When T.J. Duckett was drafted in the first round by the Falcons in 2002 some fans scratched their heads a bit. Already on the roster was Warrick Dunn, the newly-acquired free agent running back from Tampa, a back more than capable of carrying the load for the Falcons. Dunn would have three 1,000-yard seasons for the Falcons ahead of him, but then-head coach Dan Reeves had a vision of an offense with two backs with contrasting skills to help lead the ground game.
It turned out to be a good idea as Duckett, who now prefers using his first name, Todd, paired with Dunn and QB Michael Vick to make up a lethal running game for the Falcons. In '02, the Falcons were second in the league in rushing with more than 2,500 yards and in 2004 the Falcons led the league in rushing on their way to the NFC South crown and the first home playoff game in franchise history. While Duckett never broke the 1,000-yard mark in his career, he was vital to Atlanta's offense during his four seasons with the Falcons.
As a goal line threat, Duckett had 31 touchdowns from '02-'05, frequently crossing the endzone late in the game, driving the nail into the coffin and essentially ending the game for Atlanta's opponents. His endzone celebration frequently featured Duckett holding the ball like a nail and hammering it. Fans loved Duckett's jovial nature, his prodigious beard and hard-charging ways and although Duckett is no longer a member of the Falcons or a resident of Atlanta, he still holds the city in high regard.
"I was a young man when I came into this game and it was different, but I got so much love from the fans of this organization," Duckett said recently at the Falcons' Career Symposium. "To welcome a 21-year-old, first-round draft choice into a major city, who had no idea what was going on (meant a lot). There's a special place in my heart for this city, Arthur Blank and the whole Falcons organization. I thank you. You created a young man. It's nice to be back in the city again."
As is often the case, when a player moves on from a city he played in, ties become severed but after his career ended before the '09 season in Seattle, Duckett's kept his eye on the team that brought him into the league.
"Now I'm in a place where I can watch football again," Duckett said of his post-playing career. "I can root for teams. I got a chance to meet Matt Ryan yesterday. Talking with him and seeing what he is doing with the program and the direction they're going with his leadership, it's making me a Falcons fan again."
Since leaving football, Duckett has been involved in business ventures with his brother Tico as well as a variety of charitable organizations. Duckett started New World Flood in 2011, an organization dedicated to helping provide opportunities to young people to give back and serve their communities.
While football was Duckett's passion for much of his life, now out of football, he's pursuing other passions and finding new ones. He was in Atlanta for the symposium to help him discover what's next for him. He's applying the drive and passion that he used early in his life to get to the NFL to new ventures and goals and the symposium helped point him in the direction he needed.
"It wasn't so much looking to find my way, it was 'do you have what it takes? Are you what you're trying to build,' " Duckett said. "I walked in here with my head up and walked away knowing I'm exactly what I thought I could be."