The Falcons have a problem at running back. It’s the kind of problem every NFL team wishes they had, but alas, here we are.
The team has five truly viable options and — realistically — only four spots available to them. There is an outside shot the team would carry five running backs, but it would come at the expense of another position like wide receiver or tight end. Additionally, on the podcast of former Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice, OC Dirk Koetter seemed to indicate they would likely be carrying just four running backs during the season.
So, who is the odd man out? Could we see the Falcons trade another player before the regular season begins? We know Devonta Freeman is safe, but past him it’s anyone’s guess. Let’s take a look at the most likely candidates.
The fourth-round draft pick for the Falcons in 2018 saw quite a few snaps last season with Freeman gone for most of the year. In that time, Smith demonstrated he’s a capable runner and receiver. He’ll be 24 this year and is considered the likely RB2 going into the season.
It’s certainly possible Smith could be on the trade block, though. The drafting of Ollison and the impressive preseason for Brian Hill have raised serious questions about whether Smith is the de facto backup to Devonta. He could have trade value as well, since he’s still young and there is plenty of real NFL regular season tape that teams can use to evaluate him.
This preseason, no running back has impressed more than Brian Hill. Drafted in the fifth round in 2017 by the Falcons, Hill initially made the 53-man roster, but was claimed by the Bengals when he was cut during the season. He came back to the Falcons in 2018 and actually made the active roster down the stretch. During those games, he began to show why the team liked him to begin with.
He’s only added onto that this year, showing he can even work as a receiver while demonstrating impressive speed for a man his size. Like Smith, Hill will only be 24 this year and it’s clear the team likes what he has to offer. If he continues to play well, he simultaneously increases his chances of being on the roster AND increases his trade value. Again, it’s possible they could ship him out, but I’d still be somewhat surprised.
Drafted this year by the Falcons in the fifth round, Ollison is another big back that offers a nice compliment to the smaller, shifty backs in Devonta Freeman and Ito Smith. He’s got decent speed and has found a role as designated protector on the punt team, so he already has value in both offense and special teams. Fans were a little surprised that the team drafted another running back, but Ollison has had some good moments so far this preseason.
Considering the team drafted him knowing Devonta and Ito would likely get the majority of snaps, they probably aren’t considering Ollison a major contributor for this season anyways. He’ll likely get some snaps in short yardage and goal line situations, but his biggest contributions will come on special teams. He’s probably safe for this season.
Trade/Cut: Not likely
The 29-year-old joined Atlanta this year after playing with the Patriots and Panthers in 2018. Barner is almost exclusively used as a returner, registering a max of 28 carries in a season (2015 with Philadelphia) and only 19 last year (all with New England). His value as an actual running back seems minimal, even though he did have an impressive score in the preseason game against the Dolphins.
The Falcons probably don’t consider Barner a long-term option for the team. He was brought in as an insurance policy at returner, and even then, it seems clear the team really wants Marcus Green to win that spot this year. I like Barner and his stability as a returner, but his age and lack of production as a running back makes him one of the most likely to go.
Let us know who you think is the most likely to be cut or traded in our poll below.
Most likely RB to be cut or traded
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