Prior to signing running back Todd Gurley, the Atlanta Falcons were highly expected to address their hole in the backfield. Since signing Gurley, a lot has changed as the backfield has become quite crowded. Currently the Falcons running backs are Todd Gurley, Brian Hill, Ito Smith, Qadree Ollison and Craig Reynolds while the fullbacks are Keith Smith and Mikey Daniel.
Daniel is one of 20 undrafted free agents scooped up by the Falcons following the conclusion of the 2020 NFL Draft. Per Dan Quinn, the team isn’t just viewing Daniel as a fullback, which primes a position battle for the last running back spot on the roster.
Dan Quinn says Mikey Daniel was a player the #Falcons scouts targeted as a bigger running back who had the ability to play some fullback.— William McFadden (@willmcfadden) May 12, 2020
What head coach Dan Quinn said about Falcons’ scouts targeting Mikey Daniel coincides with what Daniel told last week. When I asked him if the Falcons’ staff had informed him of his role in Atlanta, Daniel said “Yeah, they see me as a guy with good “position flexibility” and I will be used in a number of ways – running back, fullback, special teams etc.”
There’s no questioning that the Falcons view Daniel as a hybrid type who can play both running back, as he did at South Dakota State, and a fullback. This type of position flexibility provides a leg-up on the competition, especially considering the special teams use.
But as I mentioned above, the backfield is crowded. Who would the Falcons get rid of to keep Daniel on the roster? Gurley is obviously safe, as he is now the lead back. Fellow fullback Keith Smith did a good job in 2019, so the Falcons rewarded him with a 3-year deal this offseason. Ito Smith landed on I.R. last year following a neck injury, and although there hasn’t been a plethora of updates on his health, there hasn’t been any indication that he won’t be back either. Even though he struggled when given the chance to start in 2019, Brian Hill signed his tender with the Falcons which carries a $2.13 cap hit. All that is left is Qadree Ollison who was a useful goaline back in 2019, and led the team in rushing touchdowns with four and Craig Reynolds who was signed to the practice squad in November last season.
Something has to happen, folks. Considering that offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter struggles to run the ball wherever he goes, it wouldn’t make sense to keep 5-6 rushers on the roster.
That’s where position flexibility comes in. If you have two guys doing the same job, but one of them can do additional work, which do you keep? Since the Falcons’ signed Daniel, that’s who my money has been on. As always, highlights and tape need to be taken in context. But when you watch his game film all you see is a powerful runner who hits the gaps decisively, always moving forward, shows nice vision and blocks aggressively. If he can successfully do this during camp and into the preseason, I’m not sure how you sign him to the practice squad knowing there’s a solid chance that he’s signed elsewhere.
Regardless of what I think Daniel can do, we need to see him out there competing with the other backs on the roster. His best bet is likely unseating Ollison and serving as Smith’s direct backup as well, but that’ll be easier said than done.
If you’d like to learn more about Mikey Daniel, through an exclusive Q&A with myself, click here.