Gerald Riggs as a running back was an amazing combination of size, power and speed. Maybe that’s what caught the Falcons attention when they made him the ninth overall pick in the 1982 NFL Draft. After all, they already had a Pro Bowl back in William Andrews, who had racked up 2,036 all-purpose yards in 1983. They also had Lynn Cain, who contributed 963 all-purpose yards and 6 touchdowns of his own that season.
In his rookie season, Riggs got his only taste of the playoffs in a Falcons uniform. He contributed 38 yards in nine carries in a 30-24 Wild Card loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
In 1983, Riggs took over as the second running back on the depth chart and was second only to Andrews in touchdowns for the Falcons with eight. Then, just before the 1984 season, Andrews suffered the devastating injury to his knee that eventually ended his career and Riggs became the focal point of the Falcons offense. He touched the ball on 38 percent of the team’s plays that season, carrying 353 times for 1,486 yards and 13 touchdowns and catching 42 passes for 277 yards.
In 1985, he carried the load again for the Falcons offense. Riggs touched the ball on 39 percent of the Falcons’ plays and accounted for 40 percent of the team’s total yardage. He rushed 397 times for 1,719 yards, good for second in the NFL, and caught 33 passes for 267 yards. For his efforts, Riggs was named to his first of three consecutive Pro Bowls.
In 1986, Riggs received a bit of help with carrying the Falcons offense but he still ran the ball 343 times for 1,327 yards and nine touchdowns. It was obvious that Riggs was beginning to feel the effects of his overuse by head coach Dan Hennings as his yards per carry average dropped to 3.9.
The following season was the beginning of the end for the powerful running back. He missed four games early but still finished 1987 having touched the ball on 26 percent of the Falcons total offensive plays. It was still the first time in four seasons that he failed to reach 1,000 yards rushing but did manage 1,074 all-purpose yards.
In 1989, Riggs was traded to the Washington Redskins where he played the final three seasons of his career. Riggs may not have had the speed that he possessed at the peak of his abilities but he was still a powerful runner. He showed that in Super Bowl XXVI, his final game, when he powered through Buffalo’s defense twice in the second quarter to stretch Washington’s lead to 24-0 in a game they would win 37-24.
Why does Riggs end up as the top running back in Falcons’ history? One reason is that 30 years after his last carry for the team, he still holds the team’s rushing record with 6,631 yards. He also would have had a longer and more productive career if he hadn’t touched the ball 1,192 times on offense over a three-year period (1984-1986). For those three seasons he was Dan Henning’s offense. Riggs also scored 48 rushing touchdowns in his career, second only to Michael Turner’s 60.
Gerald Riggs was brought back to Atlanta where he belongs in 2013 when he was inducted into the Falcons’ Ring of Honor.