Welcome to Forgotten Falcons, a 2019 offseason series where we remember some quality players who have been largely forgotten by the fanbase over the years. Today, we’ll take a look back at a very popular man during the Mike Smith era, running back Jason Snelling.
Time in Atlanta: 2007-2013
Stats: 363 carries, 1,420 rushing yards, 8 rushing TDs, 3.8 yards per carry, 168 receptions, 1,249 yards, 9 receiving TDs, 7.4 yards per reception, 45 tackles, 3 kick returns, 39 yards
Why you should remember him
Okay, this one is a little bit of a stretch given that he played so recently and is still a familiar name to most fans, but his name came up so often and I loved him so dearly that I’m going to allow the stretch.
It’s a ridiculous cliché, but every team has one guy who rises above a modest-to-solid skillset and leaves an outsized impression on fans. This current Falcons team has Kemal Ishmael, who has been a core special teamer and rock solid safety and linebacker with a knack for the occasional highlight reel play, but every team needs at least one glue guy.
For Mike Smith’s Falcons, that guy was arguably Jason Snelling, who looms large in my memory to this day. Big Snell wasn’t amazing at any one thing, but over the course of 96 games over seven seasons in Atlanta, he managed to be a productive running back, consistent and valuable receiver out of the backfield, and one of the most consistent and reliable special teams tacklers. It was often (and accurately) said that if you were a young guy wanting to play for Mike Smith, you had to either be an elite talent or be gung-ho to do multiple things, and there was no finer example of that last piece than Snelling.
After a lost rookie season as a seventh round draft choice under Bobby Petrino, Snelling found some limited relevance in his first season under Smitty, carrying the ball 15 times for 62 yards, reeling in eight catches for 89 yards, and helping out as a blocker. His 72.7% catch rate on those 11 targets, which were a career low for him, would prove to be the lowest of his entire career. He also contributed 20 tackles and two fumble recoveries on special teams, establishing himself as a core piece of Keith Armstrong’s units and remaining that way until 2013.
Snelling career’s took off in 2009, as he got a career-high 142 carries for 613 yards, four touchdowns, and 30 receptions for 259 yards and another touchdown, establishing himself as a terrific complement to Michael Turner. He followed that up with 87 carries for 324 yards and two touchdowns in 2010 before his carries drew down from 2011-2013, but he remained a compelling receiving option for a team that almost never bothered to throw the ball to Turner. In 2010 he had a career-high 44 receptions for 303 yards and three touchdowns, and had 26, 31, and 29 receptions in his remaining years in Atlanta. If you need a quick pickup, Snelling was your guy, year-after-year.
It’s all the more remarkable when you consider that Snelling dealt with epilepsy throughout his football career. He hung up his cleats in 2014 at age 30.
We’re living in the latest golden age of Falcons running backs, with Gerald Riggs and William Andrews, Jamal Anderson, T.J. Duckett/Warrick Dunn duo, and finally Michael Turner giving way to Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, and hopefully now Ito Smith. It would be easy for the swirling sands of time to cover all the good that Jason Snelling did for this franchise, but I hope he’ll be as fondly remembered in 2025 as he was in 2015.