One of the Atlanta Falcons’ biggest needs in the 2021 offseason was at running back. The team parted ways with Todd Gurley, Ito Smith and Brian Hill and added Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson to the mix, leaving them with room for more talent. Heading into the 2021 NFL Draft, many expected the team to select a prospect, but instead they added two undrafted free agents to the position group.
One of them was former Ball State University running back Caleb Huntley. The 5’10, 229-pound Huntley packs a powerful punch. Currently, he has the ninth most rushing yards in Ball State history with 2,465 yards and has 10 career 100-yard rushing games, and now he’ll bring that physicality to the Falcons.
Huntley was added to the Falcons’ practice squad, but saw his first NFL action when he was elevated to the active game day roster in Week 2 vs. the Los Angeles Rams, when he contributed one carry for three yards. His coming-out party came in Week 4 against the Cleveland Browns, when Huntley, again elevated from the practice squad, got the NFL-watching world’s attention with 10 carries, 56 yards and a touchdown in Atlanta’s 23-20 win.
As part of my UDFA Q&A series, I had the pleasure of speaking with the Atlanta native about his collegiate career, journey to the NFL and playing for his hometown Falcons.
How would you overall describe your time at Ball State University?
It was a very, growth-oriented time for me. Just coming from Georgia and moving up there, to Ball State, I didn’t really know what to expect. But as soon as I got there, things were a lot different than what I’m accustomed to. That experience helped me grow as a man, it helped me grow as a future father.
I didn’t have my son at the time, but when I did have my son I was ready for the situation because of the things I was taught by my coaches and teammates. So, my time at Ball State was definitely a good time for me, it made me who I am today.
Did you receive any other offers? What made you decide to sign with the Falcons?
I did, but I felt like the Falcons were the best offer on the table for me. The circumstances that they have in their backfield fit my skill set.
Have you discussed what your role will be with the Falcons’ staff?
They definitely told me during this process that I was a back that they could see coming in and contributing. I’m looking to do that, wherever they need me. I’m not sure exactly what they’re going to ask me to do, but I do know that whatever they tell me to do, I’m going to accomplish it and do it to the best of my ability. They’re getting a person who is going to come in with that dog mentality. I’m going to bring some of that Atlanta-flavor to Atlanta.
How does it feel returning home to Atlanta and playing for the Falcons?
It’s definitely crazy. It’s just crazy, it’s a dream come true. When I was a kid, watching Michael Vick, Alge Crumpler, Warrick Dunn — some of those guys, wearing their jerseys and doing the “dirty bird” dance — stuff like that, and now I’m a Falcon myself. Nobody does the “dirty bird” anymore, but I’ll definitely try and bring it back. I never in a million years would’ve thought I’d be playing for my home team.
Have you modeled your game after anyone?
I would say Frank Gore... Le’Veon Bell... Fred Taylor, also Derrick Henry — I know he’s not that much older than me, but I’ve watched a lot of his film. I want to run through people, over people, past people — that’s what I’m trying to do.
What motivated you to make it to the NFL?
Honestly, I’ve had a tough life. I’m not going to say it’s the toughest out there, but I’ve always had to struggle since I was a young kid, growing up on Riverdale Road — that’s primarily where I was raised at. I’m actually from East Point... Cleveland Avenue. We had a lot of financial struggles. We moved around a lot, I think I moved like 9 times in my life. Just because we’d be facing eviction, and actually got evicted a couple times. I always had to worry about lights being on and rent being paid. Just stuff that kids shouldn’t have to worry about.
So, it’s always been the chip on my should to relieve some of that pressure, and make good things happen for my family and be in a better position. That’s what has really driven me throughout life. Even though my parents will tell me “That’s not your responsibility.” Now, I’ve got my own son and my girlfriend, and that’s just added boost to the situation.
I have to admit, before signing with the Falcons I never heard of Caleb Huntley. Speaking with him, I was blown away by the passion in his voice and eagerness to get on the field and make a better life for his family. He wears that chip on his shoulder and honestly, it gives him an edge living through his experiences that many folks never dealt with. From a maturity and character aspect, he’s everything you want in a football player.
The Draft Network describes Huntley as:
A well put together runner that runs with plenty of energy. He has a bit of a high-leveled running style, but he’s able to display bend when the first hint of contact enters his parameters. Staying on schedule and then using his body structure when he gets to certain locations, he makes it tough on tacklers to target and successfully tackle his frame. Frequently bouncing off of tacklers, he’s a build-up speed runner that can create momentum when given straight away planes. His pass-catching production has been limited, but that may be a product of him being such a focal point of the team’s rushing attack.
Huntley proved against the Browns that he can be a dynamic factor in this backfield. Here’s hoping he gets more opportunities going forward.