The Atlanta Falcons must get Antone Smith more involved on offense. The former track star out of Florida State has been used primarily as a special teams contributor in his six years with the Falcons, but the running back began to show glimpses of his capabilities on offense towards the end of the 2013 season. The painful season, in which the Falcons went 4-12 and used a good portion of the year to experiment with personnel, thrust Smith into the spotlight with his eye catching performances and explosive potential. Having recorded just one carry up to that point since joining the Falcons practice squad in 2009, Smith exploded onto the scene despite minimal opportunities in 2013, carrying the ball 5 times for a whopping 145 yards and 2 touchdowns. Smith averaged 29 yards per carry, with a longest run of 50 yards, and often gained large chunks of yardage on single back formations – the man can make his own space.
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Smith again showed his home-run ability in the preseason, when a simple screen pass from TJ Yates set up a 66 yard touchdown reception for the speedster. Week 1 rolled around, and the former Seminole displayed his burst on a 54 yard touchdown reception in a wild 37-34 win over the New Orleans Saints. Smith was at it yet again this past Thursday, taking a simple stretch play 38 yards for the shortest touchdown as a Falcon. In his career, Antone Smith has gained 199 yards on only 12 carries, for an average of 16.58 yards per carry. If you add in receptions, he’s gained 282 yards, for the same average of 16.58 yards per touch. Throw in the 4 regular season touchdowns, the highlights throughout the preseason and his recorded 4.3 40 yard dash, and it’s clear that Antone Smith can become an amazing weapon in an already potent Atlanta Falcons offense.
Despite ranking last in the league for rushing yards last season, the Atlanta Falcons rolled into 2014 with a strong group of RBs. The ever reliable Steven Jackson led a group that also featured the shifty Jacquizz Rodgers, 4th round selection Devonta Freeman and, of course, Antone Smith. Having utilised a traditional ‘bell-cow’ approach in the past with Michael Turner, the 2014 season marks the first time in many years the Falcons have had a backfield committee with different strengths. All of the RBs are strong receivers out of the backfield; Jackson and Freeman run with power and aggression, Rodgers can cut on a dime and Smith offers open space speed that cannot be matched. With Jackson being the most experienced back, it makes sense for offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to utilise him often. Rodgers is an effective change of pace back, and gives defenders something to think about in the red zone, while Freeman is seemingly being groomed to become the feature back of the future. So where does that leave Smith?
“In his career, Antone Smith has gained 199 yards on only 12 carries, for an average of 16.5 yards per carry. If you add in receptions, he’s gained 282 yards, for the same average of 16.5 yards per touch…with a touchdown every three carries.”
In week 1, Antone Smith saw only 7 snaps on offense, in which he touched the ball 3 times for a total of 61 yards and a touchdown. Week 2 came, and Smith upped his snap count to 13 offensive snaps, catching 2 passes for 19 yards. On Thursday Night Football, Antone was only on offense for 8 snaps, during which time he carried the ball 4 times for 50 yards and a TD. He also had a hard run come up just shy, fumbling at the one yard line, negating what would have been his 2nd TD. While his snap count may have been affected by game flow in week 3, seeing as the Falcons were up big and had a chance to give Freeman an increased workload, there is no excuse to have Antone Smith in for only 20 of the 140 offensive plays the Falcons ran in weeks 1 and 2. Consider the Falcons struggled to get anything going on offense against the Bengals, and his absence becomes even more infuriating.
Objectively, his pass protection isn’t as strong as Jackson’s and his fumble at the goal line may have hurt far more were the week 3 contest closer. Despite this, Smith is a running back who is a threat to score whenever he touches the ball and, when paired with Julio Jones, Roddy White, Harry Douglas and Devin Hester, can spread the field to an almost unfair level. Stacking the box leads to one of the strongest receiving corps in the league having single coverage, but give Smith any space at all and he will take it to the house. Smith is too fast for most linebackers, catches the ball well on short routes and will never be caught from behind with a head of steam. So far this season, Smith has played only 13% of the Falcons offensive snaps. In a group of 4 players, the fact Smith is operating so far below 25% is unsettling. Call it small sample size, but an offense is surely better with a running back who averages 16.5 yards per touch and a touchdown every three carries. It is clear that Smith needs his snap count increased to the 25-30% range.
The Falcons offense is one of the most dangerous in the NFL as it stands. With the unbelievable level of talent in the receiving group, a diverse RB corps and one of the league’s most efficient quarterbacks, opposing defensive coordinators already have to pick their poison. Increasing Antone Smith’s snap count just adds another vial.