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How the Falcons running back position could and should shake out in 2019

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The Falcons have great options even if Tevin Coleman exits in free agency.

Atlanta Falcons v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Full stop: Running back is one of the strongest positions on the 2019 Falcons roster, at least on paper. They go at least three deep, and if they unexpectedly re-sign an impending free agent, they’ll have four contributors on the team. Earlier today, we looked at the running back position in 2018, with its huge injury to Devonta Freeman, the emergence of Ito Smith, and Tevin Coleman’s year in summary. Right now, we’re going to look at what the Falcons could and should do at the position in 2019. It’s either an extremely easy call or a difficult one, depending entirely on what kind of contract you’re comfortable lobbing at Coleman for the coming year and beyond. If the team invests in Coleman because they want to keep their dynamic duo here or because they’re afraid of what’s going to happen going forward with Freeman, it changes the cap picture and the team’s long-term outlook at running back in pretty significant ways. If they’re not, the only question is whether they’ll make changes at fullback and/or add another rookie to the mix this year.

Let’s take a closer look.

Free agency

The Falcons are set to lose Coleman here, for starters. Even if reports of Coleman looking for $30-million plus turn out to be false, he’s going to want starter’s money after turning in a string of attractive seasons and basically starting the entire year in 2018. There are back-needy teams like the 49ers, Eagles, Raiders, Jets and perhaps even Packers who will throw a contract at him that’s larger than the Falcons should be comfortable spending. It’s been a fun four years, but Coleman’s likely gone.

The Falcons don’t need to spend any dollars in free agency at running back. There are a couple of interesting fullbacks, most notably Jamize Olawale from Dallas, but this team barely used their incumbent fullback Ricky Ortiz this year and should either just bring him back or consider making the role a hybrid one for Brian Hill. No more dollars in the running back position, period.

The draft

This is a bit of a different story. If the Falcons do build on their brief Brian Hill-at-fullback experiment, as seems at least possible, they’ll likely want to carry four backs overall on the active roster. That’s especially true with the injuries Freeman and Smith suffered in 2018, as a repeat could leave the cupboard pretty bare for Atlanta.

As always, there are intriguing talents who might be had on the third day of this draft. I have my eye on Illinois’s versatile Reggie Corbin, Texas A&M’s explosive Trayveon Williams, and Miami’s Travis Homer in the fifth round or later if the Falcons are either interested in investing in the position or aren’t convinced that Hill is actually going to be a capable #3 going forward.

The preferred outcome

Atlanta lets Tevin Coleman walk, as sad as that will be, and moves ahead with a healthy Devonta Freeman, Ito Smith, and Brian Hill at the position. Hill gets the chance to be an extremely part-time fullback and the Falcons invest a late round draft pick (or priority undrafted free agent signing) into running back to give them yet another developmental guy in what has been an extremely productive pipeline.

The likely outcome

Atlanta lets Tevin Coleman walk, as sad as that will be, and moves ahead with a healthy Devonta Freeman, Ito Smith, and Brian Hill at the position. Ricky Ortiz returns as the team’s fullback for 2019 and the Falcons stash a young back on the practice squad in case they want or need to move on from Freeman a couple of years from now.