At the beginning of the offseason, it was clear Mike Davis would be in a rotational role at the very least. There could’ve been another free agent or a prospect in the draft brought in to compete for the starting running back role, but things have shifted as we fast forward to right now. Davis is in line to receive more carries than he has his entire career because the Falcons chose not to address the position outside of Cordarrelle Patterson. All signs point to Davis being the bell cow back, but I wouldn’t be so sure to write off Patterson, who could also notch a career-high in carries as the complimentary back in Arthur Smith’s offense.
Last year, Patterson posted 1,017 yards on 35 returns for an average of 29.1 yards per return with no fumbles. The Falcons undoubtedly need help in the return game, and Patterson will surely improve the team’s third phase by returning kicks. But in addition, he had 21 receptions for 132 yards and 64 rushing attempts for 232 yards and a touchdown last season.
I believe Patterson will be a bigger part of this offense than people think because of practice reps. Mike Davis was out for personal reasons during Monday’s practice, and Patterson took almost all of the first-team reps while Qadree Ollison had just a handful. It is clear how this coaching staff sees Patterson — a running back.
Last year in Chicago, Patterson took on more of a running back role, to which he embraced the challenge, “I’m just trying to get better running between the tackles, just running it, period.” Patterson said last year before the season, “All my career, I’ve been running it outside a lot, so that game’s natural to me. I’m just trying to learn to run it in the A and B gaps. It’s all new to me.” It isn’t a coincidence that ex-Bears running backs coach and current Falcons quarterbacks coach Charles London came to Atlanta, and Patterson followed.
Back around the same time as Patterson was learning how to become a better running back, London had this to say, “When we were evaluating him, we went back and watched all the touches he’s had at running back in his entire career,” London said. “You see an explosive player. You see a big player. You see a guy who can outrun guys. You see a guy who’s hard to tackle. I think a lot of the traits you see with him as a running back you see with him on kickoff return, as well. We’re pleased with where he’s at. A lot of it is new to him. He’s never been asked to do some of this stuff before.”
I would be shocked if Patterson didn’t set new career highs in carries and yards this season — 65 attempts and 233 yards are the markers. Mike Davis will certainly shoulder the load, but I believe Falcons fans will be surprised how often Patterson is featured. The only question is: Will he be able to hold up physically?