We’re in the depths of the offseason here at The Falcoholic, and there has been little to nothing in the way of interesting news in ages. So, we’ll have to make some content of our own in the meantime. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be bringing you a new Player Profile series where we’ll take a look at each of the players on Atlanta’s roster. I’ll break down their measurables, past production, and try to project their 2020 season with the Falcons.
We’ll get things started with the projected starters. After covering QB, we’re moving on to the next position in the backfield: RB. The Falcons cut long-time starter Devonta Freeman this offseason and replaced him with free agent Todd Gurley, but the depth remains largely unchanged from 2019.
Today we take a closer look at third-year player Ito Smith, who has performed well when called upon but has significant health concerns heading into the 2020 season.
RB Ito Smith
Age: 24 (25 during 2020 season)
Contract: $905K cap hit in 2020, rookie contract through 2021 ($831K APY)
Career Production: 21 games played | 112 carries, 421 yards, 3.8 YPC, 5 TD | 46 receptions, 239 yards, 6.3 YPR
2019 Production: 7 games played | 22 carries, 106 yards, 4.8 YPC, 1 TD | 11 receptions, 87 yards, 7.9 YPR
Previous Teams: Drafted 4th round (#126 overall) by the Atlanta Falcons (2018-present)
The selection of Ito Smith in 2018 ended up being very fortuitous for the Falcons. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman were still under contract, but Coleman was an impending free agent in 2019. 2017 fifth-round pick Brian Hill was cut midseason in 2017 and ended up signing with the Bengals. The team needed young, encouraging RB depth, and they found it in the RB from Southern Miss.
Ito wound up playing significant snaps in 2018 after Devonta Freeman went down with a season-ending injury, acting as the RB2 behind Tevin Coleman. While Smith wasn’t exactly great in his rookie season, he was solid and provided a reliable outlet for Ryan and decent rushing production. However, Smith ended the 2018 season on IR with a knee injury, which would be the first sign of injury concerns for the young back.
Smith returned healthy for the 2019 season as the de-facto RB2 behind Freeman, as Coleman was allowed to walk in free agency. It seemed he would have a chance to claim a larger role in the offense, particularly as Freeman struggled to start the season. Unfortunately, Ito would suffer a concussion in Week 3 against the Colts, but managed to return in time for Week 4’s game against the Titans. Smith would continue playing all the way up until Week 7, where he was blasted in pass protection by Rams’ LB Cory Littleton.
This was a scary injury, and Smith was motionless on the turf for several minutes before being helped off the field. Encouragingly, Ito managed to clear the league’s concussion protocol during the Falcons’ bye week, but he would be given a new injury designation upon his return. Smith seemed to have injured his neck against the Rams, and after attempting to come back for several weeks, was placed on IR prior to Week 10 after just 7 games played.
I don’t have to tell you how dangerous neck injuries and multiple back-to-back concussions are to NFL careers. There has been considerable concern surrounding Ito’s health and availability for the 2020 season, but the Falcons’ lack of moves outside of the Gurley addition seem to indicate that they believe Smith will be good to go. For what it’s worth, Ito seems confident in his health heading into his third NFL season.
Projection: Ito Smith is one of the harder Falcons to project this season. If healthy, I firmly believe he’s the second-best RB on the roster behind Gurley—and he might be the best overall receiver and passing-down option overall. But a single concussion could end his career at this point, and that scares me. We’ll hope for health and a strong season as Gurley’s primary backup and Atlanta’s top passing-down option in 2020.