With Jason Snelling out this past week against Carolina, we expected Michael Turner to carry most of the workload throughout the game. And that he did. In fact, his number was called quite often as he rushed the ball 28 times for 112 yards. Gartrell Johnson, filling in for the injured Snelling, rushed the ball 6 times for a total of 8 yards. Clearly, the Falcons missed Snelling's great knack for catching passes on 3rd down and churning forward for 10 or 15 yards. But this brings us to an important question: what will the Falcons do about the role of "change-of-pace" back next season?? To follow up my previous post about wideouts, I thought I'd talk about another position of need: second string/3rd down back. Explore after the jump...
In 2011, both Jason Snelling and Jerious Norwood are scheduled to become free agents. While it is highly doubtful that Norwood remains a Falcons (simply because he can't stay healthy and get on the field), Snelling presents an interesting problem.
On one hand, you have a guy that can:
-fill in for Turner when necessary
-catch passes on 3rd down,
-even play fullback from time to time
On the other hand, you have a guy that:
-is not an exceptional pass blocker
-is not what you would call "explosive," he really doesn't break off many big gainers
-is in fact very similar to Turner in terms of running style
While he is definitely a very valuable asset to the team, its not always good to have two very similar backs because teams know exactly what to expect from the Falcons running game. We're missing that big playmaker that keeps the defense on their heels and can take it to the house on any given play. Think Felix Jones when he was in his 3rd down back role, or think Darren Sproles. We need a speedy guy. And other than Sproles, there are no free agents that fit that "Norwood" role for us. If we don't keep Snelling, I guarantee we draft someone. So without further ado, here are some speedy prospects that could find their way to the Falcons next season:
Ratings are based on how well a given player would fit into the Falcons system
(I included scouting report links with each player)
**Noel Devine, West Virginia
5'8, 176 lbs
Projection: 2nd Round pick
Pros: Devine is basically the definition of a change of pace back. He has top-end speed, is great in the open field, and has been called by coaches a "determined runner." Averaged 6.1 yards per carry last season and creates huge mismatch issues.
Cons: Very small and cannot be considered an every down back (not a problem for us, though), not a great pass blocker, and sometimes will lose yards trying to make the big play.
Falcons Rating: A
Noel Devine Scouting Report
**LaMichael James, Oregon
5'9, 185 lbs
Projection: 1st-2nd Round pick
Pros: If you've followed college football at all, you know about this guy. Heisman runner-up and winner of the Doak Walker award for best RB, he's similar to a Reggie Bush in that he is very fast, elusive, and has been very productive at the college level. Great in the open field, and ball security is not an issue. Huge upside.
Cons: He is not very effective between the tackles. Wouldn't be the type of back to get 20+ carries in a game. May end up being like Reggie Bush in that he'll only be a return man/receiving back and not be effective on the ground. He would have to be in the right offense for him to be successful.
Falcons Rating: B+
LaMichael James Scouting Report
**Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State
5'7, 191 lbs
Projection: 3rd-5th Round pick
Pros: Has been overshadowed by LaMichael James this season and could come into the draft as a very underrated running back. Fast, one of the better pass-catching backs of this draft class.
Cons: Has started all three years of his college career, averaging around 260 carries per season. In other words, he may not exactly have "fresh" legs when he gets to the NFL. Needs open space to be effective.
Falcons Rating: B-
Jacquizz Rodgers Scouting Report
**Shane Vereen, California
5'10, 204 lbs
Projection: 2nd-4th Round pick
Pros: He's still a speedy back that is just fast enough to beat defenders around the corner, but he's larger and sturdier than most. Great vision and hits the hole with authority. Capable of running the wildcat offense and returning kicks. Also comes in as a very underrated pass-catcher. He spent most of last year backing up Jahvid Best, so he hasn't had that many carries in college, which will mean he has fresh legs coming into the NFL.
Cons: Doesn't break that many tackles, and doesn't always use his speed as much as he could. Not known for being a pass blocker.
Falcons Rating: B-/C+
Shane Vereen Scouting Report
Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State
5'8, 198 lbs
Projection: 2nd-5th Round pick
Pros: One of the more interesting prospects. Very fast, and has some of the best agility and makes some of the best cuts out of anyone in the draft. Great vision, sees the field really well and has been very productive under a high-powered OSU offense.
Cons: An injury in 2009 kept him on the sideline for most of the season. However, this season's stats seem to point out that he's fully recovered.
Falcons Rating: A
Kendall Hunter Scouting Report
Brandon Saine, Ohio State
6'1, 219 lbs
Pros: Technically, he's listed as a RB/WR. Ohio State has used him as an H-Back, simply because any time he touches the ball, it can result in a big play. Has good speed, but is also large enough to run over smaller defensive backs if needed. Has been described as "a great leader and has natural competitive fire," and he seems like a guy who has his stuff together off the field. Could fit in well if we could find the right uses for him (think Percy Harvin or Dexter McCluster). Best of all, he's projected as a very late-round pick, so he could be gotten without alot of risk.
Cons: No true position, doesn't have great vision or agility. Won't be very effective if he doesn't have a capable coach that can use his abilities to his advantage.
Falcons Rating: B
Brandon Saine Scouting Report
Conclusion: If Mularkey could create some plays where we could use guys like this effectively (like the Snelling HB flare play) I think any one of these guys could be a great addition to the team. Somebody that could be a real "home-run" threat. Personally, I'm really high on Devine, Hunter, and Saine. Especially the last two because they could be late-round draft picks. Anyways, let me know what you guys think, comment, question, etc.