The post-draft roster preview for the Falcons now turns to a position on the team that is led by two talented running backs that have combined for 37 touchdowns over the last two seasons. The team added another piece to the position via the draft that will bring a unique dimension to the offense. Here is the outlook on the Falcons running back position.
The leader of the clubhouse at the running back position, fifth-year running back Devonta Freeman put together another productive season in 2017. The 5’8 running back missed two regular season games due to concussion and ended his season playing through MCL and PCL knee sprains.
Rewind back into the offseason prior to the 2017 season, Freeman agreed to a five-year deal worth $41.25 million in early August. That laid to rest the rumors of Freeman being discontent with the franchise and allowed him to focus that much more on playing excellent football. The season started off fairly slow for Mr. Freeman as he did not record his first 100-yard rushing game until week three on the road against Detroit. Freeman did not record another 100-yard outing until week 14 at Tampa, where he rushed for a season-high 126 yards and shook a few defenders in the process.
Freeman totaled 865 rushing yards on the season and seven touchdowns while averaging 4.4 yards per carry. Keep in mind that Freeman had to deal with the play calling inconsistencies of offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian as well as missing time and playing injured during the playoffs. When Freeman is healthy and implemented in the Falcons game plan, he is one of the better running backs in the NFL with his sharp vision and ability to make defenders miss in space. The addition of veteran guard Brandon Fusco in free agency will help the run game for the Falcons after they powered through the season with former sixth round draft pick Wes Schweitzer as the starter.
Freeman is expected to be healthy by the time the team enters OTAs and training camp. The expectations for Freeman will be fairly high this regular season. It will be interesting to see if Freeman reaches the level of productivity that he reached in the 2015 and 2016 seasons, which so happened to be Pro Bowl seasons for him as well.
The “backup” to Freeman is an improved Coleman who showed an element of physicality this past season. During the offseason last year, Coleman added about 10-to-15 pounds of muscle and during the season, it became transparent in his running style.
Coleman rushed for a career-high 628 yards this past season and saw action in 15 games. In addition, the former Indiana Hoosier added 27 receptions and three touchdown catches to boot. His speed did not waver with the added weight and he still proved to be a mismatch in the passing game with Sarkisian utilizing Coleman lined up at receiver at times.
The talk around Coleman recently has been his impeding free agency period which comes during next year’s offseason. It has been noted publicly by general manager Thomas Dimitroff that the team will attempt to sign Coleman long-term to keep the Freeman-Coleman tag team in Atlanta.
Dimitroff has shown with Robert Alford, Ryan Schraeder, Desmond Trufant, and even Matt Ryan that getting contract extensions completed is his specialty. However, signing Coleman long-term may be a task too rigorous for him. Nonetheless, Coleman is arguably the best #2 back in the NFL, and his presence on the field brings a different dynamic to the talented Falcons offense.
RBs Terrence McGee, Ito Smith, Malik Williams, Justin Crawford, Demario Richard
The rest of the Falcons grouping at running back consists of relative unknowns for the most part. The Falcons did use a 2018 fourth-round pick on Smith, who finished his career in top five all-time rushers in Conference USA history while at Southern Miss. So production at collegiate level will rarely be questioned when it comes to Smith. He probably has the inside track over the others when it comes to winning the RB3 role on the depth chart. Smith reminds some of Freeman based on his versatility and skill set and may be looked upon as a Tevin Coleman replacement come next offseason.
The rest will have to make a name for themselves on the special team unit in order to have a place on the roster and this may shape to be one of the best position battles on the team during training camp and preseason. Williams may be an early favorite for a practice squad spot.
Running back is easily one of the strongest positions on the entire Falcons roster and the combination of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman could make case as the best one-two punch at running back in the entire NFL. The two can be deadly. Although, their overall production is also dependent on the maturation of Sarkisian as a coordinator and play caller. Smith is an upgrade over former Falcon Terron Ward and it would not be much of a shocker to see Smith injection in the Falcons game plan on offense as the season progresses.
From top to bottom, Dimitroff and Quinn have constructed a deep and talented grouping of running backs over the years, and we’ll hope that leads to another great season in 2018.