This is the second installment of a comprehensive positional roster breakdown for the Falcons following April’s draft — segwaying to one of the most important positions in Arthur Smith’s offense, running back. Many thought, I included, Terry Fontenot would draft at least one running back in the first seven rounds, but Arthur Smith pointed out how disciplined Fontenot was in his first draft as general manager, resisting the urge to reach for needs. Instead, the Falcons brought in a pair of undrafted free agents — one being high-profile. There are six rostered running backs, and based on Smith’s Titans teams, I would expect Atlanta to carry three or four at the maximum.
Davis will see an overwhelming portion of the touches out of this group as the 28-year-old is coming off a career-best season — rushing for 642 yards topped with 373 yards receiving and eight touchdowns after forced into a starting role for Christian McCaffery last season. He never goes down on first contact and has an innate ability to get tough yards even if the play breaks down because of blocking. Davis is a reliable — fumbling just twice on 537 career touches — and affordable option that possesses a similar running style as Derrick Henry. It isn’t crazy to think he could eclipse 1,000 yards rushing in 2021.
Patterson is different than Davis — a slashing style of running back with more explosive, breakaway speed. He can be a one-cut running back, but he’s much more elusive than his counterpart. Patterson’s 42 touches out of the backfield in 2018 with the Patriots were a career-high, and he averaged 5.4 yards per carry. It’s difficult to see his role in the offense right now, but it isn’t a coincidence that ex-Bears running backs coach and current Falcons quarterbacks coach Charles London came to Atlanta the same offseason Patterson did.
“When we were evaluating him, we went back and watched all the touches he’s had at running back in his entire career,” London said. “You see an explosive player. You see a big player. You see a guy who can outrun guys. You see a guy who’s hard to tackle. I think a lot of the traits you see with him as a running back you see with him on kickoff return, as well. We’re pleased with where he’s at. A lot of it is new to him. He’s never been asked to do some of this stuff before.”
He’s listed as a running back on the Falcons’ roster, but Patterson will certainly have his biggest impact returning kicks.
The jury is out on Ollison, given his limited experience, but his physicality and straight-line speed make him an ideal backup for Davis. The fact of the matter is Fontenot and Smith felt comfortable enough passing on a number of running backs in the draft, which has to point towards their confidence in what they currently have. Patterson is a different type of running back than Davis, but Ollison is similar in his running style, so keeping him as a depth piece seems likely.
Tony Brooks-James is fighting an uphill battle; he was handed a reserve contract by the old regime. In reality, he is likely a camp body who could be cut at any point before the season. Brooks-James does provide value on special teams, which could be enough to make the roster. Arthur Smith’s past Titans’ teams usually carried three running backs, so it will be difficult for him to make the roster as a fourth back with the UDFAs brought in.
Many thought that the former Cardinal would get drafted due to his breakaway speed and elite lateral quickness — a big play waiting to happen. Hawkins is why I believe the Falcons could carry four running backs this season, even though Patterson’s place in the offense has yet to be determined. He has a connection to Dwanye Ledford, and Atlanta gave him around $35K, which is a considerable amount for an UDFA. Hawkins’ skill set as a runner makes him an intriguing player for Smith’s offense, and I could certainly see him edging out a roster spot.
Huntley, in my opinion, has one path to making the 53-man roster — beating out Ollison. Huntley is a refrigerator with legs and runs extremely similar to Davis and Ollison. His opportunity lies in backing up Davis because of his bruising style, but again, Huntley is a long shot at making the roster.