Falcons Training Camp Preview: Running Backs

Kevin C. Cox

The Falcons head into 2014 with a new face in the RB group. Will he contribute?

Hello Falcoholics! It has been some time since you've heard from me. I need to change that, but I've been busy being the bomb-diggity.

It's no secret that the Falcons running game was not good. So not-good, in fact, that we had the least amount of rushing yards in all of the NFL last year. Our YPC was just a hair under 4, but it was still 24th in the league.

While Matt Ryan does many things great, a running game would make his life much easier. So let's break down what we've got going on behind #2.

The Players

1) Steven Jackson - 157 Car, 543 Yds, 6 TD

Strengths - Mammoth individual. In spite of his age, he's still very powerful. Can get you one yard.

Weaknesses - Has 2992 touches in 10 years. The speed of the game may have passed him by.

2) Jacquizz Rodgers - 96 Car, 332 Yds, 2 TD

Strengths - Elusive, surprisingly strong for his size, excellent blocker

Weaknesses - More quick than fast. Breakaway run doesn't guarantee touchdown.

3) Devonta Freeman - 4th Round Pick - Florida St.

Strengths - All-around back. Competent blocker. Good hands, reliable with the ball, can get to the edge.

Weaknesses - Similar in style and stature to Quizz. Top speed concerns? Can he handle an NFL workload and defense? Does his blocking game transition to the NFL?

4) Antone Smith - 5 Car, 145 Yds, 2 TD

Strengths - Blazing fast. Hits the hole quickly. Has kick return experience.

Weaknesses - Can he do anything other than run?

5) Josh Vaughan - 1 Car, 1 Yd

Strengths - Not new to the NFL

Weaknesses - Hasn't done anything other than be a fringe special teamer.

6) Jerome Smith - UDFA from Syracuse

Strengths - Good size at 6'0" 225, was a durable starter for Syracuse. Not anywhere near the top of their record books. Was a team captain (Surprise, surprise!).

Weaknesses - Is at the bottom of a tall totem pole, so to speak.

The FBs

1) Patrick DiMarco - Not particularly noteworthy offensive contribution

Strengths - Has NFL experience. Still young, has time to grow.

Weaknesses -Somewhat tall (6'1") for a guy that needs to stay low. Running game he blocked for last year not exactly something to write home about.

2) Roosevelt Nix - UDFA out of Kent State

Strengths - Very powerful. Formerly a defensive lineman, which gives him a deeper understanding of how to approach blocking them. Measurables are solid for a guy his size. The only player in Kent State history (and 5th in the MAC) to make All-Conference all four years.

Weaknesses - New to the fullback position. Since the Falcons will only take one FB, a tie with DiMarco means he's out.

3) Maurice Hagens - UDFA out of The U

Strengths - Excellent runner in high school. Three straight years of 1,000+ yards. Converted to a full-time fullback at Miami (FL), lettered all four years. Good size for the position. 6'0" 250.

Weaknesses - In spite of his high school numbers, he didn't contribute much to The U offensively. Could he fill an Ovie type role?

What's Changed

Aside from a couple new faces, the only thing that has changed is the amount of sad in our RBs' joints.

The real kicker to what has changed - and the key to rushing success - is new right 2/5ths of the OL. Asamoah and Matthews are most likely an upgrade over the two players we trotted out there last year. I have no doubt that some combination of SJax, Quizz, and D-Free (you heard that here first) can be a potent rushing attack if the holes are there.

We have exhausted all the videos and articles about Devonta Freeman that are out there. He seems like a good guy, he says all the right things, and he really wanted to be here. What isn't to like about the guy?

Concerns about SJax are certainly legitimate. He'll be 31 this year, he'll probably eclipse 3,000 total touches and there's no telling whether or not he can return to his pre-Falcons form. That being said, Emmitt Smith had 4,400 carries and more than 500 receptions. It stands to reason he had 5,000 touches in his career, so maybe SJax isn't done quite yet.

The Big Question

The big question with regards to the RBs to me is, "Can the offensive line give the RBs a chance?" I'm very confident our RBs are plenty talented enough to make an impact, but will the offensive line give them an opportunity to succeed? I have no doubt Turner lost a step towards the end of his career here, but whereas I once believed it was on him, a further review of the situation suggested to me it was, at worst for Turner, a 50-50 split between him and the OL.

I feel like a lesser "big question" is "How much does SJax have left?" because there were times where he didn't look so good, but then there were other times when he looked like the SJax we thought we were getting. Can we keep his touches low so we can make a playoff push with him? Time will tell.

Best Case Scenario

Best case scenario for the Falcons realistically is that the OL DOES give the RBs a chance to succeed. SJax gets around the 1,000 yard mark for rushing with a healthy 4.5 yard average, and Quizz and Freeman get somewhere around the 500 yard mark each. As far as touchdowns are concerned, who knows. Depends on the play call.

If you're concerned about whether 2,000 total rushing yards is attainable, just know we were 61 yards from 3000 in 2006. 12 teams broke 2000 yards rushing last year, so it's very possible!

Worst Case Scenario

Here ya go.

Summary

I'm excited for the running game this year. I think it has become the focus once again and should churn out a much better performance than last year. It starts up front, of course, but there's no reason to think we can't have some success now that the team has put its money where its mouth is with regards to the big guys up front.

Not only that, but our top three guys (and potentially the FB too!) can all catch the ball, opening up more options for Matt Ryan. And he'll need them, especially now that Tony Gonzalez is gone.

What are your thoughts on the running backs and running game this year?

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