A Battle To Watch: Third Down Back

JACKSONVILLE FL - SEPTEMBER 02: Jason Snelling #44 of the Atlanta Falcons runs during a preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on September 2 2010 in Jacksonville Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

There's a host of battles going on even as we speak for positions. Guys like Peter Konz are vying for starting jobs, while guys like James Rodgers are just vying for a roster spot. Those battles are worth tracking.

One battle that is likely to fly under the radar? Third down back, which should be a slugfest between Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling. Neither is going to win every third down snap for the Falcons, not with Michael Turner getting plenty of third down carries and serving as a useful blocker. But one will be the primary option, for two reasons:

  1. Michael Turner doesn't really catch the ball
  2. Snelling and Rodgers catch the ball

Simple as that. You need a back who can come in, do a little blocking if called upon, take a carry if needed and definitely catch the ball. One of either Rodgers or Snelling will be that guy, though again, they'll both get some snaps.

After the jump, I'll handicap the competition.

Jacquizz Rodgers

From a dynamism standpoint, there's a clear choice. Rodgers is not the fastest back, but he's hard to find in a crowd thanks to his height and he has a nice combination of lateral agility, power and pass-catching ability. He's arguably more of a threat as a receiver than a runner, and he certainly was a year ago.

For Rodgers to win the gig, though, he'll have to block well. That's especially critical on those third downs where he'll be held in to block for Matt Ryan while the receivers go out wide, and it's the area of his game that most needs improvement.

Still, he's an awfully solid choice, and the team may explore lining him up outside on occasion.

Jason Snelling

Big Snell has a million little advantages here. He's got more power than Rodgers, has years in the team's system, the veteran presence and the crunch-time performances catching balls out of the backfield.

Of course, his biggest advantage is in his ability to block. Rodgers is more dynamic and can pick up the offense just fine, I believe, so the gap isn't huge. But Snelling's played a little fullback, knows how to block in this offense and should have the early leg up because of it. I can easily see Rodgers serving as Turner's primary backup, but Snelling offering up the bulk of the third-down back snaps.

Who do you think will be the team's most frequent third-down back?

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