In the annals of every NFL team’s history, there are the true greats, the legendary failures, and a lot of guys in between. The most memorable of that last category tend to be the fan favorites, the players who had one or two amazing plays or years that are remembered fondly for decades after they happen, or just some defining feature that made them stand out from everyone else, good or bad.
Then there’s Antone Smith, who combines all of that. Smith is one of the most effective players on a per-touch basis in Falcons history, and a back whose obvious talent never translated into the number of touches or sterling reputation he deserved. The fanbase loved him and still does, though, given the number of times he was nominated for inclusion in this series.
As the Falcons move ahead with a 4-5 man running back committee this year notably lacking Smith’s speed, let’s look back at a Falcons who was legitimately great in his limited opportunities.
Time in Atlanta: 2010-2014
Statistics as a Falcon: 29 carries, 286 yards, 9.9 yards per rush, 4 touchdowns; 15 receptions, 232 yards, 15.5 yards per reception, 3 receiving touchdowns, 1 fumble; 26 special teams tackles
These are video game stats. Smith touched the ball 61 times and put up 653 combined yards and 7 touchdowns. From the receiving side of things he was a dangerous but rarely utilized option, but as a runner he was a spectacular player who no defense wanted to see.
How dangerous? Smith’s career-long runs were 48 and 50 yards, and he once put up 88 yards on two carries against the Buccaneers, way back in 2013. The following year, he ran 4 times for 62 yards against Minnesota, and he averaged over 10 yards per carry in five games over his tenure in Atlanta. That’s even more impressive when you consider that Smith touched the ball exactly three times in the first three years of his career in Atlanta, from 2010-2012.
The fact that Smith’s usage was so limited and so unpredictable worked in his favor, for certain, until near the end of his tenure in Atlanta when he couldn’t seem to buy his way to the open field. The damage he wreaked with his legendary speed was enough to put defense on notice, as he simply outran everyone who got near him.
Despite being 5’9 and 190 pounds, Smith couldn’t be knocked over by a gust of wind. He was a tornado himself, showing an ability to fight through contact before turning on the jets and making defenders look cartoonishly slow. His career long 74 yard touchdown reception against the Giants tells the tale here, as Smith catches a short, off-balance heave from Matt Ryan, fights through a defender, and then takes it to the house completely untouched.
With all that ability and those eye-popping results, we’ll always wonder what might have been for Smith with more touches. He had the misfortune of overlapping with prime Michael Turner in 2010 and 2011, but he struggled to get on the field even in Turner’s final, broken-down 2012. To Dirk Koetter’s credit, he did actually find a role for Smith in 2013 and 2014, but given Steven Jackson’s so-so results, the general state of the offensive line, and the team’s desperate need for a playmaker in 2013 in particular with Julio Jones laid up, it wasn’t nearly large enough.
It’ll have to be good enough for us that we got to see Smith do some magical, senses-defying stuff on the football field for our favorite team. Given how many fond memories I have of the man, I’m pretty grateful we got that.