With the NFL draft and free agency looming, the Falcons roster will look completely different in 2021 than it did last year due to the league’s loss of revenue and Terry Fontenot’s first offseason as the team’s general manager. The most obvious positions that will look different are safety, edge, and running back.
Fontenot recently released veteran safety Ricardo Allen, who joins Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee hitting free agency. That makes Jaylinn Hawkins the only player at the position under contract. With Todd Gurley and Brian Hill hitting free agency as well, Ito Smith and Quadree Ollison are the only rostered running backs. Dante Fowler is currently playing on an overpaid contract and could find himself traded or released this offseason. That would make the edge position the barest.
In this, we will explore overhauling the running back position through free agency and the draft this offseason — continuing the series from EDGE and safety.
Sign Jamaal Williams in free agency
I am the strongest advocate for never giving a running back a second contract instead of drafting a couple every year in the middle rounds. Williams has been Aaron Jones‘ backup in Green Bay for the entirety of his career, only eclipsing 500 snaps in a season once in his career (2018). Even though he played second-fiddle, the former BYU star turned 150 total touches into 741 total yards and three touchdowns in 2020. Williams is incredibly reliable, not fumbling for a fourth straight season, catching 88.6% of his targets, and produced 11 runs of 10 or more yards.
When Jones went down with an injury, it allowed Williams to be the lead back for two games in Weeks 7-8; Williams produced 216 total yards, including over 100 total yards of production in each game — nearing 90% of the snaps in games against the Houston Texans and Minnesota Vikings. Williams proved to be a reliable and versatile running back in the Packers offense, capable of being a runner, receiver, blocker, and returner.
With such an energetic personality that teammates and coaches love, Williams could be a perfect fit for Arthur Smith and Fontenot’s culture. PFF predicts Williams to sign for two years, $6 million ($3M APY) this offseason — highway robbery if you ask me.
Draft Javonte Williams and Trey Sermon
Javonte Williams shared the workload at UNC with Michael Carter, which is exactly the type of role he could share with Jamaal Williams and Trey Sermon. The former UNC Tarheel is a powerful runner with a stout stiff-arm showing power and quickness as a runner. With his strong build, Williams is a good goal-line and short-yardage runner who can push the pile and pick up yards after contact, who would thrive in a workhorse role offering a requisite skill set. His contact balance is what jumps off the screen, but Williams truly has modern NFL versatility.
Sermon is a different style of running back but also shared the workload collegiately in head coach Ryan Day’s zone run scheme, flourishing on outside zone and duo runs. With his vision and agility, Sermon is excellent at getting his feet underneath him, dropping his hips, and making eye-popping jump cuts. That combination of vision, balance, and cutting skills are intriguing traits for an outside zone scheme.
Jamaal Williams and Javonte Williams are built for more of the running style that Arthur Smith had in Derrick Henry, while Sermon provides a change of pace. It would be a Williams duo with Sermon and Ito Smith providing depth. Essentially, Jamaal Williams could serve as a placeholder until Javonte Williams improves his vision, receiving, and pass blocking abilities. Once the latter is ready for a featured role, release the former Green Bay Packer. Sermon and Williams could then be the featured duo in Atlanta.
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