The Falcons offense struggled in 2021 under new head coach and offensive coordinator Arthur Smith. The team didn’t have their own version of Derrick Henry, sadly, and the offensive line was frequently a disaster, but how did the actual running backs on this team perform?
Let’s take a look at each guy and how they contributed to the overall season at running back.
Stats: 16 games, 153 carries, 618 yards (4.0 y/c), 6 TDs; 52 receptions, 548 yards (10.5 y/r), 5 TDs
No player surprised fans and writers more than Patterson. He was expected to be a special teams ace and ended up being one of the Falcons’ most dangerous offensive weapons. He led the team in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and receiving touchdowns en route to the best season of his 9 year career.
His highlight catch at the end of the first Saints game helped the Falcons come back from the brink of disaster to win a key divisional game on the road. His speed and versatility was critical and he may be Atlanta’s offensive player of the year. When you consider he did it on a one year deal worth just $3 million, the return on investment was simply phenomenal.
Stats: 17 games, 138 carries, 503 yards (3.6 y/c), 3 TDs; 44 receptions, 259 yards (5.9 y/r), 1 TD
There were high hopes for Davis coming in. He had done a fairly good job in Carolina in 2020 and was known to be a versatile back who was well-rounded and reliable in pass protection. While his stats weren’t terrible, Davis never really got going in the way Atlanta fans hoped he would.
A case can be made that he was hit in the backfield far too often to be successful, but Patterson produced more behind the same guys. What’s more, Davis had 4 fumbles—uncharacteristic for him—and some of them were incredibly costly. He’s currently the only back from the 53-man roster under contract for 2022, but he may be on shaky footing, at best.
Qadree Ollison/Wayne Gallman
Combined Stats: 14 games, 49 carries, 209 yards (4.3 y/c), 1 TD; 5 receptions, 33 yards (6.6 y/r), 0 TD
At one point fans were clamoring for Gallman to get more carries. He had done a good job in 2020 for the Giants and looked like a decent rotational option for the team. He ultimately didn’t last the full season, as Atlanta brought back former 2019 5th round draft pick Qadree Ollison after cutting him earlier in the year.
Ollison had the better yards per carry average of the two (5.0) and looked more explosive than everyone not named Patterson. Overall, these two guys didn’t offer much and it’s hard to be passionate about bringing either of them back in 2022, but Ollison will be an easy re-signing and did come on strong late.
The overall running back group was actually relatively productive in 2021. They combined for over 1, 300 yards rushing and 10 rushing touchdowns, adding on another 800+ yards of catches and six more touchdowns. Of course, most of this came from Patterson and his incredible season, but Davis had spurts of good play that added to the overall decent season.
This unit will look dramatically different in 2022, but this season was not a bad one overall. Let’s talk more about the potential changes in a moment.
Only Davis is under contract and only Ollison looms as an easy, affordable re-signing, though the team has Caleb Huntley under contract on a reserve/future deal. That feels unlikely to be this team’s running back group in 2022.
The first big decision will come when the team either signs or does not sign Patterson again. Adding Patterson while keeping Davis and Ollison would be a sign the team thinks their offensive line is a much bigger priority than their running back group. If they don’t bring him back, it feels like there’s a 100% chance they draft a new lead back, something this Falcons team hasn’t done in many years.
Until that decision on Patterson’s re-signing is made, this group will be uncertain.