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The Great Falcons Roster Breakdown, Running Backs Edition

Last time we checked in on one of these, we were talking quarterbacks. While that position is top-heavy and thins out slightly as you go down the list, the Falcons have strong running backs from top to bottom. Today, reader LORD91 and Dave the Falconer (hey, that's me!) will be exploring just what makes that depth chart so strong.

As always, you're encouraged to give us feedback on this feature. Once everything's in and you've voted in the poll, we'll be putting together a list of grades for each position pre-draft. Then we'll go through this process again—in greatly abbreviated fashion—to examine free agent and draft pickups.

Got it? Good. Follow us after the jump.

LORD91 writes:

I'm going to start with what we already have. Michael "The Burner" Turner is (no offense) like a horse. His first year with us he won the Kentucky Derby. So the next year we put all our money on that horse and he hurt one his bones needed to race. Now we are the owners of that horse with one hand on the shotgun and the other hand on the  shotgun shells asking ourselves should we wait till he becomes healthy or aim and shoot.

Obviously, I think we should keep him on the team and let him carry us on to victory next year.

Next we have Jason Snelling. He was like the bench warmer on (any type of) team that the coach points at out of nowhere and says  "Son, go out there and win it all for us" and if he goes out there and somehow pulls it off we are suprised and happy, but if he makes a fool of himself then all we can say is he tried. Jason was in the middle but he did good for an "out of nowhere type of guy." I think we should hold onto him (he is a restricted free agent), but if we see somone in the market that can do more for less then all i can say is goodbye.

Jerious Norwood is what i would consider as a safe choice. He can run and run well, but that's only when he is healthy. If he is hurt then he is also like Turner as far being a horse, except my mind is siding toward aiming that gun at the horse and pulling the trigger. To be honest, he is like a Brian Westbrook-type on the team.

Now we get into the what i like to consider the Wal-NFL Draft-Mart, where everything is on sale but for a limited time only. The good thing about the NFL Draft is that you can fill up your cart with everything on your list while saving money. The bad—or should I say risky—news is that like most stores, there are alot of people that want exactly what you want, so your chances of getting those items are slim and you have to deal with buying the off-brand. We need a player who can slide through those deffensive gaps no matter how small, that can even return punts, or anything else if neccessary.

I see that there's a lot of interest in C.J. Spiller, and I also agree that he is a very nice choice that can possibly do it all, but there are alot of teams that are thinking of him also. If he is drafted before we can get him then what? Are we doomed? Have no fear, I have a late-round solution, and his name is Anthony Dixon from Mississippi State. For the year he had 1391 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. I recommend him because he's big, fast and can also catch a ball in the backfield. So if C.J. can't be drafted in time (likely), then i recommend Anthony.

Also, there is always the free agency where there is possibly some very good talent in there for a OK price. LaDanian Tomlinson is one possibility.  These are my thoughts on our running back situation; if anyone thinks otherwise then please feel free to comment on the post and leave any and all suggestions. What i say about all this isn't in the Falcon Bible, nor am i an expert, but i am a dreamer and a diehard Atlanta Falcons fan that wishes to see his favorite team win the Super Bowl.

Dave the Falconer writes:

When it comes to running backs, the Falcons' depth chart as currently constructed is one of the deepest in the league...on paper. Injuries cloud the picture somewhat in the year ahead, however. Remember that my grades here cover the 2009 season only.

RB Michael Turner, Starter: What can you say about the Touchdown Vampire? Like LORD91 said, he was the guy you want to put all your money on in his first season in the league. He limited fumbles, trucked over defenders and generally ripped up the field, scoring gobs of touchdowns. Unfortunately, 2009 saw a series of nagging injuries that robbed Turner of a large chunk of his season.

If you look back at our comments throughout the year, you'll find a fair number of us (including me) who were hard on Turner. Even when he was healthy, he didn't hit the hole with the same decision, leading me to speculate about whether his heavy workload in 2008 contributed to his slowing down in 2009. If you look at his end-of-season numbers, however, he actually had a very good season again. On 178 carries, he managed 871 yards and 10 touchdowns, an average of 4.9 yards per carry and almost a touchdown a game in his 11 games. He fumbled four times in those 11 games, one more than the year before, and once again was a complete non-factor in the passing game. It was the quintessential Michael Turner season, reduced in size.

What worries me in the future with Turner is injuries. His recurring leg injuries sapped his effectiveness, and his admirable insistence on trying to play through pain backfired in a big way, as he re-injured himself twice after attempting to come back and start. That stubbornness, coupled with the still-bizarre willingness of the coaching staff to risk arguably our most important offensive player, makes me leery of the season ahead. Of course, if he's totally healthy and any conditioning issues are solved, he should be our rock once more in 2010.

As negative as that last paragraph probably sounded, I'm actually pretty confident we'll see a return to form in 2010, with 1,000+ yards, 10+ TDs and close to five yards a carry. If he suffers any kind of leg injuries, though, I hope the team makes him sit out until he's fully healed. We don't want him to lose 5+ games again.

Grade: B-

RB Jerious Norwood, Backup: Many of you didn't even know The Falcoholic existed back when I first started calling for the Falcons to get him more involved in the gameplan. It's been a nearly constant gripe through three sets of coaches now, and it may be time to acknowledge that the grand Norwood experiment is never going to be quite what we spent so long hoping for.

Due to an abundance of injuries, Norwood was only able to play in parts of ten games in 2010. He average an anemic 3.3 yards a carry, the first time in his career he's come in under 5. He's only once had more than 100 carries in a season, and he's only once played in all 16 games. He's the classic home-run hitter at the position and has pretty good hands, but he's going to be 27 by the end of the season and has never emerged. Part of that is the way the coaching staffs have used him (still odd, in my mind), part of it is injuries and part of it is good old-fashioned talent. With Norwood, the potential has never quite turned into top-notch production.

That's not to say he's not a valuable asset. When healthy, teams must account for his speed and his ability to catch a few passes out of the backfield, giving defenses a very different look than Turner. Over the last four seasons, he's done a good job of holding onto the ball, with only three total fumbles, two of them last season. He clearly offers value to this team, but it's not clear if he can be a reliable option.

I remain convinced that the Falcons will explore a trade for Norwood in the off-season, but my reading of the tea leaves is hampered by the fact that I generally have no idea what I'm talking about. If he returns in 2010, I like to think he will bounce back from a disappointing campaign, once more averaging several yards a carry on about 100 carries. Like Chris Redman at quarterback, he's a valuable backup. He just can't be counted on to carry the load.

Grade: D+

RB Jason Snelling, Third-Stringer: I know some of you don't like Jason Snelling. He's slow, you might say. He can't carry the load, you might say. His epilepsy makes him a liability during motivational screenings of popular anime shows, you add. To which I reply: Nuts to you guys.

The Falcons were doomed if Snelling didn't step up. With Turner and Norwood hurt, he was the last potential option for carries out of the team's backfield and he delivered. A seventh-round pick and third-stringer, he nonetheless averaged a tidy 4.3 yards per carry, piling up 621 yards and four touchdowns. He also caught 30 passes for 259 yards. In a couple of words, Snelling was surprisingly complete and rescued the Falcons from being a one-dimensional team.

That's not to say he didn't have his weaknesses. For such a big back, he sure got stuffed in short-yardage situations a lot. He's clearly not the kind of back you can build an entire team around. I'll acknowledge that. But he's an extremely valuable asset for the Falcons in the year ahead, with Turner and Norwood both coming off of injury issues.

I expect Norwood to return or the Falcons to draft another back who brings speed to the table, so you likely won't see big numbers out of Snelling again. Expect him to spell Turner occasionally, come in on third downs when the team needs to get a back involved in the passing game and fill in capably during any and all injuries. Considering the team will be able to negotiate exclusively with him and he's unlikely to be expensive, that's pretty damn good.

Grade: A-

RB Antone Smith, Practice Squadder: Smith could be an option to replace Norwood if he's traded, though I seriously doubt the Falcons will put that much trust in a guy on the practice squad. Still, according to everything I've seen and heard about Smith, he's a speedy back who generates a fair amount of power with his legs. He'll be worth a look down the line at age 24, but I'm not positive the Falcons are going to ask much of him in 2010.

Grade: ?

FB Ovie Mughelli, Starter: I'm not going to spend a lot of time on fullback, because I'd be telling you what you already know. Arguably the best signing of the Bobby Petrino era, Mughelli is a powerful blocker who can catch the occasional pass and doesn't embarrass himself when he's asked to carry the rock. Simply put, he's invaluable.

Grade: A

Tell us what you think in the comments!

Poll

Grade the running back position, as currently constructed, for the 2010 Atlanta Falcons.

This poll is closed

  • 22%
    A
    (75 votes)
  • 57%
    B
    (192 votes)
  • 14%
    C
    (49 votes)
  • 1%
    D
    (5 votes)
  • 0%
    F
    (1 vote)
  • 3%
    9! Wait, that's a number.
    (13 votes)
335 votes total Vote Now