Falcons roster battles: RB2

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The Falcons may not have the lightning and thunder combination of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman anymore, but they could be in the best spot at the running back position since 2016. Todd Gurley is on a one-year, prove-it deal penciled in as the starter, looking to have a monster bounce-back campaign with all the weapons around him and Matt Ryan under center. He also won’t be asked to carry the load by himself. The Falcons have the roster depth to use a running back by committee approach, with several players battling to receive what Gurley leaves behind.

Ito Smith

Smith was a bit of a surprising pick when the Falcons took him in the fourth round of the 2018 draft, but the Southern Miss product immediately showed off what the team saw in him during the draft process. Because of the injuries to Devonta Freeman, Smith saw action in 14 games and was the primary backup to Tevin Coleman, carrying the ball 90 times for 315 yards. That might not sound like much, but behind what was a pathetic Falcons offensive line, it was more than enough to prove him worthy of the selection.

However, the shifty back has had a problem with injuries himself in his two seasons and was only active in seven games last year, accounting for just 106 rushing yards on 22 carries. There’s a lot of promise in his game, and he might be the leader in this competition heading into training camp, but Smith’s missed time opened the door for a couple of other players.

Brian Hill

My personal favorite in this competition — Brian Hill did enough last season for the Falcons to place an original round tender on him, guaranteeing him over $2 million in 2020 and a roster spot. That’s pretty incredible to think about since the Falcons drafted him in 2017 with their fifth-round pick and then cut him in the same year after he appeared in just one game. But following a short stint with Cincinnati, Hill found himself back on the Falcons practice squad, and like Smith, he benefitted from injuries in both 2018 and 2019 to earn playing time.

Last year, Hill appeared in 12 games, starting in two of them, and ran the ball 78 times for 323 yards while also tallying 10 receptions for 69 yards. He’s still only 24 years old and has looked quicker and more explosive in each season. There’s no reason he can’t fill the void when Todd Gurley’s knee isn’t at its best, which is bound to happen at some point in 2020.

Qadree Ollison

I’m mentioning Ollison in this competition, but he’s well behind the first two candidates. In fact, unless there is an injury or two, the Falcons showed off what his role will be last year. Ollison is a bruiser at 6’1″, 235 pounds and was used strictly in short-yardage situations. He only carried the ball 22 times, but six of those rushes went for first downs, and four more went for touchdowns. However, it will be intriguing to see how the Falcons use him this season, since Todd Gurley has made a career out of getting in the endzone himself.

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