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Bama in the NFL: Is Julio Jones the Greatest Player in Atlanta Falcons History?

The Falcons have had some outstanding players, from Morten Anderson to Deion Sanders, but the former Alabama wide receiver might have had the greatest career with the franchise.

The expectations were huge, and he didn't disappoint. When the Atlanta Falcons traded up to acquire the No. 6 spot in the 2011 NFL Draft, and used it to select Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver Julio Jones, in exchange they gave the Cleveland Browns five picks: their first-, second-, and fourth-round selections in 2011, as well as their first- and fourth-round picks in 2012.

More than a decade later we can pretty call the deal a steal for Atlanta. While the Browns used the picks to land Phil Taylor, Greg Little, Owen Marecic and Brandon Weeden, and packaged the fourth-round selection in 2012 in a trade to move up and select Trent Richardson, Jones might have had the best career in Falcons history. 

His records and accolades include the following: 

  • In 2018, he became the fastest player in NFL history to reach 10,000 career receiving yards.
  • In 2019, Jones became the all-time career receiving yards leader for the Falcons.
  • In 2020, he became the Falcons' all-time career receptions leader.
  • Jones is third all-time in career games with 100-yards receiving with 59.

At minimum, he appears destined for the Falcons Ring of Honor and Pro Football Hall of Fame, which is a little ironic since he's not eligible to be put on the ballot for the College Football Hall of Fame because Jones wasn't a first-team All-American for the Crimson Tide (a mandatory requirement).

When considering his competition, we can discard many of the Falcons already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for greatest-ever status because they played most of their careers elsewhere. They include:

  • Kicker Morten Andersen, inducted 2017, played for Falcons 1995-2000, 2006-07
  • Quarterback Brett Favre, 2016, 1991
  • Defensive end Chris Doleman, 2012, 1994-95
  • Running back Eric Dickerson, 1999, 1993
  • Running back/flanker Tommy McDonald, 1998, 1967

So the real comparison comes down to four other players, only two of which are especially known for their time in Atlanta. Tony Gonzalez was an outstanding tight end, but was only with the Falcons from 2009-2013. Most of his 17-year career was with the Kansas City Chiefs (1997-2008). 

Deion Sanders was also a no-brain selection for the Hall, but he was just with the Falcons from 1989-93, during which he was also playing Major League baseball. As a cornerback and return specialist he was twice named All-Pro and to three Pro Bowls during his five seaons in Atlanta. 

However, Prime Time ended up playing with four other NFL teams, and won a Super Bowl with two of them. Consequently, he's probably best known for his time with the Dallas Cowboys (1995-99). 

So that leaves defensive end Claude Humphrey, who played for the Falcons from 1968-1978, was named an All-Pro twice, but had the misfortune of retiring the year before sacks became an official NFL statistic. Unofficially, he had 126.5 career sacks, with a career-high 15 in 1976. 

Meanwhile, Jones had 848 catches for 12,896 yards and 61 touchdowns in 135 games for the Falcons. He twice led the NFL in receiving yards (2015 and 2018) and once tied for the lead in receptions (2015). 

Was his career more impressive? Probably, but does Sanders' five years outweigh the 10 by Jones? Good arguments can be made for both. 

Some non-Hall of Fame players need to be mentioned as well. Also named All-Pro twice with the Falcons were tackle Mike Kenn (1980, 1991), and guard Mike Fralic (1986-87). There's also Steve Bartkowski, linebacker Jessie Tuggle and center Jeff Van Note.

Plus, three Falcons coaches are in the Pro Football Fall of Fame, but Norm Van Brocklin was 36-45-3 during his five years as Atlanta's head coach 1969-74, and the other two had outstanding careers as assistants (Emmitt Thomas and Bryant Young). Executive Bobby Beathard was also with the organization from 1968-71 as a scout. 

Crimson Tide NFL Rundown: Arizona Cardinals

In conjunction with our revamped Bama in the NFL Database, this is the second story in a series examining the team-by-team history of Alabama's former players in the NFL.

Arizona Cardinals

See Also:

Bama in the NFL: The Ultimate Crimson Tide Database
Bama in the NFL: Active Alabama Crimson Tide Players by Team