Best Atlanta Falcons all-time draft pick: Running Back

Chris Vinel

The best running back the Atlanta Falcons ever drafted is not their all-time leading rusher.

He doesn’t hold the franchise record for most touchdowns in a season. He wasn’t a first round pick.

But he should have been all that and more.

Despite a career derailed in its prime by a knee injury, William Andrews, a 1979 third-rounder, is the greatest rusher Atlanta has ever selected in the NFL Draft.

Andrews spent his entire six-year career with the Falcons, racking up enough accolades to be selected as one of the four players in the organization’s first Ring of Honor class.

As the type of bruising runner who could be called a fullback, in the same vein as Earl Campbell, Andrews rumbled for 5,986 career yards and 30 touchdowns on the ground. He ranks third in franchise history in rushing yards and sixth in rushing touchdowns.

During Andrews’s career, from 1979-1986, Campbell, Tony Dorsett and Walter Payton were viewed as the top running backs in the NFL.

Didn’t matter.

None of those players nor anyone else topped Andrews in total yards during his first five years as a professional (1979-1983). Andrews posted three seasons with at least 500 receiving yards and one more in which he fell less than 50 yards short of the mark.

Then, the injury hit.

During the 1984 preseason, Andrews wrecked his knee. He missed all of the 1984 and 1985 seasons with extensive nerve damage and was never the same again.

He returned to the Falcons for one final season in 1986 but played mostly tight end and never started another game. When he retired, he sat 24th on the NFL all-time career rushing yard list.

If Andrews stayed healthy, who knows what would’ve happened to him and the Falcons? He was only 28 years old, had made four consecutive Pro Bowls and recorded the best statistical season of his career in 1983.

Now, outside of Atlanta, he is largely forgotten. His No. 31 was retired by the franchise.

Other candidates: Gerald Riggs, Jamal Anderson, Devonta Freeman

Comments (1)
Scott Kennedy
Scott Kennedy


My family moved to Atlanta in 1978 when I was five years old, so William Andrews was MY running back. After Andrews came Gerald Riggs. Another monster. John Settle shortly after that became the 1st undrafted free agent to run for 1,000 yards. We weren't very good for most of the 80's, but by goodness we could run the ball.