Former Atlanta Falcons defensive end Claude Humphrey will become the second Falcon player to earn the distinction of being a Hall of Famer, as the league announced that Humphrey is part of the 2014 class of players to be inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Humphrey joins cornerback Deion Sanders, who was inducted in 2011, as the only pair of former Falcon players to earn a bust in Canton.
Humphrey joins fellow defensive end and former New York Giant Michael Strahan, Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks, Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders punter Ray Guy, Seattle Seahawks offensive tackle Walter Jones, Buffalo Bills wide receiver Andre Reed, and Arizona Cardinals/St. Louis Rams defensive back Aeneas Williams as part of the 2014 class. Humphrey is alongside Guy as the two members elected by the senior committee
Humphrey was a first-round pick by the Falcons in 1968 out of Tennessee State. He made an impact right away, earning Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. In 1970, he earned the first of six trips to the Pro Bowl, and the following year earned his first of five first-team All Pro honors. Despite individual success, Humphrey did not find the team success he was looking for and promptly retired after the 1978 season. Up until then, he had only been on two Falcon teams in eleven years that finished the year with a winning record. But following his retirement, Humphrey was convinced to reenter the league and was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles where he played the final three seasons of his career before permanently retiring after 1981. Sacks did not become an official statistic until 1982, but Humphrey is credited with 122 career sacks. 94.5 of those came in a Falcon uniform, which still stands as the team’s all-time benchmark.
I mused on Humphrey’s chances of getting into the Hall several years ago, projecting that he might get voted in circa 2013. A lucky guess on my part.
It was announced Tuesday that Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez would get the chance to play in the Pro Bowl after his final season in the NFL, as a replacement for San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, who pulled out from the contest. Gonzalez will be the lone representative of the Falcons to play in Sunday’s all-star game in Hawaii, after being voted as an alternate. Gonzalez was selected to ‘Team Rice’ on Wednesday night in the game’s new format of a live draft.
The new format has two respective captains, Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders, select their teams regardless of conference affiliation over the course of two nights. Gonzalez was selected by Rice’s team alongside other skill position players on Wednesday night. He will play alongside Jimmy Graham at the tight end position on a team that features quarterback Drew Brees, running back LeSean McCoy and defensive end John Abraham among others.
This will mark Gonzalez’ 14th trip to the Pro Bowl, tying the NFL record alongside offensive lineman Bruce Matthews and defensive tackle Merlin Olsen. He has made the Pro Bowl four consecutive seasons, with his the only time he did not make the Pro Bowl since 1999, being his first year in Atlanta in 2009. He was also honored as part of the All-Decade team of the 2000s, which was announced in 2010.
Gonzalez plans to retire this offseason after 17 years in the NFL, playing his last five with the Falcons, after beginning his career with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1997. Gonzalez ranked second on the team in receptions (83) and receiving yards (859) but led the team with 8 touchdowns. He finishes his career ranked second all-time in career receptions (1,325), fifth in yards (15,127) and sixth in receiving touchdowns (111). For tight ends, he ranks first in each category. He also finishes his Falcon career ranked fourth in receptions (409), eighth in yards (4,187), and tied for fifth in receiving touchdowns (35) on the team’s all-time list. His career mark in receptions tops the team’s all-time list of tight ends.
Gonzalez will be eligible to be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2019, and is widely expected to be a first-ballot entree.
After careful consideration, defensive end Osi Umenyiora was selected as the most disappointing player on the Atlanta Falcons in 2013.
This was the most difficult of these to decide upon because there were plenty of options. As an entire unit, the Falcons were one of the most disappointing teams in the league in 2013. Midway through the season, I selected center Peter Konz. And one could make a very strong argument why Konz still deserves the distinction. But even at that time I thought Umenyiora was a disappointment, but because he had earned the distinction of being the team’s top newcomer thanks to a Steven Jackson injury, I didn’t really mention him. But once Jackson’s play in the second half of 2013 indicated that he had overtaken Osi as the team’s best non-rookie newcomer, the latter immediately became a candidate for this “award.”
The main reason why I didn’t choose Konz is because when you really think about it, there was no reason for there to be high expectations on Konz. He had a good preseason, but he was not a good player as a rookie in 2012. I count myself among those people that are very disappointed with Konz, but outside one promising preseason game against Haloti Ngata this past summer, there really have been little to no indicators in his limited NFL career that suggest he was going to be a good player. Thus the bar was relatively low for him, and even though Konz managed to come in below that lowered standard, the difference isn’t as huge.
Before the season, I indicated the sort of benchmark Osi needed to hit in order to have a good year. I expected him to have 25 or more “positive pass rushes,” which according to my Moneyball review system, are the combined number of sacks, pressures, and quarterback hits. Osi finished the year with 12.5, behind Jonathan Babineaux (13) and marginally ahead of Jonathan Massaquoi (11.5).
Not helping Osi’s case was the drop off in production he saw in the second half of the season with just four positive pass rushes. I also tallied hurries this past year and in the first eight games, Umenyiora had seven but just one in the final eight games. That sheer drop in production over the second half of the year is what earned Osi this distinction as 2013′s most disappointing player, since it’s certainly not an honor.
The Atlanta Falcons’ most improved player in 2013 is defensive tackle Corey Peters, who was my choice at the midway point in the season
. Not only did his play continue to merit distinction in the second half of 2013, but no other players really emerged.
There were potentially other options under consideration, including offensive linemen Joe Hawley and Justin Blalock. Hawley entered this year as a utility backup, but exited it arguably as the team’s second-best offensive lineman behind Blalock. Through the previous four seasons of reviewing games, rarely did I ever view Blalock as anything more than a serviceable starter. Blalock is a player that gets the job done competently, but rarely ever stands out on tape. That changed for a long stretch of 2013, where I saw Blalock consistently playing at a relatively high level.
But in the end, Peters is the most deserving because unlike Blalock, I’m not sure Peters had shown this season that he was even a serviceable starter. He was a decent option as a starter, but seemed like a player that would have been a much better fit as a third tackle in the rotation rather than a full-time starter. But Peters improved this past season, and was light years better in 2013 than he had been in any other season previously. His best asset was his ability to plug the run, as the Falcons discovered his ideal role as a one-technique nose tackle in their hybrid defensive scheme. He flashed his pass-rushing skills with five sacks, second most on the team, able to take advantage of weaker centers and guards when he got the opportunities.
Peters is an impending free agent that unfortunately suffered an Achilles tear late in the season. It’s a rough thing to happen to Peters, who was on the verge of really cashing in on the improvement he made. But it might wind up serving as a blessing for the Falcons because there be as many teams trying to sign him away this offseason, thus lowering his potential price tag. If the Falcons are able to retain Peters, there is good reason to believe that once he’s completely healthy again, whether in 2014 or 2015, he’ll pick up right where he left off in 2013 as one of the team’s better defensive players.
This award goes to the best non-rookie that is new to the Atlanta Falcons in 2013, and my choice is running back Steven Jackson.
At the midpoint, I gave it to defensive end Osi Umenyiora, thanks largely to Jackson’s early season injury. Umenyiora had some shining moments early in the season, but those became few and far between as the entire year wore on. Jackson’s play down the stretch was somewhat a boost for this offense, and despite modest production, it still outclassed anything Umenyiora did.
But by and large this honor really signifies that the Falcons didn’t get major contributions from their newcomers that weren’t rookies like Desmond Trufant and Paul Worrilow. The only other newcomer that could also be considered for this honor was offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood, who was middling at best.
Jackson was ultimately among the league’s least effective starting running backs this year, while Umenyiora was the top dog on one of the league’s least effective pass rushes. The improvement that both positions and units were expected to make this year with the additions of both players was minimal at best. Jackson at least gets some extra slack cut his way due to the fact that he was running behind one of the league’s worst offensive lines, making him the better choice for this individual honor.
After earning defensive most valuable player, cornerback Desmond Trufant is an obvious choice for Atlanta Falcons rookie of the year.
Not only did Trufant’s season far exceed any and all expectations for a rookie, but it also was a stellar season by veteran standards. He was constantly around the ball and finished the year with an official tally of 19 pass deflections, matching the production of Asante Samuel from last year, and the most by a Falcons cornerback since Brent Grimes had 23 in 2010.
Trufant showed top-shelf ball skills and was able to match wits with some of the league’s premier wide receivers like Vincent Jackson and Steve Smith, even earning the latter’s respect.
Other potential contenders would have been linebackers Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu. Frankly, Worrilow had the sort of season that would be universally considered rookie of the year material (127 tackles, 2 sacks) if not for exceptional play of Trufant.
Hands down the honor for most valuable Atlanta Falcons player on special teams goes to punter Matt Bosher. He was the choice made at the midpoint of the year, and had an even stronger second half of the season to solidify this honor.
Bosher showed improvement this year, showing a lot more “touch” with his punts and being able to flip field position at a moment’s notice. His kickoffs also got better, consistently forcing more touchbacks as well as the fact that he led the NFL with three successful onside kicks.
Other potential choices could have been Antone Smith, who was an outstanding gunner on those punts, helping Bosher pin teams back with his blazing speed. But simply Smith didn’t make enough plays over the second half of the season to leap frog Bosher.
Kicker Matt Bryant also had another quietly solid season, showing that he is still more than capable of making kicks at age 38. Also, cornerback Robert McClain deserves credit for he was very good punt returner over the last month of the season. His year returning punts was statistically the best year a Falcon returner has had since 2010.
My choice for the player most deserving of the most valuable player on the Atlanta Falcons is cornerback Desmond Trufant. Safety William Moore was my initial choice during the first half of the season.
Choosing Moore was difficult back in November since he was marginally the best among an unimpressive group of individual defensive performances. The choice didn’t get that much easier by the end of the year because again there wasn’t too many stand-out defenders in 2013 for the Falcons.
Other players under consideration were defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux, who had a very underrated season due to the fact that he only finished with one sack. He was far and away our best defensive lineman over the course of the entire season, but the perennially underrated Babineaux likely won’t get credit for that. Even cornerback Asante Samuel was considered, since I thought he was the better of the two corners when both he and Trufant shared the starting lineup.
But eventually I went with Trufant due to his consistency over the course of the entire season and strong play down the stretch when Samuel was benched in favor of the team’s defensive youth movement. Whatever inconsistencies Trufant had early in the season were largely eradicated over the course of the final weeks where he was far and away our best defensive back. He became the team’s most (and arguably only) reliable playmaker as the season wore on.
At the midpoint of the season, I chose quarterback Matt Ryan as the Atlanta Falcons most valuable player on offense. But now that I can look back over the entirety of the 2013 season, I’m going to have to go with tight end Tony Gonzalez.
Part of it is that is that I don’t feel that Ryan played up to a particularly high standard. Part of that is because of the overly high standards I placed on Ryan and another is due to the fact that I don’t think the Falcons coaching and play-calling was really designed to get top-level performances from the quarterback.
I give it to Gonzalez, because for most of the season he was clearly our best offensive player since unlike Julio Jones and Roddy White, Gonzalez played the entire season. He was the player that opposing defenses concentrated on for most of the season as the guy they must stop and contain.
And I also won’t lie, another reason why I’m gifting Gonzalez with this is for sentimental reasons. His impending retirement makes a bit more prone to give him any sort of honors, real or fake, if it comes down to a tie.
Allen and I get together once again to discuss our choices for various awards stemming from the Atlanta Falcons 2013 season. Included are our choices for the team’s most valuable player, offensive and defensive players of the year, most improved player, biggest disappointment, and most underrated and overrated players among several other individual honors. During the course of our discussion, I explain my hatred for Harry Douglas for the umpteenth time, and also where I rank Matt Ryan among the league’s top quarterbacks following his play in 2013. After divvying out our awards, we get into a discussion about the winners and losers from the second round of the playoffs, as well as our expectations for the upcoming conference championship games.
1 hour, 18 minutes
Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Pro Football Spot. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.
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Categories: Podcast Allen Strk, Babineaux, Bartu, Blalock, Douglas, Gonzalez, Hawley, honors, Jones, Konz, Mike Smith, Peters, podcast, preview, review, Reynolds, Robinson, Rodgers, Ryan, Samuel, Steven Jackson, Trufant, Umenyiora, Weatherspoon, Worrilow