Late last week, ESPN’s NFL guru Mike Clay, pointed out that the Falcons may be a sleeper team to a take a running back earlier than expected.
Keeping an eye on the Falcons as a sleeper team to take a running back earlier than expected. Devonta Freeman missed most of last season, Tevin Coleman is gone and Ito Smith struggled badly with efficiency as a rookie.
— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) April 11, 2019
Clay’s points are valid. Devonta Freeman’s injury history is a substantial concern, especially considering Tevin Coleman is now out in San Francisco with his former offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan.
When healthy, Freeman is arguably a top-five back in the league, and he’s getting paid like one with the third-most lucrative contract in the NFL for a running back behind Todd Gurley and Le’Veon Bell. Nobody doubts Freeman’s talent or versatility. The problem has always been injuries. In the past, the Falcons would have no issue turning to Tevin Coleman, who is a starting caliber running back in his own right. That won’t be the case with Ito Smith as Freeman’s backup.
Smith, a fourth-round pick in 2018 out of Southern Mississippi, had an unexpectedly productive year as the backup for Coleman after Freeman went down. He ran the ball 90 times for 315 yards and caught 27 passes for 156 yards. Despite his smaller stature, he has a toughness about him that allows him to be effective between the tackles. However, it’s difficult imagining him ever being a lead back, which would be the case if Freeman were injured in 2019. Taking a running back is a must at some point during this year’s draft for Atlanta.
That doesn’t mean I agree with Clay’s assessment. The Falcons should be looking to add another body into the mix, but it doesn’t have to come until the fourth round or later. There is absolutely no reason for them to be thinking about it any earlier. Freeman and Smith are a more than capable combo, and there will be a bevy of ultra-talented running backs available in the later rounds. The Falcons have way more pressing needs like defensive tackle, defensive end, cornerback, offensive tackle, and offensive guard. Do not expect them to draft a running back until at least the fourth round.