It wasn’t long ago that the Atlanta Falcons were in the Super Bowl—a Super Bowl they should have walked away from victors. They were not expected to get there before the season started; their preseason Super Bowl odds were +8000 that year. When things come together, they come together.
While the game didn’t go their way that day, fans and oddsmakers felt good about the Falcons getting back there in the preceding years. For the 2017 season, they started at +1600. They didn’t make it again, but they were competitive. So, last season their preseason odds were a little better, +1400.
But last year didn’t go nearly as well.
As the beginning of the 2019 league year draws near, the team will start making whatever moves and preparations they need to get to the Super Bowl next year. As things stand right now, their odds are over twice what they were during the preseason last year, +3300 (according to the bookmaker Betway Sports as of March 4).
How do they make themselves better?
Their top priorities are to improve the pass rush and offensive line; both are crucial areas in a Super Bowl run. That’s where the Falcons focus will be in the top half of the draft and free agency. Though, it doesn’t look like they will have the necessary funds to make a notable splash in the free agent market. But there is one skill position that will have to be addressed if they are going to have a shot—running back.
Back in 2016, Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman powered the Falcons to the fifth-best running game in the NFL. In 2017, they were not as productive, but with 1,847 total rushing yards, the Falcons still had one of the better running games in the league (No. 13).
Last season, they were one of the worse run games in the league (27th). Losing Freeman to an injury early in the season hurt but trouble on the offensive line didn’t make it any easier on Tevin Coleman.
Heading into next season, it is a foregone conclusion Tevin Coleman will be elsewhere. So, that leaves an injury-prone Freeman running behind what will hopefully be a retooled and improved offensive line. Ito Smith impressed in back up duties for Coleman while Freeman was out, but the Falcons cannot expect him to carry the full-time load if Freeman were to go down again. Considering Freeman’s inability to stay consistently healthy, it is not exactly an inspiring scenario.
If Freeman can remain healthy, the run game will be in decent shape again. But to that end, along with an improved offensive line, they need another running back as a precautionary measure and one that they can potentially groom for the starting role in the future.
The better free agents are likely going to be out of their price range as well which leaves the draft. With the team more likely to address the pass rush and offensive line first, they will probably not consider taking a running back until at least the third or fourth round.
So—who’s going to be available?
If they decide to go with one in the third or fourth round the following guys could be advisable options: Benny Snell, Kentucky; Elijah Holyfield, Georgia; Miles Sanders, Penn State; Justice Hill, Oklahoma State; Rodney Anderson, Oklahoma.
But if they believe Freeman will be healthy enough to play and Ito Smith can take on a more significant role, they may wait until rounds five through seven. At that point in the draft, according to current projections, the following guys could be available: Bryce Love, Stanford; Miles Gaskin, Washington; Trayveon Williams, Texas A&M; Nick Brossette, LSU.
Availability is one thing, but who should they take?
Bryce Love would be a difficult guy to pass up late in the draft (if he is still on the board). However, if the idea is to find someone the team can trust to be healthy, he is not the guy. The same could be said for Rodney Anderson. Justice Hill could be a lot of fun to watch, but with his lack of size, he may have trouble being anything more than a change-of-pace guy.
It is not hard to imagine Miles Sanders filling the role Tevin Coleman has for the last few years. But the one guy the team should not pass on if he is available in the fifth round is Texas A&M’s, Trayveon Williams.
He isn’t the biggest guy in the draft at 5’9” and 200 lbs, but he is a tough, fast, intelligent runner capable of breaking big plays when given just a sliver of room to work with. He did well as a runner, receiver, and blocker for the Aggies; it is hard to find a running back that can do all three.
If his skillset can translate from the SEC to the NFL, he could very well become the steal of the draft. The Falcons would be wise to invest one of their many late-round picks into him.