5) Reggie Kelly / TE / Mississippi State
1999 / 2nd Round / 42nd Overall
This may be a little harsh on Reggie Kelly. Kelly had a solid NFL career. He logged 12 years in the NFL as mostly a blocker who averaged just over a catch per game in 184 games. But the price the Falcons paid to draft a blocking tight end was a high one.
Coming off their 1998 Super Bowl season, the Falcons traded their 2000 first round pick to take Kelly in the second round. Tight end was hardly a need position at the time, and Kelly finished his rookie season with eight catches for 146 yards and no touchdowns.
Jamal Anderson’s knee went out and the Falcons went from 14-2 in 1998 to 5-11 in 1999. That 42nd overall pick traded to the Baltimore Ravens turned into The No. 5 overall and running back Jamal Lewis. An Atlanta native, Lewis went on to rush for over 10,000 yards with the Ravens and Browns. The player that could have been the long term replacement for Anderson ended up being a blocking tight end.
4) Aundray Bruce / LB / Auburn
1988 / 1st Round / 1st Overall
Bruce was the much-hyped destroyer out of Auburn who many will point to as the biggest bust considering he was a first overall pick. But Bruce had a pair of respectable, if underwhelming years with the Falcons registering six sacks in each of his first two seasons. He was named to the NFL All-Rookie team in 1988.
He was gone from Atlanta after four years, and played seven more with the Raiders. While he never lived up to the expectations of being the No. 1 Overall pick, Bruce hung around the NFL for over a decade and finished his career with 32 sacks.
1988 was the year of the receiver. It’s tough to blame the Falcons for not taking a receiver No. 1 overall, but Tim Brown (6), Sterling Sharpe (7), and Michael Irvin (11) were all selected early in 1988.
3) Jamaal Anderson / DE / Arkansas
2007 / 1st Round / 8th Overall
No, not that Jamal Anderson who set an NFL record for carries and created the Dirty Bird in 1998, but the rather non-descript defensive end from Arkansas who was the 8th overall pick in 2007. Anderson finished his NFL career with a paltry 7.5 sacks.
On paper, this seemed like a good pick for a Falcons team who has struggled to get pressure on the quarterback with a front four since the days of Chuck Smith. But the 6’5 and 280 pound Anderson never got it going in Atlanta. He didn’t register a single tackle for loss his rookie season in which he played in every game. He played four years in Atlanta, registering six sacks before getting a year each with Indianapolis and Cincinnati.
The list of players Atlanta passed on to take Anderson is heartbreaking. Patrick Willis (11), Marshawn Lynch (12), Derrelle Revis (14) and Lawrence Timmons (15) just to name a few.
2) Tony Smith / RB / Southern Miss
1992 / 1st Round / 19th Overall
You can stump all of your friends with this trivia question: Who did the Falcons draft with the pick they got for trading Brett Favre to the Packers? Tony Smith is your answer. The 19th overall pick in the Draft finished his NFL career after three seasons and 343 yards from scrimmage. All 343 yards came during his rookie year.
Not all Drafts are created equally, and this one was particularly full of busts including the No. 1 overall pick Steve Emtman, so the Falcons were going to have a tough time with this pick regardless. Maybe they should have hung on to that Favre fellow.
Oh what could have been.
1) Bruce Pickens / CB / Nebraska
1991 / 1st Round / 3rd Overall
Tony Smith was a bust. Reggie Kelly had a decent career but was the victim of bad circumstance. Both players were especially noteworthy for who the Falcons lost to take them.
But for pure waste of a high pick, it’s tough to beat No. 3 overall Bruce Pickens.
In search of the next Deion Sanders, the Falcons took Bruce Pickens. Pickens was a combine warrior who had great straight line speed, but little else. His coverage skills never developed in what was then a run heavy Big 8 conference. Pickens lasted 2+ seasons with the Falcons before being part of a trade to the Packers. The Packers waived him after two games. He was picked up by the Chiefs and lasted three games there. He was out of football after three seasons before catching on with the Raiders for one season in 1995.
Pickens only had two interceptions in his NFL career. He was out of football for good after four seasons (across five years), five teams, and two career interceptions.
Todd Lyght went two picks later to the Rams and spent 12 years in the NFL with 37 interceptions.
Who’d I miss? Who would you list? What order would you change? I’d love to read your comments below.