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What was the greatest single season ever by a Falcons RB?

Franchise legends abound on this list, but who had the greatest season of them all?

Jamal Anderson #32...

When it comes to the running back position, greatness and sadness are closely entwined in Falcons history.

There has not been a single player in Atlanta’s annals that has managed to achieve truly sustained greatness at the position in the way that, say, Walter Payton managed for the Bears, Adrian Peterson managed for the Vikings, and so on. The Falcons have, I firmly believe, had talent of that caliber multiple times in the past, but injury and/or rapid declines have robbed franchise legends of the longevity needed to be mentioned in the same breath as those players. That’s unfortunate, because as we vote on the best single seasons ever at the position for the Falcons, there are some truly astonishing years on here.

Let’s look at the greatest running back seasons in team history, shall we? You can vote at the end and weigh in down in the comments, of course.

William Andrews - 1981

289 carries, 1,301 yards, 10 rushing touchdowns, 4.9 yards per carry; 81 receptions, 735 yards, 2 touchdowns, 9.1 yards per reception, 12 fumbles

Andrews is easily one of the most talented backs in team history, but due to injury he played in just 87 games for the Falcons, which makes his numbers look less eye-popping than they would’ve had he enjoyed the long career he ought to have enjoyed. On a season-by-season basis, though, that talent and product becomes very evident.

The Falcons were a bit of an offensive juggernaut in the early 80s for the first time...well, ever...and Andrews was a big part of it. He had over 2,000 yards from scrimmage in 1981 and rolled up 12 touchdowns on the year, putting up the single season franchise record for running back receptions that stands to this day. He was a monster, and this is perhaps his greatest effort, with only the fumbles standing out as a weakness.

Williams Andrews - 1983

331 carries, 1,567 yards, 7 rushing touchdowns, 4.7 yards per carry; 59 receptions, 609 yards, 4 touchdowns, 10.3 yards per reception, 6 fumbles

The season that deserves to be discussed alongside Andrews’ 1981 is 1983, his final pre-injury year. He would go on to lose the 1984 and 1985 seasons to injury, and when he returned in 1986 he was a shell of his former self.

In 1983, though, he was still in his prime. He logged a career high number of carries and rushing yards, put up a career high number of yards from scrimmage, and was just one off his personal record for combined touchdowns. It’s really just a question of whether you weigh his dominance as a receiving threat in 1981 more heavily than his work as a runner this year.

Gerald Riggs - 1984

353 carries, 1,486 yards, 13 rushing touchdowns, 4.2 yards per carry; 42 receptions, 277 yards, 6.6 yards per reception, 11 fumbles

Riggs wasn’t the dual threat that Andrews was, but he was a punishing, durable runner who put together two of the best pure rushing seasons in team history. This was the first of them, an absolute bulldozer effort in his first year as a starter where he scored more touchdowns on the ground than Andrews managed on the ground and in the air during a single season in his illustrious career. It’s probably one of the weaker entrants on this list, given that Riggs wasn’t a huge receiving threat and fumbled 11 times, but still a great year.

Gerald Riggs - 1985

397 carries, 1,719 yards, 10 rushing touchdowns, 4.3 yards per carry; 33 receptions, 267 yards, 8.1 yards per reception, 0 fumbles

This is an eye-popping year. Riggs nearly reached 400 carries, put up the second-best rushing yardage total in team history, and cleaned up his efficiency across the board as a runner and receiver in this absolutely dominant season. What makes this even more incredible is that he carried the ball 397 times and didn’t fumble a single time, an accomplishment that frankly boggles the mind.

This is up there with two other seasons soon to come on this list for the best pure rushing year in team history, and given the lack of fumbles, it deserves your strong consideration.

Jamal Anderson - 1998

410 carries, 1,846 yards, 14 rushing touchdowns, 4.5 yards per carry; 27 receptions, 319 yards, 2 touchdowns, 11.8 yards per reception, 5 fumbles

The gold standard. Like Andrews before him, Jam had his career derailed by a major injury that ensured he was never quite the same again, but also like Andrews, he put up his best year right before that injury.

The numbers speak for themselves. Anderson put up the most yards in a single season, second-best touchdown total, and was a dangerous receiving option as well, albeit not on the level of Andrews. It’s probably the strongest single season rushing effort in team history, so it’s just a question of whether you value the total numbers as strongly as you do a couple of others here. There’s no question the Falcons don’t get to the Super Bowl without Jam in 1998, either way.

Michael Turner - 2008

376 carries, 1,699 yards, 17 rushing touchdowns, 4.5 yards per carry; 6 receptions, 41 yards, 6.8 yards per reception, 3 fumbles

Turner was a non-factor as a receiver, making him an utterly one-dimensional back when he was on the field. That didn’t mean anyone could actually stop him from running, however.

This season was absurd at the time and only becomes more absurd with every passing year. Turner paved the way for Matt Ryan’s success as a rookie by running nearly 400 times, coughing up the ball just three times, and scoring seemingly at will en route to the third-best yardage total and best-ever scoring total for a back in team history. He just ran defenders over all year long, and like Jam’s 1998, this stands out as one of the most enjoyable seasons of running back play I can remember.

Devonta Freeman - 2016

227 carries, 1,079 yards, 11 rushing touchdowns, 4.8 yards per carry; 54 receptions, 462 yards, 8.6 yards per reception, 2 touchdowns, 1 fumble

I almost put Warrick Dunn’s 2005 on here and a handful of others, but the truth is that Freeman’s 2016 beats Dunn’s best year in terms of efficiency and production.

Free fumbled just once, turned well under 300 carries into over 1,000 yards, and hoovered up 83% of all passes thrown his way en route to nearly 500 yards through the air. This is the Freeman that I wish we had gotten to see more of in Atlanta, because he’s worth of being mentioned among the franchise greats.

Vote for the best season below!


Who had the best RB season in Falcons history?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    William Andrews - 1981
    (66 votes)
  • 9%
    William Andrews - 1983
    (80 votes)
  • 0%
    Gerald Riggs - 1984
    (4 votes)
  • 5%
    Gerald Riggs - 1985
    (47 votes)
  • 53%
    Jamal Anderson - 1998
    (456 votes)
  • 20%
    Michael Turner - 2008
    (175 votes)
  • 2%
    Devonta Freeman - 2016
    (24 votes)
  • 0%
    Other (please specify in comments)
    (3 votes)
855 votes total Vote Now