Injuries, ineffectiveness, uninspired situational play calling. That tells the tale for the Falcons’ ground game in 2018, a unit that finished 27th in the league with 1,573 yards and 98.3 yards per game.
It was a veritable black hole of production, one that makes Matt Ryan’s season even more impressive when you consider how little he got out of his running backs. It’s an area that desperately warrants improvement next season, and health and changes on the offensive line should surely see the position improve its ranks in 2019.
Here’s The Falcoholic’s 2018 positional review for the running backs.
2018 Rushing Stats: 2 GP, 14 carries, 68 yards, 0 TD
2018 Receiving Stats: 2 GP, 5 receptions, 23 yards, 0 TD
2018 was a lost year for starting running back Devonta Freeman, as injury derailed his season early on. Hampered by a knee injury in the opener in Philadelphia, Freeman attempted a return in Week 5 against Pittsburgh and was forced to leave the game because Pennsylvania is an accursed place. Devonta was placed on IR shortly thereafter, as surgery was required to repair a sports hernia that he suffered.
The Falcons were hopeful to get him back before the end of the season, but as 2018 went completely sideways it would have been reckless and unnecessary.
Devonta Freeman will enter the upcoming season looking to shed the injury woes that have dogged him throughout his professional tenure. But when healthy, Devonta is one of the most dynamic backs in the league, and returning to full health should provide an immediate boost to the Falcons’ ground attack in 2019.
2018 Rushing Stats: 16 GP, 167 carries, 800 yards, 4 TD
2018 Receiving Stats: 16 GP, 32 receptions, 276 yards, 5 TD
The Coleman-or-Freeman-as-starter debate is one that’s been raging around these parts for quite some time, and in light of Devonta Freeman’s injury-marred year, we got a full season’s look at Tevin Coleman in the starting role. The best way to describe it is boom-or-bust.
The fourth-year player only eclipsed 100 yards twice, and while he averaged 4.8 yards per attempt, that number is slightly skewed by a few long runs that he snapped off during the season and the Cardinals game, where he carved up their defense to the tune of 13.2 YPA. Those long runs are what make Tevin Coleman such a tantalizing back — his prodigious speed makes him downright deadly in the open field. But he consistently struggled to shed tackles, was stifled often at the line of scrimmage, and quickly found himself in a timeshare with rookie Ito Smith. Tevin only carried the ball over 15 times once the entire year.
Per Football Outsiders, Coleman ended the season 30th in DVOA at -6.4%, and while he has the breakaway speed that makes him a threat in space in both the running and passing game, he doesn’t possess the elusiveness, balance, and vision in traffic to make him an every-down back in the NFL. He’s an extremely valuable complementary piece, but as an impending free agent he’ll be looking for a starting role and starter’s money. Some team will presumably oblige him next season, but it won’t be the Falcons.
2018 Rushing Stats: 14 GP, 90 carries, 315 yards, 4 TD
2018 Receiving Stats: 14 GP, 27 receptions, 152 yards, 0 TD
What makes Tevin Coleman expendable? The emergence of the rookie back from Southern Miss. Ito Smith displayed the burst and big play ability that the Falcons leaned on in Coleman’s game, but with the added capacity to run between the tackles and make people miss. He’s definitely got a bit of Devonta Freeman in his game, his rookie campaign dotted with examples of shiftiness and a handful of eye-popping jump cuts to evade defenders. Smith displayed a nose for the end zone, tallying four rushing touchdowns, and was utilized in the passing game, as well.
His season ended early with a knee injury, but with what Ito put on tape, it’s apparent that the Atlanta Falcons have found another mid-round gem at the running back position. He figures to be an integral piece of the Falcons’ offense next year.
2018 Rushing Stats: 10 GP, 20 carries, 157 yards, 0 TD
2018 Receiving Stats: 10 GP, 1 reception, 9 yards, 0 TD
Brian Hill’s had a wild saga with Atlanta to begin his career. Drafted in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft out of Wyoming, he was plucked off of the Falcons’ practice squad by the Bengals early in his rookie season. The Falcons salvaged the draft pick — and his talent — by signing him back to the practice squad in September, and he saw his first game action in Week 14 against the Green Bay Packers.
Brian Hill’s breakout performance came two weeks later against the Carolina Panthers, as he racked up 115 yards on eight carries. He attempted his best Austin Hooper impression with a hurdle over a defender that led to a lost fumble, but in spite of that miscue Hill displayed his prowess as a physical change of pace back.
Hill should be back in the fold as the third running back in 2019.
2018 Rushing Stats: 1 GP, 9 carries, 25 yards, 0 TD
2018 Receiving Stats: NOPE
Jeremy Langford was signed to the Falcons’ practice squad in late November, and in the wake of Ito Smith’s season-ending injury was promoted to the active roster ahead of Week 16 against Carolina. He would not see any game action until the finale against Tampa Bay, logging nine carries for 25 yards. Langford is under contract next year, but with the Falcons carrying three capable running backs, he’s a prime cut candidate.
2018 Rushing Stats: NOPE
2018 Receiving Stats: 12 GP, 3 receptions, 11 yards, 0 TD
Ricky Ortiz won the fullback job out of camp, but didn’t do much with it. The team seemingly moved on later in the year, electing to leave him inactive in a handful of games and giving both Brian Hill and tight end Eric Saubert snaps at the position. Although under contract for 2019, he’s likely to be playing elsewhere.
Check back Friday for a look at the Falcons’ 2018 wide receivers.