The Falcons had to suck it up and part ways with Tevin Coleman this offseason. A decision that was ultimately made when the team decided to hand Devonta Freeman the most lucrative contract in the league for a running back (at the time). With Coleman taking a much smaller deal than many expected, the Falcons could have made it work if they wanted – but after Ito Smith stepped up as a backup last season, the front office believed those extra dollars would be best served elsewhere.
Smith was a fourth-round pick of the Falcons in 2018. Viewed as a reach by many, the Southern Mississipi back quickly proved he belonged in the league when thrust into the backup role after Devonta Freeman went down for the season. He touched the ball 117 times for 476 yards, showing fantastic elusiveness but also a unique toughness for his smaller stature.
The eye test is what Smith passed. The numbers are nothing extraordinary (it doesn’t help when playing behind one of the league’s worst offensive lines) – but he was a slippery runner that was an effective option both in between the tackles and as a receiver. The Falcons are expecting Smith to take on a more substantial role in 2019, and he will be running behind a revamped offensive line.
Atlanta still had to acquire depth at the position – and quality depth at that. Devonta Freeman is the undisputed starting running back. If he’s healthy the team will be fine with a combination of him and Smith. But assuming Freeman will last all sixteen games can no longer be taken for granted. Freeman barely played a year ago because of a bevy of different issues. Even though he has not missed many games outside of that, the two-time Pro-Bowler has suffered several concussions. You could argue he’s another severe concussion from being out a while or retired.
Franchises have to be proactive in situations like these where injuries can happen at the drop of a hat. That’s why the Falcons spent a fifth-round draft pick on Qadree Ollison, a running back out of Pittsburgh. Most people might not recognize this, but Pitt is beginning to develop a little steam in the race for who really is “RBU?” They have produced talents such as Tony Dorsett, Curtis Martin LeSean McCoy, Dion Lewis, James Conner, and most recently – Qadree Ollison.
Don’t be discouraged by the round he was selected. Running backs can come off the streets and start churning out elite production. They could be anywhere, and at first glance, it looks like the Falcons found a good one in Ollison.
The Pitt grad will add a different dimension to the Falcons running game. He’s an intimidating figure at 6’2″, 225 pounds – with the type of body that defenders bounce right off of. Ollison isn’t overly elusive, and he won’t break off a bunch of long runs, but he can be of value as early as year one. The Falcons want to get more physical in their run game; they want to be more efficient in third and short situations. Ollison, a bruiser, can be an option in those scenarios. And if God forbid, Freeman was to find himself on IR again; somebody can help Ito Smith take the reigns.
Here are some of the highlights from Ollison’s career at Pittsburgh:
— SportsTalkATL.com (@SportsTalkATL) May 9, 2019