Segueing from the wide receivers and on to the running backs. It seems unlikely to be a single back offensive system, especially with all the uncertainty surrounding the recently acquired Todd Gurley and his arthritic knee. Gurley will surely be the opening day starter barring any injuries, but who he shares carries with is up for debate. I believe that Brian Hill will eventually cement his spot as the number two guy, splitting the load with the hometown hero.
Same as before, we will utilize the projected starting defenses in our 2020 stat predictions. For this article, we will examine the opponents’ front sevens. Breaking it down by different tiers, the Falcons have two of the best front sevens in football within their own division. They face the Broncos, Buccaneers, Bears, Saints, Chargers, and Cowboys in the top tier.
Tampa Bay has an incredible front seven. After signing Suh and pairing him with Vita Vea on the inside, along with the Jason Pierre-Paul/Shaq Barrett combination outside, it is one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. If that is not enough, returning two ultra-athletic linebackers in Lavonte David and Devin White to fly around is scary. The Broncos boast an equally terrifying front seven. Jurrell Casey is a top 20 interior defender backed up by some of the best depth in the NFL.
The Bears are always reloading on defense because they cannot seem to figure it out offensively. Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks are two of the best at their respective positions. Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith are two athletic linebackers who possess elite sideline-to-sideline range. The Saints have a three-headed monster in Cam Jordan, Marcus Davenport, and Damario Davis that should not be slept on, and they could be adding Jadeveon Clowney.
The Chargers and Cowboys round out the top front sevens with talent on the defensive line and at linebacker. Eight matchups against top ten front sevens will put a hamper on Atlanta’s rushing attack. The rest of their games are against average front sevens; there are only a couple of matchups where the Falcons will have the advantage. The Seahawks and Raiders are two of the worst front sevens in football.
The misconception that Atlanta will feature Todd Gurley alone and not a by committee approach is reprehensible. In no way, shape or form has Todd Gurley shown that he is capable of shouldering the load of a three-down back for 16 games like many fans are hoping. Gurley is the most talented back, and it is not particularly close, but was released by the Los Angeles Rams for a reason. Yes, the contract they so naively agreed to played a role, but if Gurley were putting up 2017 or 2018 numbers, the Rams’ front office would have overlooked the foolish deal.
There is always a silver lining; Todd Gurley had a respectable year last season, carrying the ball 223 times for 857 yards and 12 scores. The most substantial dip occurred in the passing game; he only caught 31 balls for 207 yards and two touchdowns. These are still excellent numbers, though, for a back who shares time, making only six million a year, but not for a feature back making $14 million a season. Expect Gurley’s 2020 numbers to be close to his 2019 campaign.
Brian Hill runs similarly to Gurley — a physical, downhill style. Ito Smith has had concussion issues and is questionable in pass protection. Though Smith is more able in the passing game, pass blocking trumps catching the ball almost all the time. Hill will receive supplementary production behind Gurley and will not put up eye-popping numbers. However, he will be a very valuable piece to the 2020 Falcons.
2020 Stat predictions: (Gurley) 210 carries, for 815 yards, and 9 touchdowns; 30 catches, for 290 yards, and three touchdowns; (Hill) 110 carries, for 418 yards, and three touchdowns