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The Falcons have entirely remade their backfield and likely aren’t done yet

Qadree Ollison is the only one left.

Jacksonville Jaguars v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

The Atlanta Falcons are pulling an extreme makeover on one of the roster’s most important positions.

The running back group, once one of the roster’s clearest strengths, has fallen to the wayside over the last few years, with the days of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman running wild in Kyle Shanahan’s offense well behind us at this point in time. Why is that so? How has the Falcons run game fallen so far behind?

Chalk it up to aging, losses, injuries and draft and free agency misses, at least with the roster. In the last few years, the team has allowed Coleman to leave via free agency and seen Freeman, the longtime starter, suffer some tough injuries and show legitimate decline in 2019 in his first year with Dirk Koetter. He’d eventually be cut.

2020 signing Todd Gurley, now a free agent, was brought in to replace Freeman. The former All-Pro Ram was a red zone threat in the first half of the season, but he slowed as the year went on. 2018 draft pick Ito Smith, now released, worked through injuries and did not receive the opportunity to be more than a reserve, at least at this point in his career. 2017 draft pick Brian Hill, still a free agent, flashed some with his downhill speed but just never really found the consistency needed to carry a backfield.

2019 draft pick Qadree Ollison, the last drafted carryover from the old regime, hasn’t materialized into a contributor yet. Tony Brooks-James is a reserve contract guy still around and could be cut at any minute as much as he’s held on by the new organization.

Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot have brought two new, enticing talents to town in recent weeks with former Carolina RB Mike Davis and all-purpose talent Cordarrelle Patterson, who is listed as a running back on the team’s roster. They’re also almost guaranteed to add talent in this year’s NFL Draft.

Could it be with a guy like Clemson’s Travis Etienne, Alabama’s Najee Harris or North Carolina’s Javonte Williams, considered to be the top-three talents in this draft? Or, would the team want someone in the mid-rounds, like NC’s Michael Carter, Memphis’ Kenneth Gainwell or Ohio State’s Trey Sermon? Undrafted guys will be part of that equation, too, so maybe the team tries to strike gold there with a decent backfield already taking shape for this year?

In Smith’s offense, he’s likely right now to run a committee of Davis, a rookie and Patterson in a creative role this fall. Just looking at the roster right now shows that the former Titans OC does not have his version of a Derrick Henry to unleash, but that could change in the draft. Davis emerged last season with the Panthers and could enjoy similar success in Atlanta in this running back-friendly scheme, though. He’s probably the nominal starter right now unless the team drafts someone like Harris, Etienne or Williams. If it’s a mid-round guy, expect a committee approach with Davis in the lead, the rookie getting plenty of looks, and Patterson mixing in as a runner and receiving option out of the backfield.

It’s a bit of a new look, but after the Falcons rushing attack has floundered in recent seasons, fresh faces and a new coaching philosophy are certainly welcome. We’ll see if the new guys can really cement this roster group come draft weekend and provide new hope for a sustainable, useful ground game.