After signing Mike Davis to a two-year, $5.5 million contract with $3 million guaranteed in the first year, the Falcons have four running backs under contract — Mike Davis, Ito Smith, Qadree Ollison, and Tony Brooks-James. Arthur Smith has already made it clear the same strategy that worked in Tennessee isn’t going to work in Atlanta, for one obvious reason — Derrick Henry.
“We’re not going to have Derrick Henry here,” Smith said, via D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “So, it’s not like I think we’re going to have Derrick Henry.”
“The reality is that we’ll get multiple backs in here, and we’ll have the way we trust our schemes and the way we teach the details of it, and we’ll commit to it,” Smith said. “That should provide hope to people because of that mindset.”
The running back by committee approach might not be “sexy” but still can be effective. Smith doesn’t need a workhorse for his offenses to succeed. It’s important to remember that Henry and his former offensive coordinator had a mutually beneficial relationship. A great talent like Henry propelled Smith’s offense, and the former Alabama running back thrived in the scheme. Before Smith (2016-2018), Henry carried the ball over 500 times for 2,293 yards (4.6 YPC) and 22 touchdowns compared to his 681 carries for 3,567 yards (5.2) and 33 touchdowns. Before Smith was calling the shots in Tennessee, Henry had never even eclipsed 1,100 yards. Who made who?
The Falcons were always going to add another running back or two this offseason. Tony Brooks-James was undrafted for a reason, and being a ‘camp body’ might be his only contribution to Atlanta. Ollison may have fallen out of favor with Dirk Koetter, or he really could be strictly a goal-line option. Adding Mike Davis gives Arthur Smith his de facto RB1 and RB2, pushing off the need to draft a running back in the earlier rounds.
It makes sense why Fontenot signed the former Carolina Panther as Davis and [Ito] Smith complement very well. Davis is a bullish runner who never goes down on first contact, while Smith is closer to a slashing style of running back — both have similar explosive run potential. The former Southern Miss Golden Eagle is an elusive, one-cut back, which should serve him well in [Arthur] Smith’s system. His vision is also another impressive attribute that allows him to overcome some of his physical limitations. The former South Carolina Gamecock is better in pass protection and as a receiver, but [Ito] Smith can catch the ball out the backfield, though he struggles in pass blocking.
The two — in a vacuum — complement each other perfectly, except that [Ito] Smith is a free agent next year, and Davis’ contract was only two years. Fontenot has his short-term answer at running back, which eliminates the pressure to take one in the first three rounds of April’s draft. It would behoove the front office to select at least one on Day 3 of the NFL draft, though; it makes sense to bring in a long-term solution that can learn under a veteran like Mike Davis. As always, I say never take a running back high in the draft, so here is a handful of mid-to-late round running backs that have high ceilings and could be available on Day 3 — rounds four through seven.
Arthur Smith won’t run power with a back like Javian Hawkins; instead, a wide zone concept better suits what Hawkins does well. He is a north and south runner with breakaway speed and elite lateral quickness — a big play waiting to happen. According to Pro Football Focus, the former Louisville Cardinal was also excellent in pass protection. On 231 pass-block snaps, he never allowed a single sack.
Josh Johnson has quick cuts, but he lacks the elite breakaway speed. Johnson is the prototypical “one cut and go” running back, who has great vision and decisively hits openings. With elite burst, Johnson is rarely brought down behind the line of scrimmage. And although it isn’t elite, his agility to make defenders miss is serviceable, giving him just enough wiggle to break arm tackles. Still, how he finishes runs is most impressive, topping off each play with power. I don’t think I have seen a running back fall forward as much as Johnson does.
Patterson is my running back draft crush. Because he is listed at 5’9”, 195, it makes it very easy to stereotype him as a third-down back at the NFL level; however, Patterson has shown he has much more to his game. He has 644 rushing attempts in his career at Buffalo; 2,522 Yards AFTER Contact (3rd in CFB), 3,915 Rushing Yards (3rd), 52 TDs (2nd), and 214 1st Downs (1st). Patterson’s low center of gravity gives him elite contact balance and agility. The best part of his game is his vision and patience, finding lanes to burst through. He has also shown that he is well-rounded enough to engage in pass-protection, blocking, and the receiving game. This isn’t important, but the dude scored eight touchdowns in a single game; Mid-American Conference aside, that’s insane.
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