The Falcons will need to address running back this offseason and probably more than once. I like what Ito Smith brings to the table, but the Falcons are a much better team when they utilize multiple running backs. It takes the pressure off of Matt Ryan and opens up play-action, in addition to getting receivers more room to separate by forcing the defense hesitate. Obviously, some more names will come onto my radar after Pro Days, but for now, I’ll focus on some of the later-round backs being discussed. Atlanta doesn’t have to spend a high pick on a guy like Najee Harris or Travis Etienne. I think this is a deep class, and here are some of the names that I like.
11. Javian Hawkins, Louisville
Hawkins may come in at 11th here, but it’s not a knock on him; he’s an excellent prospect. I think Hawkins offers a lot of what Ito Smith brings to the table. He’s not a big back, but he’s a great change of pace option that has good upside as a receiver. At 5’9 and 195 pounds, the obvious comparison is Tarik Cohen as a gadget back.
10. Jaret Patterson, Buffalo
After his famous eight touchdown game in 2020, Patterson started to garner some conversation as a sleeper in the 2021 draft. He is pretty well-rounded, but I’d like to see some more speed out of a guy who’s only 5’9 and 195 pounds. Although, Patterson is very versatile and technically sound, which can make up for a lot of what he lacks athletically. He has a pretty high floor, and while he did average 7.6 YPC in 2020, he has a long way to go before he becomes a feature back in an offense.
9. Rhamondre Stevenson, Oklahoma
Stevenson is a bowling ball at 6-foot, 245 pounds, but he’s pretty great catching the ball out of the backfield. He was extremely productive for Oklahoma after transferring from a junior college. However, he has missed some games due to failed drug tests. Stevenson would fit pretty well with the Falcons, but his character evaluations will go a long way.
8. Kylin Hill, Mississippi State
I’ve been pretty big on Kylin Hill for a while, and he has a lot of traits that could propel him to excellence in the NFL. Hill is a violent runner, but he also possesses many athletic gifts for a guy his size. He still needs a little bit of technical work, but he’s a ball of clay that could really excel behind a good offensive line in the NFL.
7. Shane Simpson, Virginia
Simpson is a guy I wasn’t familiar with, but Alex broke down his strengths and his meeting with the Falcons here.
A career 1,000-yard rusher, Simpson may not be a statistical monster, but he possesses the tools to be a star in his own right. He has great balance, and although he’s only 200 pounds, he never shies away from contact. What stands out most when watching Simpson is his football IQ. He always seems to understand what the defense is throwing at him. His best attributes have to be the intangibles. Everything I can find on him is positive. He’s a true leader with an unmatched work ethic, who teammates love to play with because he’s insanely competitive.
6. Demetric Felton, UCLA
Felton generated a lot of buzz at the senior bowl, and for a good reason. The word gadget gets thrown around a lot, but Felton is a true gadget. He was more of a slot receiver for UCLA, and he would profile perfectly in an offense that utilizes a lot of backfield passing, motion, and jet sweeps. He is incredibly dangerous with the ball in his hands, and don’t be shocked if the Chiefs take a long look at him.
5. Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State
Hubbard’s draft stock isn’t nearly as high as it once was, and some of it is due to prospect fatigue. He is a weird fit for Atlanta because he is a lot like Ito Smith — incredibly fast, pretty patient, but he should offer way more than he does as a receiver for a guy his size. Hubbard’s also a liability in pass protection, something Atlanta has to clean up this offseason. Still, there’s a lot to like about him as a pure speed back.
4. Michael Carter, UNC
Another guy who had a big Senior Bowl, Carter slots behind his old teammate (who we will get to in a moment). He was the lightning to Javonte Williams‘ thunder, and even though he’s a smaller back, he’s a smooth runner that can burn almost any defender. Carter has some upside catching the ball out of the backfield, but his size may hold him back from being a feature back in the NFL.
3. Trey Sermon, Ohio State
Chase already did a profile on Sermon that you can read here, but the Marietta native is a very logical fit for the Falcons.
Sermon’s stock began to rise exponentially after his 331-yard rushing performance against a stout Northwestern defense in the Big 10 Championship game. He followed that up with 193 yards on the ground and 61 yards through the air against Clemson. Unfortunately, he was injured in the first quarter of the National Championship game. It would have been awesome to watch him challenge the Crimson Tide defense, but he had already done enough to prove that he has the skills to succeed at the next level.
Sermon showed he could do it all in an offense down the stretch. He’s a physical back, weighing 215 pounds, that was breaking tackles and making people miss left and right against high-level defenses.
2. Kenneth Gainwell, Memphis
It seems like Kenny Gainwell is finally starting to catch on nationally, and for a good reason. I have had him in a few mocks before, and if you haven’t heard of him, it’s because he had to sit out the 2020 season because he tragically lost multiple family members to COVID. Gainwell can really do it all; he’s athletic, has great vision, can block, catch, and has fantastic size for the position. He’s pretty raw, but in the one season he played at Memphis, you can’t ignore his 6.3 YPC and 2,069 yards from scrimmage.
1. Javonte Williams, UNC
I fully believe that Javonte Williams can be the best running back in this entire class, not just on this list. I profiled Williams here, and he’s one of my priority targets at the top of the second round. I don’t throw this around lightly, but I get prime Le’Veon Bell vibes:
Look up “mean as hell” on Google — Javonte Williams will be the first result. Williams is a bowling ball at 5’10 and 220, but he is by no means a lumbering back. Tony Pauline of TDN expects his 40-time to clock in at 4.51. He’s not a true burner, but he is very agile and has above-average speed, especially for a running back of his size. His vision is also a plus; he works well between the tackles and has enough agility to make guys miss in the open field.
On top of all of that, he is a smooth route runner with soft hands. All of these traits were on display when he went wild against Miami, rushing for 236 yards and three scores while averaging 10.3 YPC. I’m not particularly eager to scout the box score, but 1,140 rushing yards, 19 rushing TDs, and 7.3 YPA, along with 12.2 yards per catch with no fumbles over 11 games, is downright dominant.
Javonte Williams is a true do-it-all bell-cow running back. He isn’t as athletic or big as Najee Harris or as elusive as Etienne, but I think he possesses both guys’ best traits without some of the negatives. If Harris and Etienne go in the first round or within the first three picks of the second round, Javonte Williams becomes an easy pick for Atlanta. Even with so much talent at EDGE and interior defensive and offensive line in this range, Williams is an offense-transforming back that is well worth selecting with the 36th pick.