The 20 best running backs in the history of Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons have a rich history at the running back position.
Running back Jamal Anderson of the Atlanta Falcons
Running back Jamal Anderson of the Atlanta Falcons / RHONA WISE/GettyImages

While the running back position has been devalued in today's NFL, superstar running backs can still give teams an added sense of security.

The Atlanta Falcons have been fortunate enough to have some of the best running backs ever. It was a position this franchise relied on heavily through its first few decades thanks to its inability to find a great quarterback.

Selecting where each RB is ranked is much more straightforward than quarterback because of two stats dominating the position.

Criteria for selection

Yards and touchdowns take the cake as the most important stats in the career of a running back. Their ultimate purpose is to help guide their offense down the field, whether on the ground or through the air. Simply put, running backs who gained yards and scored touchdowns rank higher.

Longevity is another important aspect. Those who have been dominant for years are always going to have the leg up on those who saw their careers end early. I also took into account impact for a playoff team. If they helped drive a Falcons team to the playoffs, they received a boost.

With the importance of holding onto the ball in the game of football, those who fumbled a lot received a negative hit on their ranking.

Fullbacks are included since the franchise has had a few standout options who have rushed for thousands of yards.

The top 20 running backs in Atlanta Falcons history

20. Bijan Robinson

Bijan Robinson will rise up this list quickly. The stud running back is one of the best and most talented players at the position and is the center of his offense.

Not only does Robinson hit holes as a runner, but he also makes guys look helpless with his ankle-breaking moves. The former Texas Longhorn can hop everyone in front of him on this list by the time his career is finished in the NFL.

We have only seen the beginning of the eighth overall pick's career; the best is yet to come.

19. Erric Pegram

As a sixth-round pick out of North Texas, Erric Pegram was never expected to do much in the professionals. And, for the first two years of his career, that was true, but he went on to have a breakout season in his third year.

After racking up just 462 yards from scrimmage in his first two years, Pegram gained 1,487 scrimmage yards with three touchdowns in 1993. Unfortunately, that season was an outlier as he only broke 1,000 total yards once more, which came with the Steelers.

Nevertheless, his great season and modest stats in his three other years with the Falcons combine to land him in the top 20.

18. Jerious Norwood

Unlike Pegram, Jerious Norwood was a consistent player for five seasons in Atlanta. He had his best seasons in his first two years but would see his opportunities diminish from then on due to the addition of someone else you will see later in the rankings.

Norwood was successful as both a runner and receiver. He finished his Falcons career with 375 rushes for 1,995 yards and seven touchdowns while also catching 96 passes for 912 yards and three touchdowns.

17. Cordarrelle Patterson

As an older player with the reputation of being a kick returner and nothing else, Cordarrelle Patterson came to Atlanta and thrived. He quickly became the best running back on the team in his first season and was a fan favorite.

With his all-around ability, CP played in 43 games over three seasons with the Dirty Birds. He rushed for 1,494 yards on 347 handoffs and 14 touchdowns. He also made a huge impact as a receiver, catching 82 passes for 708 yards and six touchdowns.

16. Tyler Allgeier

Not much was expected of Tyler Allgeier as a rookie in 2022, which continued into the season as he was inactive in his first game. However, the Falcons quickly realized what they had in the bowling-ball runner and made him a focal point of their rush-heavy offense.

Starting in just seven games in his first season, Allgeier broke the franchise record for rushing yards by a rookie with 1,035. He had another fantastic season in Year 2 despite playing behind the highly touted Bijan Robinson.

Watch for Allgeier to continue his ascension up this list.

15. John Settle

While John Settle only played four seasons in the NFL, he made his hay as an all-purpose back in the late-'80s.

Throughout 46 games and only 29 starts, the one-time Pro Bowler took 439 handoffs for 1,801 yards and 10 touchdowns. His impact through the air was significant with 118 receptions for 1,039 yards and three touchdowns.

14. Jim "Cannonball" Butler

Making an appearance on my "All-Name Team," Cannonball Butler was more than just a great name; he was a great player.

As more of a consistency- and longevity-based running back, Butler took 609 handoffs for 2,250 yards and seven touchdowns. He was the leading rusher in four consecutive seasons (1968-71) for a franchise struggling to make its first impact in the NFL. He was also one of the first Pro Bowl running back for the Falcons.

13. Art Malone

Spending time as both a running back and fullback, Art Malone was a touchdown machine for the '70s Falcons. In 1971, he scored eight touchdowns and followed that up by scoring 10 in 1972.

His overall stats won't blow you away, but remember he spent most of his time as a designated fullback. Over 64 games, he touched the ball 672 times for 3,466 yards and 24 touchdowns.

12. Craig Heyward

If you don't recognize Craig Heyward's name, then you may recognize the name of his two sons: Cameron and Connor Heyward.

The legendary football family started with Craig, who looked to continue his career with the Atlanta Falcons in 1994. He put together two fantastic seasons in which he scored six or more touchdowns and caught a few more. In total, he gained 3,036 yards on 576 touches, scoring 14 times.

Craig died in 2006 due to cancer, but his name lives on with his kids.

11. Lynn Cain

As the uncle of of The Black Eyed Peas, Lynn Cain made his name known before his nephew. Once he'd left USC, the Falcons used a fourth-round pick on Cain, who went on to become an important piece for the 1980 playoff team.

During the 1980 season, the former Trojan ran the ball 235 times for 914 yards and eight touchdowns. In his six years for the Falcons, he held the ball 726 times, gaining 3,300 yards and scoring 25 touchdowns.

10. Dave Hampton

Another player who was listed as a running back and fullback during his time in Atlanta, Dave Hampton had several great seasons in five years with the Falcons.

In 1972, 1973, and 1975, he ran the ball 230-plus times and gathered a 1,000-yard season while falling five and three yards short in the other two years. Altogether, he had 4,305 yards and 20 touchdowns on 964 touches.

9. Haskel Stanback

Spending each of his first six professional seasons with the Atlanta Falcons despite being a fifth-round pick of the Bengals, Haskel Stanback was a consistent 100-plus-touch running back. He combined to catch or run the ball more than 100 times in four straight seasons from 1975 to 1978.

Most of Stanback's work came on the ground as he finished his career with 728 carries for 2,662 yards and 25 touchdowns in 83 games. He still deserves credit for his 98 receptions for 786 yards and one touchdown through the air.

8. Tevin Coleman

Tevin Coleman was a major player for what was one of the best offenses in NFL history in 2016. The home-run threat gave Kyle Shanahan another piece to work with all season long.

Used in tandem with another running back on this list, Coleman helped take the Falcons to their second Super Bowl after a rough rookie season in 2015. He was often used as a receiver out of the backfield, helping to put this offense over the top.

Overall, the former Hoosier racked up 3,350 yards from scrimmage with 29 touchdowns over his four seasons with the Falcons.

7. T.J. Duckett

T.J. Duckett was a highly touted runner coming out of Michigan State. The Falcons used a first-round pick on him, and his knack for getting to the end zone made him worth the selection.

The 255-pound physical back scared any defender who attempted to tackle him. He was known for his punishing running style, which is why he is ranked high on this list. He was a feared player, which also helped everyone else on the offense.

In total, Duckett ran the ball 552 times for 2,175 yards and 31 touchdowns in just four years.

6. Devonta Freeman

As an afterthought during his second year in the NFL, Devonta Freeman broke out against Dallas in Week 3 of the 2015 season. I was one of the lucky few people to start him in fantasy that day as he singlehandedly won games with his 30 rushes for 141 yards, five catches for 52 yards, and three touchdowns. He followed that up with another three-touchdown performance the following week.

His career didn't stop there, either. The former Florida State star reached the end zone 35 times from 2015 to 2017 and made two Pro Bowls. Of course, his 2016 campaign played a significant role in the team reaching its second Super Bowl.

What was remarkable about Freeman was his ability to produce on the ground and through the air. He had moves that would make defenders look foolish (just ask the Buccaneers) and was one of the most fun players to watch during his prime.

In 77 games, Freeman ran the ball 951 times for 3,972 yards, caught 257 passes for 2,015 yards, and scored 43 touchdowns.

5. Jamal Anderson

Jamal Anderson, for more than just his great play, will always be a massive part of the history of the Atlanta Falcons. Not only was he the driving force of a Super Bowl team, but he also started the iconic "Dirty Bird" dance.

His stats on the field were remarkable, especially for a seventh-round pick. He started to get his footing in Year 3 when he totaled 1,528 scrimmage yards and six touchdowns. The following year, he had 1,286 yards and 10 touchdowns.

However, those would not compare to what he did for the NFC champion Falcons in 1998.

As the engine for a team with many iconic moments, Jam touched the ball 437 times and logged 2,165 yards with 16 touchdowns. Remarkably, 1,846 of those yards came on the ground, which remains a franchise record. He rushed for over 100 yards in 12 games and ran for at least one touchdown in 11 of the 16 games that season — including a stretch of three games with two TDs.

While his 1998 postseason only included one triple-digit rushing game, he was adamant about being the player who would open things up for his teammates. His unselfishness helped the Dirty Birds score 69 points in their three postseason games.

Jam The Dirty Bird will forever have his name etched in Falcons lore.

4. Warrick Dunn

Before joining the Falcons, Warrick Dunn was already one of the best in the business. He continued that through his time with Atlanta, making his impact felt both on and off the field.

As a player who continued to defy the odds at 5-foot-9, 2004's Walter Payton Man of the Year continued his dominant streak of putting up 1,000 yards from scrimmage. He reached the mark with Tampa Bay during his first five seasons and then went to Atlanta to add another five years. He ended his career with only one season without 1,000 scrimmage yards (958 in 2007).

Dunn was consistently consistent during his NFL career. He never missed more than five games and played in all 16 in five of his seven seasons with this franchise — simply remarkable for a 180-pound running back.

The former Florida State legend had 10 games with 130-plus rushing yards, put up 1,636 yards from scrimmage in 2005, and had four seasons with at least five touchdowns for the Falcons.

His six years in the ATL saw him rush for 5,981 yards and 30 rushing touchdowns along with 1,635 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns.

Dunn is also known for his profound charity work as he created Warrick Dunn Charities, which helps to break the cycle of generational poverty.

3. William Andrews

William Andrews' third-most rushing yards in Falcons history helps him land at No. 3 on this list. The Georgia native was drafted by his hometown team in the third round of the 1979 NFL Draft.

As a fullback and running back for the early-'80s Falcons, the former Auburn Tiger played in 87 games for many bottom-of-the-barrell teams. He could only do so much for a squad that reached the playoffs just twice during his tenure, both of which had one-and-done results.

Andrews was the driving force of many teams that badly needed him. He reached four straight Pro Bowls from 1980 to 1983 and rushed for over 1,000 yards four times. While that might not seem like a lot, he never had more than 289 carries in a season. His impact was felt in more ways than just ground production.

As a member of the Falcons' inaugural 2004 Ring of Honor class, Andrews had his name in the same book as Walter Payton, Jim Brown, Wilbert Montgomery, and O.J. Simpson as the only players to reach 2,000 scrimmage yards in a season. He also joined Simpson as the only player to reach that mark twice.

While his career was cut way too short due to a major knee injury, Andrews still deserves the third spot because of his 5,986 yards and 30 touchdowns on the ground and 2,647 yards and 11 touchdowns through the air.

2. Gerald Riggs

As the ninth overall pick in the 1982 NFL Draft, Gerald Riggs lived up to his billing. The 6-foot-1, 230-pounder made a name for himself as a player you did not want to tackle.

The first thing that came to mind with Riggs was his toughness and ability to carry an offense. From 1984 to 1986, he touched the ball a jaw-dropping 1,192 times. For reference, the Falcons threw the ball 1,392 times during that same period. He wasn't some runner who would run out of bounds, either; he was taking brutal punishment each time his number was called.

His workload also turned into production. On 1,773 touches in seven years, Riggs compiled 8,015 yards and 48 touchdowns. He reached three Pro Bowls (should've been more) and was named second-team All-Pro in 1985. He is the franchise's career leader in rushing yards (6,631), is second in rushing touchdowns (48), and played the most games of anyone on this list (91).

When you combine the workload, production, and impact he had on his Falcons, Gerald Riggs easily deserves a top-three spot on this list.

The Falcons legend was traded to Washington to finish out his career. He ran for six touchdowns (two in the Super Bowl) during Washington's championship run in 1991, which tied the NFL record. He pulled a John Elway and Peyton Manning — before Elway and Manning — by retiring after he hoisted the Lombardi Trophy.

Funny enough, Riggs also holds the NFL record for most receptions without a receiving touchdown with 201.

1. Michael Turner

Despite having almost 600 fewer rushing yards than Gerald Riggs, Michael Turner deserves this spot for many reasons.

Turner came into the league as a fifth-round pick of the Chargers in 2004. He did not get much opportunity with San Diego because he backed up one of the greatest ever in LaDainian Tomlinson. The Falcons saw his talent and signed him in 2008, and he, ironically, immediately made a Tomlinson-less Pro Bowl.

Michael "The Burner" Turner had remarkable athleticism for his bowling-ball body type. He rushed for 1,699 yards and 17 touchdowns in his first season with Atlanta and broke the 1,300-yard, 10-touchdown threshold in both 2010 and 2011.

In his Falcons debut (and Matt Ryan's NFL debut), he ran for 220 yards and had two touchdowns against the Lions. Those 220 rushing yards in one game remain a franchise record.

Two things that set this great running back apart from everyone else were his ability to hold onto the ball (15 fumbles in 75 games compared to Riggs' 32 in 91 games) and his ability to get into the end zone (60 rushing touchdowns; 12 more than the second-placed Riggs).

While he might not be the franchise record-holder in games played or rushing yards, he was able to hold onto the ball and score touchdowns — exactly what you want from your running back.

The 20 best running backs in Atlanta Falcons history by rushing yards



Years w/ Falcons

Rushing Yards


Gerald Riggs




Michael Turner




William Andrews




Warrick Dunn




Jamal Anderson




Devonta Freeman




Dave Hampton




Haskel Stanback




Tevin Coleman




Lynn Cain




Cannonball Butler




Craig Heyward




T.J. Duckett




Art Malone




Jerious Norwood




Erric Pegram




John Settle




Tyler Allgeier




Junior Coffrey




Bubba Bean