Atlanta Falcons 2015: Who Stays Who Goes — Running Back Edition

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Oct 26, 2014; London, UNITED KINGDOM; Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman (24) spikes the ball after scoring on a seven-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter against the Detroit Lions as Falcons tackle Ryan Schrader (73) watches in the NFL International Series game at Wembley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Who Else Should The Atlanta Falcons Keep?

Jerome Smith and Ronnie Wingo are practice squad players both of whom should be kept around at least for training camp. Wingo is on his second stint with the Falcons after he was cut from the team during the 2013 training camp. Personally I felt Wingo deserved at least a spot on the practice squad in 2013 so I was happy when the team resigned him at the end of last year. Whether the front office will have any interest in bringing Wingo back for training camp remains to be seen but there are worst camp bodies you could have.

Jerome Smith was an UDFA from Syracuse who stuck on the practice squad after a strong showing in training camp. Smith is a big bodied, bruising runner who showed more finesse than expected from a back of his size.

Smith lacks the physical skills to be anything more than a role player in the NFL but again, I would like to see him back for camp as he’s a player who you can stash on the PS this year and call up if needed.

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Jacquizz Rodgers is a personal favourite, the prototypical ‘short but not small’ player, Quizz is the ultimate team player who can play all phases of special teams as well as contribute on offense. While Quizz isn’t a feature back in the NFL he does have a unique skill set that I felt the Atlanta Falcons offense never fully utilized. Quizz’s best asset is his pass blocking which really sets him apart. Quizz wasn’t only the best pass protector on the Falcons team but he is one of the premier blockers in the league, and that if nothing else makes him a valuable commodity.

Whether the team brings Quizz back will rely a lot on the contract that Quizz demands but if we can resign him for a reasonable price then I wouldn’t hesitate to bring him back.

Antone Smith is a difficult player to weigh up. Smith has showcased his explosive playmaking and game changing speed but he is effectively a 30 year old running back coming off a broken leg.

How Smith has recovered from the injury will go a long way to determining how hard the Falcons will peruse him. If Smith is fully healthy then the Falcons should resign him if they can get him at a reasonable price.

The Atlanta Falcons would be wise to give Devonta Freeman a legit chance this season, instead of being a situational player.

While Smith does have play making ability he effectively an offensive weapon who is really only effective on package plays designed specifically for him. Smith isn’t a running back and he shouldn’t be used as a running back.

If Thomas Dimitroff can negotiate a good deal for Smith then he’s obviously a player we would like to have back but we should be wary of getting into a bidding war for a player like Smith.

Steven Jackson is a player I’ve spent much of the past two seasons defending as I didn’t believe his stats accurately reflected his play. However, I do believe that the Falcons should cut SJAX, as much for us, as for him.

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Jackson is nearing the end of his career and he deserves to play on a winning team. The Falcons are obviously hoping to reach the playoffs in 2015 but in reality this is more of a rebuilding year as the team gears up to be competitive in 2016.

With the direction the Falcons are taking Jackson isn’t in the long term plans and he isn’t a good fit for much of what Shanahan will probably be looking to run.

Jackson is one of the all-time great running backs, a potential hall of famer, but he has no place in this team moving forwards, so why keep him around?

If the Falcons follow this template (they won’t) the running back depth chart would look something like this:

1.       Freeman

2.       Rodgers

3.       A. Smith

4.       J. Smith (PS?)

5.       Wingo (PS?)

This running back group would be a player away from being a very solid/exciting unit and with this year’s draft class being as deep as it is at the running back posistion, the Falcons could easily add a mid-round back to complete the position group.

In a situation such as this the Atlanta Falcons would most probably look to add a bigger, more physical back who could ‘share’ carries with Freeman.

Some of the notable draft eligible backs who fit this criteria:

·         Todd Gurley

·         T.J. Yeldon

·         Mike Davis

·         David Cobb

This is just a small sampling of the backs who will probably be available in the early to mid rounds.

The running game has been overshadowed in the NFL in recent years so much so that it is almost becoming a lost art. One of the reasons I am so excited to have Kyle Shanahan on this team is that he clearly values a strong running game and is willing to experiment with lots of different concepts and styles in an effort to not only keep defences off balance but to also compliment other areas of the offense.

I’m not expecting (or hoping) for the Atlanta Falcons to return to the 2008 days of Ryan handing the ball off to Michael Turner 30 times a game (although that was great). What I am expecting from the 2015 Falcons is a much more balanced offensive gameplan, one that commits to a strong run game and doesn’t require Ryan to throw for 350 yards and 3 touchdowns every week for the Falcons to be in the game. The 2015 Falcons are going to be more balance, and I for one am thrilled.