William McFadden is there every day for the Falcons, and on a rare day off from practice, he wrote up a long Twitter thread about some of his observations to this point. There are some gems in here about veterans like Brandon Fusco and Grady Jarrett, but there’s also some love for younger players with less established resumes, and I think one of them in particular is worth talking about today.
McFadden, who must know what he’s talking about because he once worked for The Falcoholic, mentions Justin Crawford twice in his thread. Normally, I wouldn’t spend too much time considering the fates of a UDFA running back, but the Falcons have thrown us some curveballs at the position in the past and kept UDFA Terron Ward around for quite a while. Crawford was hyped a bit coming out of West Virginia, even if he ultimately wasn’t drafted, and appears to be delivering on that hype early.
It could be a combination of both, but I expect that to get cleaned up. I mentioned Justin Crawford earlier, but he has been one player who seems to make a few good plays each practice. Although he was undrafted, he was very productive at West Virginia and has solid skills. 15/x— William McFadden (@willmcfadden) July 31, 2018
What kind of role could Crawford carve out? The Falcons are going to give Ito Smith every chance to win the third running back gig, given that they invested in a fourth round pick in him, that he’s obviously a quality player, and that they accidentally allowed Brian Hill to get scooped up by the Bengals in 2017. Crawford could force his way onto the roster as the fourth back and a gameday inactive—and with this running back group, he’s almost certain to see some kind of playing time if he stays there all season—or he could make a strong push to be the team’s inevitable practice squad pick at the position. With fellow UDFA Malik Williams getting some looks on special teams, Crawford has to continue to impress, but it sounds like he’s making a strong case early.
In any case, Crawford’s burst and open field ability make him an interesting choice for an Atlanta team that appears to be stockpiling athletes at the position with Tevin Coleman no lock to return in 2018. I’d continue to keep an eye on him.
Other observations from McFadden that I think are worth calling out include:
- Eric Saubert is looking good in his second offseason. I honestly think he could push Logan Paulsen out of the way and become the team’s nominal #2 tight end, and if he’s ready for a role, he and Austin Hooper could be a lethal pass catching duo when they’re on the field at the same time.
- Two of our favorite UDFAs also merit a passing note. Matt Gono has the athleticism and strength to push for the swing tackle road down the line if he can hang on this summer, while safety Chris Lammons is an aggressive, physical player who should at least be in the conversation for a practice squad spot. It’s good to hear both are faring well.
- Duke Riley is “showing more understanding” regarding his role on defense and the scheme, which is a plus. He has the ability to be at least a quality starter, but with Foye Oluokun looking good early and the team showing no hesitation about sinking picks into the linebacker position, this is a pivotal year for him.
- Steve Sarkisian looks sharper, too, though it’s way too early to put a ton of stock in that. Hopefully it’ll carry into the season.
Go read the whole thread and let’s talk about where Crawford winds up this year.