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Falcons host free agent running back Rex Burkhead for Saturday visit

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He’ll be the third back unless the Falcons cook up something big.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Falcons have gone with undrafted free agent Terron Ward as their third running back over the last two seasons, and he’s done pretty well in that limited role. The Falcons still appear to be looking for an upgrade, as they hosted one of the better running backs available in free agency.

Burkhead, 26, is a pretty dynamic player. He played all 16 games for the Bengals in 2016, toting the ball 74 times for 344 yards (4.6 yards per carry) and two touchdowns, plus 17 receptions for 145 yards. This is probably a fair take on what he would offer the Falcons.

The pass catching ability and versatility are a clue as to how the Falcons might use him. Ward is a decent blocker and a powerful runner, but he doesn’t offer much as a receiver. Burkhead, on the other hand, could split out wide in a pinch, can certainly catch the ball out of the backfield, and is a shifty enough runner that it’s not a jarring change to get him on the field instead of Devonta Freeman or Coleman. It’s not necessarily an either/or scenario, but I suspect Ward will have to fight pretty hard for a roster spot if Burkhead does wind up signing.

The tinfoil hat theory here is that the Falcons will attempt to move Freeman or Coleman with Freeman’s camp agitating for a contract extension, but I wouldn’t take the signing of a versatile guy who fits best as a backup as a sign of that, if Burkhead does indeed wind up in Atlanta. He’d just be another piece for an interesting, multi-faceted offense that will hopefully be just as good in 2017.