We are less than a month into the NFL off-season, and the really rabid fans are already salivating for some action. The combine in Indianapolis having just ended, we now look towards April and the NFL draft. Falcons fans will know that Atlanta has a draft record that resembles that of a dying cardiac patient...not quite flat-lined, just an occasional *blip* from time to time to let you know he's still breathing. So let's explore some of Atlanta's more studious, and erroneous, draft choices in franchise history. We'll start with the bad first, and then end this on a positive note. We'll limit the worst picks to the first 3 rounds only.
What were they thinking? The WORST:
#5 - Warren Bryant (OT, Kentucky): Drafted with 6th pick in the 1st round in 1977, Bryant was supposed to help solidify the offensive line protecting star quarterback Steve Bartkowski. Bryant's primary method for doing this was holding. He could be counted on for at least 2-3 holding penalties every game. He was able to maintain his starting position throughout his seven year stint with Atlanta, but that's only due to lack of serious competition.
Left on the board: Pro Bowl cornerback Gary Green, taken by the Chiefs.
#4 - Bruce Pickens (DB, Nebraska): Drafted with the 3rd pick in the 1st round in 1991, Pickens only nabbed two career interceptions in a brief four year career, and had terminal prickly heat on his backside from being burned by receivers on a weekly basis.
Left on the board: Pro Bowl cornerback Todd Lyght, taken by the Rams.
#3 - Steve Broussard (RB, Washington State): Drafted with the 20th pick in the first round in 1990, Broussard is clearly another example of Jerry Glanville's rampant insanity. Why would you draft a running back from Washington State that only ranked 3rd on that schools all-time rushing list? It's not like they have been a hotbed for star tailbacks.
Left on the board: Pro Bowl running back Rodney Hampton, taken by the Giants
#2 - Aundray Bruce (LB, Auburn): Drafted with the 1st overall pick in 1988, Bruce was going to be the next big thing on defense in the NFL. A guy who could line up at linebacker or defensive end comfortably, and had solidified himself as a star in the SEC. He ended up only starting 42 games in his entire career, and only had 32 career sacks and 4 career interceptions. Epic bust.
Left on the board: Tim Brown, Sterling Sharpe, Keith Jackson, Michael Irvin, Neil Smith, etc. etc. etc...
Honorable Mention - Brett Favre (QB, Southern Miss): And why, you ask, do I rank this pick at all? Because it was a 2nd round pick, number 33 overall in the draft and we traded him for running back John Stephens? Yes, partially, But mostly because of the short-sightedness of the Atlanta coaching staff and talent evaluation team. We all know what Favre ended up doing in the NFL, but if we were that concerned about his "party lifestyle" then we should have just left it alone. Left on the board: Pro Bowl running back Ricky Watters, Taken by the 49ers.
#1 - Michael Vick (QB, Virginia Tech): Do I really need to go into this one? Vick's well documented decimation of the Falcons hopes, and his complete lack of character while here in Atlanta make him the absolute worst pick ever in my humble opinion. I was one of the few people who shook my head in disgust when the Falcons traded up to get Vick in the 2001 draft. I knew he spelled trouble, but I had few who agreed with me. We traded with San Diego, who took Ladanian Tomlinson. Just imagine LT having spent his career in Atlanta. It boggles the mind.
And now, hope springs eternal...the BEST picks ever.
#5 - Tommy Nobis (LB, Texas): Taken with the first overall pick in 1966, Nobis was also the Falcons first ever draft pick. He played his entire ten year career with Atlanta, and was a defensive stalwart on what were otherwise completely forgettable teams. Defensive rookie of the year in 1966, and a five time Pro Bowl player, Nobis was known throughout the league for his vicious hits and the lack of concern for his own body in the process. Nobis only saw two winning seasons during his career.
#4 - William Andrews (RB, Auburn): Taken with the 23rd pick in the 3rd round (79th overall) in 1979, Andrews would have made this list even if he had been a 1st round pick. A hard hitting downhill runner, Andrews was the anchor in the backfield for some of the most successful Falcons teams ever. He was a multiple time Pro Bowl and All-Pro selection, and set numerous Atlanta rushing records while he was playing. He sustained a serious knee injury in 1984 that largely stopped his career short. Football digest called Andrews the "Best 3rd round pick ever" in 1982.
#3 - Mike Kenn (OT, Michigan): Taken with the 13th pick in the 1st round in 1978, Kenn would go down as one of the greatest offensive linemen, if not players, in Falcons history. Kenn played for 17 seasons in Atlanta (an ungodly number for a lineman), and was largely regarded by his defensive counterparts as the best in the business. He started in all 251 games he played for Atlanta, and was a 5-time Pro Bowl selection, and 5-time All-Pro selection. Lawrence Taylor said that Kenn was one of his least favorite linemen to play against.
#2 - Deion Sanders (CB, Florida State): Taken with the 5th pick in the 1st round in 1989, "Neon Deion" brought "Prime Time" to Atlanta's defense for the first time in many years. He electrified both the crowd and the opposing teams with his unbelievable closing speed and his nose for the ball. Although he only played for five seasons in Atlanta during his colorful career, he helped to build a foundation that the Falcons were a team to be reckoned with, and weren't going to resign to being the doormats of the league. Had he stayed with the Falcons, he probably would have topped this list.
Honorable Mention - Keith Brooking (LB, Georgia Tech): Brooking was the foundation for the Falcons defense starting in his rookie season. 5-time Pro Bowler, and 2-time All-Pro, Booking had a motor that never quit. He was known for his passion both on and off the field, and was a huge part of Atlanta's 1998 Super Bowl team. I would definitely call Brooking the Anti-Bruce. (take your pick from any number of bad "Bruce" picks the Falcons have made)
#1 - Steve Bartkowski (QB, California): Taken with the first overall pick in 1975, Bartkowski still holds multiple team passing records, including all-time passing yardage with 23,470 yards. He led the Falcons to their first ever playoff game and victory, and is still revered as a legend among long time Falcons fans. He was the NFL rookie of the year in 1975, and was a 2-time Pro Bowl selection. Those fans who never had to opportunity to watch Bartkowski play really missed something special.
I think Jamaal Anderson has to be on this list for worst draft picks. Another Nebraska DB that deserves recognition is Michael Booker. He was the #11 overall pick in his draft. Warrick Dunn was #12 and Tony Gonzales was #13.
I personally don't think the drafting of Vick is deserving of the #1 spot. A lot of things went into his downfall and him bringing the organization to it's knees but a lot of that has to do with how Jim Mora and his staff handled Vick and allowed him to do what he wanted when he wanted.
CFBZ. I had Booker on my list of possibilities, but the others outweighed him in my mind. Jamaal Anderson is in that same category. I formulated using where they were taken, what the expectations were, who we already had at that position, and who was left on the board.
No doubt a lot of things went into Vick's downfall, but his character was the main mitigating factor, and shame on the Falcons personnel staff for not being able to recognize that from the start. Talent NEVER outshines character and that's been proven time and time again in both college and pro ranks