Watch: Top 5 Running Backs in Atlanta Falcons History: No. 4 – Jamal Anderson
In the 1994 NFL Draft, Jamal Anderson was an afterthought. By the time the seventh round rolled around and it was time for the Atlanta Falcons to make the No. 201 overall pick, the running back class had been well picked through. Pro Football Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk had been the second overall pick. Solid backs like Errict Rhett, Charlie Garner, Lamar Smith and Dorsey Levins had been off the board for about two rounds and Anderson had only played two seasons at running back for Utah.
The Falcons already had Erric Pegram, who had rushed 292 times for 1,185 yards in 1993 and had added Craig “Iron Head” Heyward to help out in the backfield. Anderson managed to make that 1994 team but only carried two times for -1 yard in his rookie season.
In 1995, Pegram was gone and Anderson was backing up Heyward. He carried the ball 39 times for 161 yards that season. In 1996, their roles were reversed. Anderson became the top back with Heyward backing him up. Anderson broke the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the first time that season. He rushed 232 times for 1,055 yards, a 4.5 yards per carry average.
By 1998, Anderson was the man who moved the Falcons offense. He carried the ball 410 times that season. Between rushing and receiving he touched the ball an average of 27 times a game. He rushed for 1,846 yards and 14 touchdowns and added two more touchdowns through the air.
With quarterback Chris Chandler lighting up the offense through the air to Terance Mathis and Anderson leading the team and fans in the “Dirty Bird” dance when they reached the end zone, the Falcons created energy that carried the team all the way to Super Bowl XXXIII. Unfortunately for the Falcons, that’s when the ride ended. They lost to the Denver Broncos in a game that was never close, 34-19.
Things got worse for Anderson in 1999. In the second game of the season he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. He came back in 2000 to carry the ball 282 times for 1,024 yards. Then in 2001 he tore the same ligament in his left knee in Week 3. That was one knee injury too many for Anderson.
He finished his career with 1,329 carries for 5,336 yards and 34 touchdowns. He also caught 156 passes for 1,645 yards. He was named a first team All-Pro once, in his career year of 1998 and was also named to the Pro Bowl that season.
For a seventh-round afterthought, Jamal Anderson gave the Falcons exceptional seasons in the late 1990’s. If it weren’t for the exceptionally heavy use that head coach Dan Reeves put him through in 1998 he might have flown the “dirty bird” long enough to reach truly spectacular heights with the Falcons.