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Pre-draft position breakdown: Running back

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With the draft fast approaching, it’s time to take one final look at the roster. Today we look at RB, where there’s been a drastic shift at the top. Is the position still a significant need after the addition of Todd Gurley?

Los Angeles Rams vAtlanta Falcons Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

With the 2020 NFL Draft coming up quickly, it’s time to take one final look at the roster before the rookies arrive. The Falcons were fairly active in free agency, addressing some of their most pressing needs and creating some new ones. Over the next week or so, I’ll be taking a look at several of the positions on the roster to determine if the Falcons need to invest resources there in the draft. If you missed any previous entries in the series, you can find them below:

EDGE | DT | CB | LB | S | G | WR | RB

Finally, we have reached RB. The Falcons have drastically altered the position at the top, cutting long-time starter Devonta Freeman and adding ex-Rams RB Todd Gurley in free agency. Behind them are a lot of names, but also a lot of uncertainty. Just how big is the need at RB after Gurley’s addition? Let’s take a closer look at Atlanta’s RB depth chart.

Current Depth Chart

Todd Gurley
Ito Smith
Brian Hill
Qadree Ollison
Craig Reynolds
Keith Smith (FB)

The Falcons addressed the lack of a proven starter in the group by adding ex-Rams RB Todd Gurley in free agency. Gurley has some health concerns, but is still a very good, productive back and should be a significant upgrade in pass protection. Third-year RB Ito Smith has looked promising throughout his short career, but has health concerns of his own—after several concussions and a season-ending injury in 2019, it’s fair to wonder just how much longer Smith can continue to play in the NFL. Atlanta gave an expensive second-round tender to Brian Hill, who is a capable rotational back but has thus far failed to make a mark when given a starting role.

Second-year RB Qadree Ollison had a limited, goal-line focused role in his rookie season, but had a knack for finding the endzone (4 TDs on 22 carries). He’s probably slated for a larger role in 2020. Former UDFA Craig Reynolds signed with Washington and was active for 3 games in 2019, before joining the Falcons practice squad. He’ll get an opportunity to compete for a roster spot in camp. FB Keith Smith played well in 2019, and was rewarded with a multi-year extension for his work as a lead blocker and standout special teamer.

Is it a draft need?

After the departure of Devonta Freeman, it seemed inevitable that the Falcons would be going after a RB early in the 2020 NFL Draft. Then the Rams decided to eat a ton of dead money, and Todd Gurley found his way to Atlanta. Gurley’s presence makes the need at RB a lot more subjective. Obviously, Gurley can’t handle a workhorse load anymore, and his health issues could flare up at any time. The status of Ito Smith is also a question mark—though if the team believed he couldn’t play at all in 2020, we’d probably have heard something by now.

That leaves just Brian Hill, Qadree Ollison, and UDFA Craig Reynolds as options if Gurley and Ito struggle with health. Hill could be a solid starter, or perhaps even more, on an offense with a better OC—but with Koetter, he’s looked decidedly mediocre. Ollison is a bit of a wild card, as he was productive in specific, goal-line situations but didn’t get a ton of carries. Could he take on a larger role if injuries strike, and outproduce someone like Hill? Possibly. Reynolds is a total mystery, but the team liked him enough to bring him into camp to compete.

I think that RB could still be considered a draft need for the Falcons, but as more of a future concern than an immediate one. Gurley is likely to be a one-year rental regardless of what happens—if he’s great, he’ll probably demand more money elsewhere, and if not he’ll walk. That makes the position a big question mark in 2021, where the team will have just Ito Smith and Qadree Ollison under contract. A Day 3 pick could make sense if someone intriguing falls into their lap, but I wouldn’t put the need near the top of the list.

What are your thoughts on Atlanta’s RB corps heading into the draft? How highly do you rank the need at RB? Who are some of your favorite RB targets in the 2020 NFL Draft?