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Falcons post-draft roster review: A budding juggernaut at running back

Atlanta has a scary amount of talent on the roster right now.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Last year’s fifth round selection at running back, Tyler Allgeier, ended the season as a 1,000 yard back and the team’s single season rookie rushing yardage record holder. With the always dangerous Cordarrelle Patterson, a recuperating-but-effective Caleb Huntley set to return at some point in 2023, and speedy Avery Williams in the backfield, the Falcons could’ve dusted their hands and rolled forward.

They didn’t exactly do that, selecting Texas running back Bijan Robinson with the 8th pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. With Robinson added to the group, this might be the most dangerous running back room in the entire league, and it’s one that the Falcons will deploy to great effect on hapless defenses this fall. But who makes the team beyond the obvious options 1A and 1B, and what’s the outlook at running back?

Let’s take a closer look at the position and how things are likely to shake out.

Starters: Bijan Robinson & Tyler Allgeier

I know, I know. You take a potentially generational back with a top ten pick and declare him a co-starter? That seems like a waste of resources.

If Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot are to be believed—and for the purposes of this article at the very least, we’re believing them—Robinson will be an all-purpose weapon on offense set to play slot receiver, catch the ball out of the backfield, obviously run it, and potentially even split out wide at times. Allgeier, on the other hand, is expected to be a more traditional early down and short yardage bruiser (or sledgehammer, to borrow Smith’s parlance). I’m expecting Robinson to get more touches, but their carry load will likely break out to be relatively even.

For Robinson, the exciting potential here is all about what he can do with those touches. Last year, the deservedly-hyped back averaged 6.1 yards per carry in Texas’ offense and a further 16.5 yards per reception, proving to be a big play threat who mixes quality physicality with head-spinning elusiveness. Robinson knows how to get away and get by defenders, and if that should fail, he’s able to power for additional yardage. In Atlanta, he’s unlikely to suddenly reel in 60 or 70 catches, but he’ll be deployed as a receiving threat to the tune of 40-50 targets in the upcoming season and has proven he can maximize those touches.

Allgeier, meanwhile, was one of the league’s most effective backs toward the end of the 2023 season, gaining strength as the year ground on. That’s a testament to his strength and savvy as a runner, and Allgeier was more advanced as both a blocker and a receiving option than anticipated. He’s likely to get far less work through the air than he might have if Robinson wasn’t here, but those blocking chops will help keep him on the field in addition to his strength as a runner.

We don’t know exactly how Atlanta will divvy up their backfield touches just yet, but Allgeier and Robinson should share the field quite a bit with the Falcons seemingly content to work with two wide receivers frequently in the season ahead. That should open up more two tight end and two running back sets for Atlanta, which can do some very dangerous things with Robinson’s big-play ability and versatility alongside Allgeier’s potential as a steamroller. Expect plenty of work for both, with Robinson being the nominal starter and the most productive member of the backfield when all is said and done.

Key reserves: Cordarrelle Patterson & Avery Williams

There is a slim but non-zero chance that Patterson isn’t even on this roster, but the best version of this roster features him, so I hope not. With Robinson on the team, Patterson should be able to get more work at receiver, the position he spent many years playing at before landing in Chicago and Atlanta. He’ll also still have utility as the third option on the depth chart, in short yardage situations where he can still run defenders over, and near the goal line, where he has dominated the touches and touchdowns over the past two seasons.

Obviously, it will be difficult to give Patterson a ton of work if Robinson and Allgeier are both healthy. Less work should help keep Patterson fresh into the final days of the season, as we’ve seen his production dip sharply late in the year in both 2021 and 2022. Patterson’s ability to play receiver and running back effectively means he’ll still have a role, and he likely will field more kickoff returns with less work in the backfield.

Williams will have a tiny role comparatively, just like he did a year ago, but he’ll get a touch or two each week when the team wants to use his speed and savvy to (hopefully) great effect. His excellence as a punt returner and utility as a kick returner means he should be locked in to the fourth spot on this depth chart; there’s just not likely to be a ton of work for him.

Roster hopefuls: Caleb Huntley, Carlos Washington Jr.

Huntley will at least have a practice squad slot after showing out last year in a limited role. His hard-charging, physical style and ability to produce on early downs is something the Falcons won’t ever overlook under Arthur Smith, and if injury hits the backfield, it’s something this team will want to have on hand. Unfortunately Huntley is recovering from a major injury, so it’s not clear if he’ll be ready to start the season. If not, a stint on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list or injured reserve might be in his immediate future. I’ll be stunned if he’s not with the Falcons once he’s healthy.

In the meantime, Washington will have a chance to produce. The University of New Hampshire and Southeastern Louisiana product is also a physical runner who can be tough to bring down, and while this backfield is incredibly crowded given the options on hand, a practice squad spot to start the year should be waiting for him with an impressive summer. If all goes well for Washington, he’ll be able to take the Huntley route to relevance, with a year on the squad followed by a chance to push his way onto the roster in 2024.

Outlook: Phenomenal

This has the potential to be the best backfield in the NFL, full stop. Robinson is widely considered one of the best running back prospects in years and the team has promised to find multiple ways to utilize his talent, and Allgeier is a terrific young back coming off a great year. Add in the always dangerous Patterson, a useful role player in Williams, and a pair of physical options in Huntley and Washington, and the Falcons have both talent and depth in spades.

The strength of this group offers the Falcons options on offense, with the ability to use Robinson and Patterson as receivers and to roll out two running backs at the same time to potentially great effect. Atlanta ran all over the rest of the league a year ago with Allgeier, Patterson, and Huntley, and adding Robinson to this group turbocharges on of the league’s most effective attacks. The team should also get a nice boost from adding Matthew Bergeron, a naturally gifted run blocker, at left guard in place of the rotation Atlanta rolled out there a year ago.

So long as everyone stays healthy here, the Falcons will have a dominant ground game destined to help propel this offense to greater success than they’ve enjoyed in recent seasons. Waiting to see them in action is going to feel interminable.