Falcons Roster Review and Outlook: Running Backs

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This is the second of a ten-part series reviewing the Falcons’ season and discussing the future outlook position-by-position. If you missed any other installments, be sure to check them out by clicking the links below:

The biggest story of the Falcons’ 2021 season wasn’t their first-year head coach or general manager, or even their long-time quarterback; it was about a nine-year veteran who had a breakout year as a 30-year-old — Cordarrelle Patterson.

Terry Fontenot, Arthur Smith, Charles London, and Dave Ragone should all be credited for Patterson’s career year. It was a team effort, from the vision of London and Ragone to the acquisition from Fontenot to the implementation from Smith.¬†Patterson signed for just $3 million, making him one of the best free-agent signings in franchise history and easily the best value signing across the league this year. He finished with 618 yards and six touchdowns on 153 carries, averaging 4.0 yards per carry. Decent numbers, but the reason the NFL world fell in love with Patterson was his versatility. He added 548 yards and five touchdowns on 52 receptions, averaging 10.5 yards per catch. It’s safe to say Patterson was the team’s best offensive player this year.

Patterson’s one-year, $3 million contract is an overwhelming success; however, after the best season of his career, he’ll surely look to cash in on that performance. Both parties — Patterson and the Falcons — have been outspoken about their desire to sign him to a new deal, but I wouldn’t be so sure it happens. The reason Fontenot was praised for the signing was that Patterson outperformed his cap figure. However, as is often the case with outlier seasons, it’s highly likely that Patterson takes a step back in 2022, so signing him to a more lucrative contract could be a trap. I wouldn’t give him more than $7 million a year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Fontenot decides to go elsewhere, given the Falcons’ standing with the salary cap.

Moving on to the rest of the backfield, fullbacks included (they’re people too): Mike Davis signed the only multi-year deal of Fontenot’s first free-agent class, and it hasn’t quite worked out for the Georgia native. Davis finished with 503 yards and one touchdown on 138 carries, averaging 3.6 yards per carry. He added 259 yards and another touchdown through the air on 44 receptions, averaging 5.9 yards per reception. Two touchdowns throughout the entire season is not what you want from a guy on a multi-year deal; even Davis himself admitted this was a down year. He fumbled the ball more times this season than in every other year of his career combined. Obviously, Davis loves the city and playing for his hometown team, but I wouldn’t be so sure he returns in 2022. The dead cap associated with cutting Davis is minimal, so Fontenot may elect to draft a running back to replace Davis.

Third-string running back Qadree Ollison carried 21 times for 105 yards and one touchdown, and also picked up 12 yards on four receptions. He’s an exclusive rights free agent, so Falcons fans can expect him to return in 2022 to compete for carries.

Rounding out this group is fullback Keith Smith, who had a pleasantly surprising amount of production in the passing game. Smith caught nine passes for 56 yards and added one touchdown; he’ll more than likely return next season due to his familiarity with the system and cheap price tag.


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