The Atlanta Falcons are going to add another running back to their roster this offseason. The team wanted to sign a running back in free agency and select one in the 2015 NFL Draft. After bringing back Antone Smith, Atlanta can shift its focus towards the incoming class of rookies. Which back is the ideal fit for the Falcons?
The 2015 draft class is deep at the running back position. Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon should be the first two players off the board, but after they go, there are arguably 10 running backs with second-to-fourth-round grades that could end up in Atlanta.
Our staff weighed in on the topic to give their picks. Below you'll find each writer's running back of choice, along with the preferred round to draft the player in and why they would fit with the Falcons.
David Cobb, Minnesota
Reason: Cobb is the perfect complementary back for the Falcons, as the team is currently constructed. Devonta Freeman is a well-rounded back who should handle early downs, while Antone Smith is the home run hitting speed back who can line up out wide. Cobb would give the Falcons a burly, hard-charging back who can handle short yardage work, and he has the frame and drive to be an effective blocker, as well.
The questions with Cobb are whether he’ll develop into the kind of back who can make things happen in the open field, and whether he’ll be able to be an effective pass catcher in the long run. Even if he’s not, he’ll be a nice thunder to Freeman and Smith’s lightning, and the fourth round seems like the ideal spot to land him.
Jeremy Langford, Michigan State
Reason: Langford opened some eyes at the combine and again at his pro-day, putting up impressive numbers in the 40-yard dash (4.42 at the combine). But more than that, Langford is a big back at 6’0" and 208 pounds and is more polished as a pass blocker and in the screen game. He has some mileage on him, but his 12 straight games of 100+ yards rushing is impressive and shows he can carry the rock as more than just a rotational piece. His ability to contribute on day one - even on third down - would make him an immediate contributor.
The concern with Langford is he’s not an overly shifty RB. He’s also not going to break a lot of tackles, though he does run with a sense of determination and keeps his legs moving. His vision improved throughout his college career, so if he can continue to develop his vision, he’ll be a better fit in the ZBS under Shanahan. As a mid-round pick, Langford has ideal size and speed and his ability to contribute early makes him a worthy selection.
David Cobb, Minnesota
Reason: David Cobb may not immediately be an every-down back in the league, but he can be a complementary piece to Devonta Freeman and Antone Smith. He doesn’t have the top-end speed of those two — although not many backs can jet like Smith — but he’s certainly capable of picking up the tough yardage in short-down situations.
In the end, Cobb’s decisiveness is what would help him thrive in Kyle Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme. At best, Atlanta gets a steal in mid-round of the draft. At worst, they get a legitimate power back who can contribute when called upon.
Mike Davis, South Carolina
Reason: Mike Davis is a guy that got lost in the shuffle of a deep running back class and an unspectacular combine effort. He's not a particularly huge departure from what the Falcons already have, but at 5'9" 220, he provides a skill set that works with the zone blocking scheme while also providing a little more pop than Freeman or Smith.
He's a guy who does everything good but not great. Davis features decisive cuts, soft hands, and a determined, powerful style. If he can avoid injury he can be a guy who can step in and give the Falcons another all-around threat that won't have you sweating over pass protection and ball security.
David Cobb, Minnesota
Reason: There’s a lot of talent in this year’s running back class. There are several guys who are quick and shifty and have great burst and leave defensive players in the dust. David Cobb is not one of those guys, but he is a really strong, efficient runner with good agility for his size and surprising speed in the open field. Cobb’s skill set is different from Devonta Freeman and Antone Smith’s and would diversify Atlanta’s ground game.
Cobb will probably need some time to adjust to the speed of the NFL, so coming into a situation where he’ll be more of a short-yardage back and complement the efforts of Freeman and Smith is pretty ideal. Cobb is patient, has good vision, and is decisive -- traits that should help him succeed at the next level.
TJ Yeldon, Alabama
Reason: This is a crowded running back class, and that will undoubtedly work in the Falcons’ favor. Yeldon was projected by some as a second or third rounder going into the combine, but his stock has fallen a bit in recent weeks. If he falls to the fourth round, we’d be foolish not to take him. In Yeldon, the Falcons get a solid role player; with Devonta Freeman and Antone Smith anchoring the running back corps, that’s really all they need.
Let’s start with the negatives. If there’s a knock on Yeldon, it’s that he’s a little hefty. His combine 40 time of 4.61 was lackluster, but he did considerably better at his pro day, running a 4.52. For someone that weighs almost 230 pounds, that’s not half bad. At 6’2, he’s basically a smallish outside linebacker playing running back. Yeldon has admittedly struggled with fumbles, coughing up the ball 10 times over 500+ collegiate carries.
At Alabama, Yeldon played in a pro-style offense in a program that’s run like a professional team. Alabama uses zone blocking; Yeldon, with his quick feet and decisive reads, has thrived in that system. Yeldon is incredibly athletic for his size and he’s durable, with a reputation for playing through pain. He’s the sort of hard nosed, grind-it-out running back the Falcons sorely need.
Jay Ajayi, Boise State
Reason: Jay Ajayi is a name that sticks out to me when looking at potential running backs for Atlanta in this draft class. At 6'0" and 221 pounds, Ajayi is a solid, feature type back that is extremely elusive due to vision and shiftiness. His play style is consistently compared to the likes of Marshawn Lynch, and Atlanta has taken note. With the Falcons transitioning to a zone blocking scheme, Jay is almost a perfect fit who should find a home somewhere in Day 2 of the 2015 Draft.
There you have it. Cobb was the only back to receive multiple endorsements, which might be a result of the combination of his cost and running style. Let's break down his game briefly.
Pros: Cobb is the perfect size to be a durable, powerful back in the NFL. He consistently gains yardage after initial contact. While he is not known for his speed (4.81 40 time), he has the ability to break away in open field.
He's a decisive runner. After watching more of his highlights on DraftBreakdown, I think Cobb could also provide help in the passing game. He typically catches the ball cleanly, even in tight coverage.
Cons: Cobb is not as dynamic as some would like. He's not exactly a quick running back. You won't see making defenders miss with his lateral quickness. Pass protection needs improvement. He also struggled with fumbles at times during 2014.
I've seen Cobb draw comparisons to Stevan Ridley, a running back I'm still hoping the Falcons take a look at. Cobb would be a good complement to Devonta Freeman and Antone Smith, providing some power in Atlanta's backfield. If he's there in Round 4, I think it's a smart move.
What's your take on the running back situation? Which player would you like to see the Falcons draft?