The Atlanta Falcons have a deep, talented running back stable. Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, and Ito Smith: that’s a formidable trio. The Falcons are completely set at running back as training camp nears. What a luxury! But fast forward a year. One year from today, the running back depth chart will have a different look.
If you’re inclined to believe the AJC’s D. Orlando Ledbetter, then the writing is already on the wall for Coleman. He’s as good as gone, that narrative goes. Enjoy him while he’s here, they say. But I disagree, to an extent. Coleman may not be a Falcon after 2018, but from my vantage point, that’s not a foregone conclusion ... yet. Here are three reasons I may be right.
1. It’s hard to know what Devonta Freeman’s year will look like
Freeman didn’t blow our socks off in 2017, right after he demanded a shiny new, record breaking contract. He can’t be blamed for the injuries (concussion x 2 and a sprained knee); they’re part of the game, right? But Freeman can’t continue to rack up concussions at this rate. He just can’t.
Hopefully the injury bug stays far far away from Freeman going forward, but nothing is guaranteed in this league. Strike that, because guaranteed money is guaranteed. And Free is guaranteed another $9 million after the 2018 season concludes. Could the injuries become prohibitive and force the Falcons to trade or release Free? I highly doubt it. I’ll repeat that: I highly doubt the Falcons will part ways with Freeman, at least before 2020. But the injury factor is a factor. Additional injuries could force the Falcons to keep a reliable plan B on the shelf. In short, if Freeman can’t stay healthy, that changes the calculus.
2. Tevin Coleman is a very good running back
Coleman’s impending free agency isn’t a secret. In fact, the team brings up Coleman’s impending free agency frequently. Ask general manager Thomas Dimitroff if he thinks the team can keep both Coleman and Freeman. He’s repeatedly answered that question in the affirmative. He’s either posturing, completely crazy, bad at math, or [insert surprised face] knows something we don’t.
The team has talked a lot this spring about getting Coleman more involved in 2018. They’re either trying to get the most out of their investment while they still can or they’re trying to justify an extension. If there’s a will and a way to pay both Coleman and Freeman, the Falcons will try to make it happen.
3. Ito Smith Ito Smith Ito Smith Ito Smith Ito Smith Ito Smith
Remember the name, Falcons fans. Smith is the wild card here. He could serve as the plan B if Freeman can’t stay healthy, and he could replace Coleman if Coleman moves on. There’s a lot to be excited about when it comes to Smith. Have you read Eric Robinson’s scouting report on Smith yet? No? Then go do it. Immediately.
Put simply, if Smith can capably contribute right away in 2018, the Falcons will have lots of added flexibility going forward. Smith could be the glue that holds this entire position group together. That’s a lot to put on a rookie fourth rounder, but truly, that’s how important he is to this team right now.
Here’s my point: it’s logical to assume Coleman will be the odd man out once the 2018 season concludes. That’s probably how this will all shake out. But if you can, try to keep an open mind and look at this roster conundrum in a slightly different light. Think of it like a try out, a year-long one. May the best man win.