Falcons: Could UDFA Javian Hawkins carve a substantial role out in Arthur Smith’s offense?

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Back in March, I presented a few pre-draft mid-to-late-round running backs that Terry Fontenot could be interested in. Josh Johnson and Jaret Patterson were two candidates, and the third, Javian Hawkins, was actually brought in as an undrafted free agent. Thor Nystrom of NBC Sports Edge recently said that Hawkins was the most talented back on the roster.

“You won’t be able to stack the box against the Falcons – and I mean ever, under any circumstances – with Kyle Pitts in the slot (or out wide, whatever),” NFL insider Thor Nystrom said when discussing how the Falcons offense. “Which plays to the game of the most talented back on the roster — Javian Hawkins.”

Hawkins sits behind former Panthers running back Mike Davis and 2019 fifth-round pick Qadree Ollison on the depth chart because I see Cordarrelle Patterson as a situation running back/wide receiver hybrid with much of his value coming on special teams. Hawkins has a connection to Dwayne Ledford, and Atlanta signed him for around $35K guaranteed, which is a considerable amount for an UDFA. Hawkins’ skill set as a runner makes him an intriguing player for Smith’s offense.

Many thought — I included — the former Cardinal would get drafted due to his breakaway speed and elite lateral quickness — a big play waiting to happen. Arthur Smith‘s offense in Tennessee would make most people think the marriage with Hawkins is a strange one, given how much power Smith ran with Derrick Henry. However, Smith will match his scheme to the offensive personnel afforded, which dictates the Falcons will be more pass-centric than the Titans were under Smith. Running wide zone concepts with Hawkins makes sense because of his running style. Hawkins elected to sit out of the COVID-shortened season after playing eight games in 2020. He led the Cardinals backfield with 822 yards on the ground to go along with seven touchdowns. In 2019, he rushed for a school-record 1,525 yards on 264 carries and had nine touchdowns.

According to Pro Football Focus, Hawkins was also excellent in pass protection. On 231 pass-block snaps, he never allowed a single sack. So the Falcons could afford to leave him on the field during third downs and other obvious passing situations. Davis and Ollison are completely different backs than Hawkins, which bodes well for the UDFA’s chances of carving out a substantial role in this offense.

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