Since the departure of Michael Turner in 2013, the Atlanta Falcons have seen their running attack diminish. Instead of addressing the position in the 2013 NFL draft, general manager, Thomas Dimitroff elected to go with a proven rusher in that of Steven Jackson. Jackson had a tremendous career while with the St. Louis Rams, but that luck ran out while with Atlanta.
The Jackson experiment lasted a whopping two seasons. He saw his eight-year streak of 1,000 yards plus per-year, end, and totaled just 543 yards on the ground in 2013 and 707 in 2015. After his very aggravating 2013 season in which injuries held him back, the Falcons selected running back, Devonta Freeman in the 2014 NFL draft in hopes of giving the Falcons a change-of-pace out of the backfield. The fourth round pick, Freeman ran for just 248 yards on 65 attempts a season ago, a lot of which came in the latter half of the season.
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A man by the name of
who has been with the Falcons since 2009 had spent the majority of his career as a standout on special teams. His ability to hunt down return men has kept him a roster spot all of these years. Smith was never needed as a running back due to the great seasons Turner had while a member of the Falcons and wasn’t given a chance to play much either after the addition of Jackson. But, after a very poor 2013 season in which the Falcons finished dead last in rushing in the NFL, Smith was finally given a chance to carry the ball. And he didn’t disappoint.
Smith touched the ball on offense just 36 times, 23 on the ground and 13 through the air for a combined 336 yards and five touchdowns in just 10 games played. Smith never had 100 yards of total offense in any game in 2014, but had a 74 yard reception for a touchdown as well as a 41-yard reception and a 54-yard reception in week one.
However, the Falcons felt as if the combination of Freeman and Smith would not be enough heading into 2015 after the team decided to part ways with Jackson. Therefor the Falcons drafted the Indiana brute, Tevin Coleman in the third round of the 2015 NFL draft to help shore up the backfield. All three men will battle it out for first-team reps when training camp starts up at the end of July, but at the moment it is Freeman’s job to lose.
Throughout mini camp, Freeman took most of the first-team reps while Coleman took the others. Coleman suffered a hamstring injury towards the end of camp causing him to sit out the last day, but should be at 100 percent for training camp.
So, out of these three men, who will lead the Falcons in rushing for the year and how much should we expect them to rush for? My money is on Freeman, but it wouldn’t surprise me whatsoever if Coleman leads the team as a rookie. People have questioned whether or not Freeman’s small body frame will be able to sustain 300 carry’s a year, while Coleman’s camp believe that he can.
Coleman, is much taller than Freeman, standing at 6-1 but sits at just 205 pounds. Freeman weighs in at just one pound heavier, but stands just 5-8. While I was reporting from mini camp in Flowery Branch, Coleman looked a lot bigger than Freeman, but Freeman seems to have the shiftier moves. This will be a tremendous battle in the coming weeks as we get into training camp and into the preseason as to who wins the week one starting job.
As far as Smith goes, I don’t expect him to get very many first team reps, but rather a role such as he had in 2014 as a big-play candidate. Either way, I would expect to see all three men get their opportunity to shine, and should combine for 1,500 – 1,800 yards as a team.
Devonta Freeman, 775 yards, 6 touchdowns
Tevin Coleman, 550 yards, 3 touchdowns
Antone Smith, 200 yards, 3 touchdowns