The Atlanta Falcons were terrible at running the football last season. They ranked dead last with 77.9 rush yards per game, and they also attempted the fewest carries in the league. Yes, surely this all comes as a complete shock to everyone!
While the Falcons still have several needs to address, they're likely keeping running back in mind. We've seen recent rumors about the team being linked to Chris Johnson. Atlanta just worked out De'Anthony Thomas. It's probably safe to assume a running back will be added between now and the end of the NFL Draft.
Let's look at the running backs on the roster.
- Steven Jackson: He missed four games in 2013. He averaged 3.5 yards per carry (behind a horrendous offensive line). He'll turn 31 in July.
- Jacquizz Rodgers: Entering a contract year, Rodgers provides a change of pace in the backfield. He's a solid receiver, but he'll never be the bell cow.
- Antone Smith: "We promise we'll give him more carries! We promise!" /Smith gets five carries, averages 29 yards per touch. He'll turn 29 this season, and while he shows promise to step into an expanded role, it's clear Smith is not going to have a chance to be a difference maker under the current regime.
- Josh Vaughan: He plays football, I think.
Free agency or trade
This route is bleak. The Titans are reportedly "very likely" to release CJ?K, according to Jason La Canfora. He might not take kindly to a new role in a committee, but no one wants Johnson as a workhorse. He turns 29 in September. He's in decline. Unless the Falcons picked him up for a relatively cheap deal, they should look elsewhere. Actually, forget the cheap deal, just look elsewhere.
Thomas and West Virginia running back Charles Sims have already received interest from the Falcons. If they're adding a back, a mid-to-late-round pick is the logical option.
While Thomas reminds me of a faster Quizz, Sims makes plenty of sense if he's available in Round 4. A Matt Forte-esque back, Sims is a dynamic athlete with the potential to take over as the No. 1 after Jackson hangs up his cleats. Sims might be a third-rounder, though.
But running back is deep. Jeremy Hill, Lache Seastrunk and Marion Grice are a few names that stand out to me. Hill comes with character concerns, but if he's falling down the board, the Falcons shouldn't feel wary to call his name. One day they'll have to move past the "avoid red flags at all costs" mantra.
Adding someone like Jerick McKinnon, if he goes undrafted, would be a great project for the Falcons. Running backs are more disposable in today's NFL, and teams don't need to use high draft picks just to add someone to a committee. Atlanta might try bringing in a few UDFAs if they don't find a running back in the draft.
So, given the options at hand, how do you think the Falcons should address running back going forward? How early is too early to draft one?