Running backs were considered the focal point for the Atlanta Falcons when Arthur Smith was named head coach in 2021. Many began to think that he would look for his own Derrick Henry type running back to lead his group. Atlanta then brought in Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson on short term contracts designed to help the team build an offense with a talented backfield. They supplemented them with options through the year like Wayne Gallman, Qadree Ollison and fullback Keith Smith.
In 2020, the Falcons had 1,922 yards from scrimmage and 14 touchdowns from their running back group. They had a big improvement in 2021 by replacing Brian Hill and Todd Gurley with Patterson and Davis. The Falcons have exceeded their running back production from 2020 in 2021 with 2,174 yards from scrimmage and 15 total touchdowns. They have become a more explosive group, but construction of the group might take a different dynamic moving forward.
In terms of money, the Falcons have very light commitments to their backfield at this time. Keith Smith is a supremely underrated fullback, and Mike Davis is a solid running back when the blocking is there. While neither of the guys listed have any business being cut, the team could end up sending them on their way should they decide that the money would be better spent elsewhere.
Exclusive Rights Free Agents:
RB Qadree Ollison
RB Caleb Huntley (practice squad)
Due to the low cost of what free agents like this command, expect the Falcons to bring both of these guys back for training camp. Qadree Ollison has been solid and shown flashes of a bruising runner during his time in the pros. However, he’s been terrible in pass protection, hurting his chances at carving out a role in the offense. Caleb Huntley was a solid back in the preseason, but is camp fodder.
Unrestricted Free Agents:
RB/WR/KR Cordarrelle Patterson
The Falcons leading rusher and receiver at running back was the surprising Cordarrelle Patterson. He played his best games when Calvin Ridley was still active on the roster and opposing teams couldn’t look at him as a primary or even second option. The Falcons bringing him back should be imperative. He was a unique option for the team and has a total of 1,154 yards from scrimmage and 11 total touchdowns with just one fumble all season. Not to mention, but even he’s alluded to wanting to stay.
At running back, the Falcons could run it back with this same group and see more success in year two of Arthur Smith’s schemes. Bringing back Patterson or someone who can win in the same ways makes a lot of sense for the team. However, running back is a low-value position due to the massive supply of guys out there that can come in and impact right away.
Potential Future Need
Even if the Falcons bring back Patterson, he and Mike Davis are older in terms of running back age at 31 and 29 to start the 2022 season. A long-term guy needs to come in and, at worst, learn from the two of them to start his career. This draft has a ton of great options that would fit the wide-zone and split-zone schemes that Arthur Smith runs in Atlanta that predicate vision and balance. With so many different options in the draft, that will likely be the avenue they look towards moving forward.
What the Plan Should Be Moving Forward
In terms of free agent running backs, the Falcons should look to Patterson or not look at all. Running back is a position of diminishing returns in the free agent market similar to a car being bought off of a used car lot. Focusing on draft picks, there are a bunch of great fits all throughout the draft. Players like Zachary Charbonnet from UCLA, Brian Robinson from Alabama, and Breece Hall from Iowa State are just a few perfect options for a zone scheme that would be able to help the Falcons past 2022.