The Atlanta Falcons running game underwent a facelift this offseason. Kyle Shanahan was brought in to take over the offensive play-calling, Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers left town, and the Falcons drafted Tevin Coleman in Round 3 of the NFL Draft. We know the rushing attack is going to improve, but how will the workload play out?
Shanahan has produced a top 10 offense in four of his last seven seasons as an offensive coordinator. With Alfred Morris in Washington, Shanahan turned a guy who was a sixth-round draft pick into a running back who averaged 4.7 yards per carry from 2012-2013.
Last year in Cleveland, Shanahan kept a balanced offense with a limited amount of talent. The Browns only attempted 25 more passes than rush attempts. Josh Gordon was suspended for half the year, Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel didn't bring much to the table, the backfield featured two rookies. It wasn't a great situation for Shanahan.
Here's the breakdown from the Browns running backs last year.
Shanahan spread out the workload between his three running backs. Tate quickly took a backseat when the Browns realized he was bad. West and Crowell alternated as leading rushers week-to-week for the second half of the season.
Prior to coaching in Cleveland, Shanahan primarily fed Alfred Morris in Washington. Morris eclipsed 300 carries in 2012 and finished with 276 carries in 2013. Of course we're not going to watch a situation like that play out in Atlanta, but you can see Shanahan caters to his personnel.
Matt Ryan finished second in the league in pass attempts last year, partly because the defense was terrible, partly because the run game was terrible. I can't see him topping 600 pass attempts in 2015. Somewhere in the mid-to-high 500s would make sense. DW predicted Ryan will attempt 575 passes this year.
Shanahan's offense are averaging right around 1,000 plays from scrimmage over the past three seasons. With DW's number of passing attempts in mind, we're looking at the low 400s for rushing attempts.
Prediction for 2015
It's still way too early to tell how Shanahan will divvy up the carries among Tevin Coleman, Devonta Freeman and Antone Smith. Coleman is becoming a popular pick among writers to lead the Falcons backfield in touches. His explosive running style and athleticism would make him a logical choice, but it will depend on how he transitions to the NFL and Shanahan's scheme.
Freeman is learning a new scheme as well. However, he's a more patient runner at this point. We know what he can do. Freeman should lead the Falcons running backs in receptions, and he looks like a great candidate for third-down work.
Smith will retain his usual role of scoring one touchdown per every touch.
My outlook right now
Coleman: 190-200 carries
Freeman: 160 carries
Smith: 40 carries
Again, there is a long road ahead for the backfield. Training camp and preseason play will help us get an idea of who fits in what role, but Shanahan showed last year he's willing to changes things up when the original plan isn't working. I think Coleman and Freeman will work well together out of the backfield, and their stats should be somewhere in the same range.
How do you think the running back situation will play out in 2015?