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In surprise move, Falcons release RB Ito Smith

Smith’s release indicates the team isn’t done tinkering with running back, and that Cordarrelle Patterson may have a large role there.

Atlanta Falcons v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

With a flurry of exciting free agent signings starting to filter in for the Atlanta Falcons, so, too, comes a pretty shocking release.

The team announced Thursday that veteran running back Ito Smith had been let go after three seasons in Atlanta. Heading into the offseason, Ito seemed like a logical candidate to be the team’s #2 or #3 back depending on their moves, given that he’s shown he can run and catch the ball pretty effectively. Now he’s gone.

Smith was a 2018 fourth-round draft pick out of Southern Miss under then-general manager Thomas Dimitroff, and was picked while Steve Sarkisian was the team’s offensive coordinator. Expected to be a nice complementary piece to the offense, Smith never really regained his 2018 rookie promise (315 yards on 90 carries, 4 touchdowns on the ground; 152 receiving yards) because of a few reasons.

He missed more than half of 2019 with injury in Dirk Koetter’s first year back in Atlanta, and never really found his way into Koetter’s gameplan in 2020 when healthy, though he forced the issue somewhat later in the year and took on more of a lead role over Todd Gurley. He did perform admirably when called upon, averaging 4.3 yards a carry on 63 carries.

In his 2020 highlight, he rushed for 65 yards and a touchdown in the team’s 43-6 drubbing of the Raiders. He finished last year with 268 yards rushing and that lone score.

Though you and I are probably both a little surprised the new regime wouldn’t have wanted to see what he could do as a depth option in Arthur Smith’s system, the team signing Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson and likely eyeing talent in this year’s draft might’ve made Ito Smith the odd man out. The team cutting ties with him now will hopefully help him find a home either right before or right after the draft, at least. He should latch on somewhere else soon.

We really hoped Ito Smith would become a mid-round steal over the years. Alas, as the Falcons’ run game slowly deteriorated in the post-Kyle Shanahan years, he never really got that shot thanks to injuries and whatever Koetter was doing with this ground game.

We, of course, wish Ito Smith well at his next stop and hope he can find his 2018 form elsewhere. His departure cements that the team will very assuredly add talent to the position in the draft as the running back room looks to get a full rebuilding from 2020. With his release, all three primary 2020 Falcons running backs — Smith, Todd Gurley, Brian Hill — will be free agents.