Like Jamal Anderson before him, Michael Turner entered the league with no expectations other than being a fill-in when a future Pro Football Hall of Fame running back needed a breather. That’s not surprising considering that the only college that showed interest in him when he came out of high school was Northern Illinois. Turns out, all “The Burner” needed was an opportunity to prove he was a top running back in his own right and the Falcons never regretted giving it to him.
He was selected in the fifth round by the San Diego Chargers in the 2004 NFL Draft by a team that had LaDainian Tomlinson entering the prime of his career. Turner rushed 20 times for 104 yards in his rookie season while Tomlinson was earning first team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors.
In his next three seasons Turner saw spot duty while Tomlinson earned two more first-team All-Pro awards and three Pro Bowl appearances. Even though he was buried on the bench Turner did manage to have a couple of highlight games for the Chargers. In Week 2 of 2006 against the Tennessee Titans, Turner rushed 13 times for 138 yards. In Week 5 of 2007 against the Denver Broncos, he received 10 carries and finished with 147 yards and one touchdown.
It was those kind of performances that caught the Falcons attention when he became an unrestricted free agent in 2008. They signed Turner to a six-year contract for $34.5 million to bring him to Atlanta to replace Warrick Dunn.
In his first game with the Falcons, deuces were wild. He broke the team’s single-game rushing record by carrying 22 times for 220 yards and two touchdowns against the Detroit Lions. Turner finished the 2008 season by leading the NFL in carries with 376, he turned those into 1,699 yards and 17 touchdowns. For his efforts Turner earned his own first team All-Pro award and a trip to the Pro Bowl.
In 2010, Turner again led the NFL in carries and finished with 1,371 yards and 12 touchdowns. He earned a return trip to the Pro Bowl after that season. Not only did Turner go but he was joined by quarterback Matt Ryan, fullback Ovie Mughelli, receivers Roddy White and Eric Weems, and tight end Tony Gonzalez in representing the Falcons.
Turner was released by the Falcons after the 2012 season but “The Burner” had made the most of his opportunity when it came to him. He finished his five-year tenure in Atlanta with 6,081 yards and the team record in rushing touchdowns with 60.