The Numbers Game II: The 80s
No. 80 Andre Rison, Falcons, 1990-94
Bio: Rison’s five-year stint in Atlanta is second only to Roddy White in terms of receiving production. After coming to Atlanta from Indianapolis, Rison led the Falcons in receiving for four straight seasons. He caught 82 passes for 1,208 yards and 10 touchdowns in his first season with the team – only Alfred Jenkins had better single-season totals prior to 1990. Rison set the franchise record with 15 touchdowns in 1993. He had four Pro Bowl appearances as a Falcon, and he had four seasons of more than 1,000 yards. Rison is fourth in franchise history with 5,633 yards and second in career touchdowns with 56. Rison’s career faltered after leaving Atlanta – he had just one 1,000-yard season over his final six years in the league. He is still in the top 40 in NFL history in receptions and receiving yards, and he remains 16th in league history with 84 career touchdowns.
Why we picked him: Rison may have his detractors. Was he flashy? Sure. Brash? Certainly. Productive? Without question. The only receiver in franchise history who can match Rison’s production over a five-year span is White. The other guys ahead of him in the record books – Alfred Jenkins and Terance Mathis – were with the team for a longer period of time.
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Others to consider:
Tony Martin, Falcons, 1998, 2001
Martin played just two seasons with the Falcons, but he was a clutch performer during the Super Bowl run, catching 66 balls for 1,181 yards and six touchdowns.
Junior Miller, Falcons, 1980-83
Miller’s career got off to a great start, with back-to-back Pro Bowl appearances in his first two years in the league. He caught nine touchdown passes as a rookie in 1980, but only had four total over the next three seasons.
No. 81 Terance Mathis, Falcons, 1994-2001
Bio: After doing little more than return kicks for the Jets, Mathis exploded onto the scene in 1994 with a franchise-record 111 catches for 1,342 yards and 11 touchdowns. His emergence rendered Rison expendable, and he earned his only Pro Bowl appearance that season. Mathis stayed consistent for the next five seasons, finishing with three 1,000-yard seasons and never having a year with fewer than 750 yards. He finished his career with the franchise records for receptions (573), yards (7,349) and touchdowns (57). White has broken the first two and is only five touchdowns away from the third record.
Why we picked him: Mathis was the antithesis of Rison. He was a lunch-pail guy, doing his job every day without much flash. Not only was he consistent, but he was consistent for a long time. He led the team in receiving in 1994 and 2001, which is the longest span in franchise history for a guy’s first and last season leading the team in receiving.
Others to consider:
Michael Haynes, Falcons, 1988-93
Haynes became a dangerous second option to Rison from 1991-93. He finished the 1991 season with 1,122 yards, 11 touchdowns and a NFL-best 22.4 yards per catch. He has a 89-yard and 98-yard catches on his resume. He finished his Falcons career with 4,220 yards and 34 touchdowns, both of which are still sixth-best in team history.
Billy Johnson, Falcons, 1982-87
“White Shoes” was a Pro Bowl pick in 1983 as a returner, although he caught 64 passes for 709 yards and four touchdowns in addition to returning a punt for a touchdown. He only had two seasons in Atlanta with more than 25 catches.
Harvey Middleton, Georgia Tech, 1994-97
Middleton ranks in the five in receiving yards (2,291) and receptions (165) in school history. He is second to only Calvin Johnson in career 100-yard games with 10. He holds the program record for consecutive games with a catch with 40.
Leonard Pope, Georgia, 2003-05
The Americus native caught 65 passes for 1,044 yards and 10 touchdowns during his final two seasons with the Bulldogs.
No. 82 Fred Gibson, Bulldogs, 2001-04
Bio: Gibson emerged as a deep threat during his freshman season in Athens. He led the SEC and finished third in the nation with a 23.4-yard per catch average and finished with 772 yards and six touchdowns. His best season came in 2004, when he caught 49 passes for 801 yards and a SEC-best seven touchdowns. He finished his career with 2,884 yards – eighth best in SEC history.
Why we picked him: Gibson may never have matched the promise of his freshman season, although he did put together a strong senior year. He was an accumulator at receiver – he never led the Bulldogs in receiving in a season which is surprising as a top 10 yardage guy in conference history – but there is something to be said for consistency,
Stacey Bailey, Falcons, 1982-90
While William Andrews and Gerald Riggs were rolling on the ground, Bailey was the Falcons’ top receiving threat over a two-year period. He caught 67 passes for 1,138 yards and six touchdowns in 1984, a year after catching six touchdowns and 881 yards in 1983. He finished with 3,422 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Ken Burrow, Falcons, 1971-75
Burrow caught 152 passes for 2,668 yards and 21 touchdowns in his career. His best year was his first, when he finished with 741 yards and a 22.5-yard per catch average.
Billy Ryckman, Falcons, 1977-79
Ryckman had one solid season in a Falcons uniform, catching 45 passes for 679 yards and two touchdowns in 1978.
Jonathan Smith, Georgia Tech, 2000-03
Smith – not Dez White, Calvin Johnson or Kelly Campbell – holds the school record for single-season receptions with 78 in 2003. Only White, Johnson, Campbell and Harvey Middleton have more 100-yard games in their career. Only Campbell and Johnson have more career catches than Smith’s 174. He is fifth all-time in receiving yards. In 2003 (Smith’s best season) he caught 78 passes for 1,138 yards and five touchdowns. It’s one of only five 1,000-yard receiving seasons in program history. The biggest thing hurting Smith’s candidacy? He wore both 21 and 82, and it’s hard to leave a mark in the Numbers Game if you wore separate numbers.
Others to consider:
No. 83 Alge Crumpler, Falcons, 2001-07
Bio: The second-round pick became one of the best tight ends in football during his time in Atlanta. Crumpler made four Pro Bowls in a row beginning in 2003. That run included three seasons of at least 750 yards and five touchdowns. Crumpler’s best year game in 2005, when he caught 65 passes for 877 yards and five touchdowns. His standing in franchise history: sixth in receptions (316), seventh in yards (4,212), fifth in touchdowns (35). He holds the franchise record for touchdowns by a tight end, and he’s second to Jim Mitchell in yards and second to Tony Gonzalez in receptions. Crumpler held the franchise record for single-season yardage by a tight end (877) until Gonzalez broke it in 2012.
Why we picked him: Crumpler would be considered the best tight end in franchise history if Gonzalez wouldn’t have wrapped up his career in Atlanta. He was more than a safety valve at his position. He was Michael Vick’s top target and the team’s most reliable pass catcher for years.
Others to consider:
Tim Dwight, Falcons, 1998-2000
Dwight’s biggest impact came in the return game. He had three return touchdowns in his career, although he did average a NFL-best 20.9 yards per catch and 669 yards and seven touchdowns in 1999. He also led the NFL in yards per touch in 1999. Dwight’s career highlight was his 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown during Super Bowl XXXIII, which was the first Super Bowl touchdown in franchise history.
No. 84 Roddy White, Falcons, 2005-current
Bio: White took two years to get rolling after being drafted out of UAB. He had his breakthrough season in 2007, putting up 1,202 yards, which was the fifth-best season in team history at the time. It’s now ninth best because of White. He set the franchise record with 1,382 yards in 2008 and then broke it with 1,389 yards in 2010. He caught 115 passes in 2010 to break Mathis’ team record. White made four straight Pro Bowls from 2008-11, and he has a string of six straight seasons of 1,000 yards and at least 80 catches. He already holds Falcons career records for receptions (622) and yards (8,725), and he’s only five touchdowns behind Mathis’ franchise record.
Why we picked him: White has been undeniably great, particularly considering he fell to the end of the first round in the 2005 draft. The list of Falcons’ draft busts is long, but White should be considered one of the best picks in franchise history. He already holds most franchise records and has four of the top six seasons in receiving yardage in franchise history.
Others to consider:
Alfred Jenkins, Falcons, 1975-83
Like Jessie Tuggle, Jenkins is a Georgia boy all the way. He was born in Hogansville and played college ball at Morris Brown. He became Steve Bartkowski’s go-to receiver in the early 1980s. He put up one of the greatest seasons in franchise history in 1981, making an All-Pro team after catching 70 passes for 1,358 yards and 13 touchdowns. Jenkins, who also made the Pro Bowl in 1981, caught 360 passes for 6,267 yards and 40 touchdowns. He’s arguably the second greatest Falcons receiver, but he unfortunately wears the same number as the best.
No. 85 Jimmy Robinson, Georgia Tech, 1972-74
Bio: Robinson was the Yellow Jackets’ go-to receiver in his first year on the team. He caught 48 passes for 812 yards and nine touchdowns in 1972. It was the second highest receiving yardage total in program history at the time, and the nine touchdowns set the school record – Calvin Johnson and Dez White are still the only two receivers in school history with more in a season. Robinson’s production dipped in subsequent years, but that largely came due to the departure of Robinson’s talented quarterback Eddie McAshan. In Robinson’s final season, new head coach Pepper Rodgers only attempted 86 passes for a total of 532 yards as a team. He is still in the top 12 in program history in receptions, yards and receiving touchdowns. Robinson was the wide receivers coach for the Green Bay Packers during their Super Bowl championship run in 2010, and he currently serves in the same capacity for the Dallas Cowboys.
Why we picked him: Robinson would surely be among the top five in most receiving categories had the Yellow Jackets not abandoned the pass in 1974. Prior to the explosion of the passing game in the 1990s, Robinson and John Sias were the Yellow Jackets’ best two receivers in school history.
Others to consider:
Alfred Jackson, Falcons, 1978-84
Jackson’s relatively short NFL career included 187 catches for 3,001 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Shawn Collins, Falcons, 1989-91
Collins never quite measured up to his first-year performance (58 catches for 862 yards). He had 503 yards the next year and 37 yards the year after that.
Paul Flatley, Falcons, 1968-70
Flatley caught 45 passes for 83 yards and six touchdowns in 1969 and finished his Falcons’ career with 1,683 yards.
Brian Kozlowski, Falcons, 1997-2003
Kozlowski never put up big numbers – or any real impressive numbers – as a backup to Alge Crumpler. But he donned a Falcons’ uniform for seven years and caught seven touchdowns.
No. 86 Jim Mitchell, Falcons, 1969-79
Bio: Taken in the same draft as George Kunz and Jeff Van Note, Mitchell joined the franchise in the early days and remained with the team for 11 years and 155 games. He caught 305 passes for 4,358 yards and 28 touchdowns as a tight end. The fourth-round pick out of Prairie View made the Pro Bowl in 1969 and 1972.
Why we picked him: Although his last game with the Falcons came 34 years ago, Mitchell still remains a crucial piece of the team’s history. Only Van Note, Mike Kenn, Jessie Tuggle, Bob Whitfield and Bobby Butler played more seasons with the Falcons. Only seven guys – the aforementioned five and Keith Brooking and Scott Case – have played more games in a Falcons uniform.
Others to consider:
Floyd Dixon, Falcons, 1986-91
Dixon never had a great season, but Stephen F. Austin product had 2,487 yards and 16 touchdowns in his six years in Atlanta.
Brian Finneran, Falcons, 2000-10
Finneran never had a huge season, but he stuck around with the Falcons for so long. Injuries derailed his career in the later years, but Finneran remained a threat on jump balls. He caught 236 passes for 3,072 yards and 19 touchdowns, with a career-best 56 catches for 838 yards and six touchdowns in 2002.
Randy McMichael, Georgia, 1999-2001
McMichael caught 90 passes for 1,213 yards and five touchdowns in three seasons with the Bulldogs, and he earned All-SEC honors in 2000.
No. 87 Claude Humphrey, Falcons, 1968-78
Bio: The Falcons took Humphrey with the third pick of the 1968 NFL draft and earned AP Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. The Tennessee State product made his first of five straight Pro Bowl trips in 1970. He added one more Pro Bowl appearance in 1977 and remains tied with Jeff Van Note for most Pro Bowl appearances in franchise history. Humphrey set the franchise record with 15 sacks in 1976, and only two guys have surpassed that total. He led the team in sacks in seven of his 10 season and holds the franchise record with 94.5 career sacks, which is 26 more than second place. He’s in the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, the Falcons Ring of Honor and was a three-time finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Why we picked him: If you built a Mount Rushmore of Falcons, Humphrey would probably be included. He probably had the best candidacy of any Falcon – one who spent the majority of their career in Atlanta – for inclusion in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Others to consider:
Bert Emanuel, Falcons, 1994-97
A converted quarterback out of Rice, Emanuel had three seasons with more than 900 receiving yards with the Falcons. He had a career-high 1,039 yards in 1995 and a career-best nine touchdowns in 1997.
Todd MacIsaac, Macon Whoopee, 1997-2001
MacIsaac, who also wore No. 10, holds Whoopee records for games played, and he was second in career goals (84) and points scored (182).
Luke Manget, Georgia Tech, 1999-2002
Manget holds the ACC record with 160 extra points without a miss, coming up one short of the NCAA record. He holds the school’s all-time scoring record with 322 points. Manget made two All-ACC first teams and a second team during his time in Atlanta.
Jimmy Payne, Georgia, 1978-82
Payne was a three-time All-SEC selection, leading the Bulldogs in sacks in three of his four years, including the national championship season in 1980. He’s third all-time in career sacks with 28. Payne landed on the Playboy and Walter Camp All-America teams in 1982.
No. 88 Tony Gonzalez, Falcons, 2009-current
Bio: Gonzalez came to Atlanta from Kansas City in 2009 already ensured of his enshrinement in Canton. He’s only added to his legacy in four seasons with the Falcons. Gonzalez has posted three of the four highest single-season yardage totals by a tight end in franchise history. He broke the franchise record with 930 yards in 2012 as a 36-year-old. He has three seasons with more than 850 yards, and he scored six or more touchdowns in all four seasons with the Falcons. Gonzalez is already fifth in franchise history with 326 receptions. For his career, Gonzalez has 14,268 yards and 103 touchdowns and 13 Pro Bowls. He’s second to only Jerry Rice in career receptions.
Why we picked him: Gonzalez’s time with the Falcons has been short, but he’s already made a huge impact and showed no signs of a decline despite being 36. The Falcons showed how important Gonzalez is to their offense when they made it a priority to talk him out of retirement over the offseason.
Others to consider:
Brice Hunter, Georgia, 1992-95
Hunter was one of the best receivers in the SEC during his sophomore and junior seasons, taking over the reigns from Andre Hastings. He caught a SEC-best 76 passes for 970 yards and nine touchdowns in 1993, earning All-SEC honors. He added 799 yards and seven touchdowns as a junior.
Billy Martin, Georgia Tech, 1961-63
Martin made two All-SEC teams and earned All-America honors from The Sporting News and the Newspaper Enterprise Association in 1963. He’s a member of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. Martin later wore No. 85 in two seasons with the Atlanta Falcons.
Jessie Tuggle, Valdosta State, 1983-86
Well known at No. 58, Tuggle was a dominant defensive player at No. 88 in college. He set the program’s tackle record with 340, a record that stood for 24 years. He was a three-time All-Gulf South selection and earned All-America honors as a senior. The Atlanta Falcons great also made the Division II and College Football Halls of Fame.
No. 89 Lucius Sanford, Georgia Tech, 1974-77
Bio: Sanford left Atlanta as the school’s all-time leading tackler with 433, and he still remains fourth on the list. Sanford was a three-time All-Southeastern Independent. He landed on The Sporting News and Coaches All-America teams in 1977, and he was a second-team All American. Sanford went on to play 10 years in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills and the Cleveland Browns. The Milledgeville native was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 2001.
Why we picked him: Outside of Randy Rhino, Sanford was probably the most important Georgia Tech defensive player of the 1970s. His inclusion in the Georgia Tech and Georgia Sports Halls of Fame helps his case.
Others to consider:
Phillip Daniels, Georgia, 1992-95
Daniels played 15 years in the NFL for the Seahawks, Bears and Redskins.
Wallace Francis, Falcons, 1975-81
Francis came from Buffalo as a kick returner, but he morphed into one of the Falcons’ most reliable targets. He started 78 games with Atlanta, becoming the first 1,000-yard receiver in franchise history in 1979. He caught 27 touchdown passes with the Falcons and accumulated 3,695 receiving yards.
Ben Watson, Georgia, 2001-03
Watson caught 65 passes for 852 yards and six touchdowns during his time in Athens. He became a first-round pick by the New England Patriots and has won a Super Bowl in his 10-year NFL career.