’t have gaudy stats, but he did have a large role at linebacker.
The peak of Green’s time in Atlanta has to be the 1991 season. He started all 16 games and delivered five sacks for the “2 Legit 2 Quit” Falcons that made the playoffs and beat the Saints in the wild card round. In that game against New Orleans, a 27-20 victory, Green had the lone sack for Atlanta’s defense. Unfortunately, Green announced in 2018 that he had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – or ALS. He launched a website to fund ALS research, which you can donate to here.
Adrian Clayborn likely won’t have a lasting endurance in the minds of Falcons fans over the years, but he deserves mention on this list just because of the specific great moments he produced. Clayborn was a vital situational player during Atlanta’s run to the Super Bowl in 2016, highlighted by his two-sack performance in a one-point win against Green Bay. The next season, Clayborn decided to go absolute bonkers against the Dallas Cowboys and recorded six sacks, setting a new single-game franchise record. Much of Clayborn’s game was about the details, but he could explode for big games at times.
Next up: Please see here.
Who is the best player to wear No. 96-99
This poll is closed