Atlanta Falcons: 15 best first-round picks of all-time

Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images) /
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Gerald Riggs, Atlanta Falcons
18 Sep 1988: Fullback Gerald Riggs of the Atlanta Falcons runs with the ball during a game against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California. The Falcons won the game 34-17. /

Gerald Riggs coming in here at No. 11 doesn’t seem right initially He is the Falcons’ all-time leading rusher with 6,631 career yards on the ground in the seven years he was with the team. Riggs is one of 10 former Atlanta greats to be inducted into the Falcons Ring of Honor. To put it simply, Riggs is arguably the greatest running back in Falcons franchise history.

So why doesn’t he crack the top-10? A better question is how good is this Falcons’ top-10. You’ll find out soon enough. But for now, this is about how dominating of a player Riggs was as the Falcons’ featured back in the 1980s.

Riggs was the No. 9 overall pick in the 1982 NFL Draft out of Arizona State. Despite going in the top-10 of the 1982 NFL Draft, he had to bide his time behind another outstanding Atlanta tailback in the form of William Andrews. Andrews too is a member of the Falcons Ring of Honor, but a devastating knee injury in the 1984 NFL preseason ruined his career. He would return in 1986 to the Falcons, but wasn’t the same player.

Atlanta could have been in dire circumstances by losing arguably its most explosive offensive weapon in Andrews. That’s where Riggs’ brilliance as a runner came into play. From 1984 to 1986, Riggs had at least 1,300 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns. He led the league in carries in 1985 with an absurd 397 in what was his first of three straight Pro Bowl seasons.

Riggs was named Second-Team All-Pro in both 1984 and 1985, as the Falcons had one of the best rushing attacks in the league at that time. Unfortunately, that never translated to winning in the 1980s for Atlanta. Only during his rookie year did Riggs make the NFC playoffs in Atlanta uniform.

After seeing a dip in production, probably due to over-usage, Riggs would be traded to the Washington Redskins ahead of the 1989 NFL season. Riggs would join Joe Gibbs in the nation’s capital to close out his strong NFL career, winning Super Bowl XXVI over the Buffalo Bills at the end of the 1991 NFL season.

Over 30 years since he last played for the Falcons, Riggs remains the team’s all-time leading rusher. Though five former Falcons, including Riggs, have achieved a career 5,000 rushing yards for the Dirty Birds, it doesn’t look like Riggs’ franchise is in jeopardy of being surpassed anytime soon.

The closest person to catching Riggs would be current Falcons running back Devonta Freeman. Though a two-time Pro Bowler himself, Freeman only has 3,316 career rushing yards in his first five years in the league. After an injury-riddled 2018 campaign, it’s safe to say that the next franchise leader in rushing yards isn’t yet on the Falcons roster. For this reason, Riggs still has tremendous relevancy in Falcons lore today.