What if I told you that Ito Smith, the 2018 fourth round 5’9 running back out of Southern Miss, had a better rookie campaign than Devonta Freeman? Because, it’s true Falcons fans.
Smith, who was named after the judge in 1995 O.J. Simpson murder trial, had an explosive rookie season that was ignored amid the injuries and painful losses.
Let’s compare these statistics for a moment. In 2018, as a rookie, Smith had 90 carries for 315 yards and four TDs. In 2014, as a rookie, Freeman had 65 carries for 248 yards and one TD. Granted, the circumstances between the two were slightly different.
Smith was given more of an opportunity to shine as a number two back once Devonta went down early in the season. For Freeman, when he was a rookie in 2014, he had to work for carries behind an aging Steven Jackson in a Dirk Koetter offense. The irony, Koetter is once again the offensive coordinator for the Falcons.
Many draft experts thought Smith was the dark horse at running back to emerge as a breakout candidate for the Falcons in 2018. With his physical running style and low center of gravity, he proved to be a shifty explosive back that former offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian came to love.
Smith plays very similar to current Bears running back Tarik Cohen, but offers better strength and explosion when hitting the hole. The one game where I officially knew Smith was going to be a force in the league came in week two when he had nine carries for 46 yards against a stout Panthers defense. In that game, on one of his first carries, Smith hit the hole and ran over Carolina’s star middle linebacker Luke Kuechly.
How many rookie running backs do you know can say they ran over Luke Kuechly when he was there to meet him them in the hole? Not many.
Smith was given an opportunity to shine in 2018 behind Tevin Coleman, and with the current cap situation for the Falcons entering this off-season, it is unlikely that Coleman returns in 2019.
If Devonta Freeman can stay healthy for a whole season, the combination of Freeman and Smith can be even better than the production they got when Freeman paired up with Coleman for the last four years.
Freeman is a special running back that doesn’t need a big hole to make things happen as he has a gift of making guys miss in the open field and can create holes for himself. Smith has this same ability and was ranked top among running backs last season with most missed tackles per rush attempt.
In an ideal world, when Freeman needs to come off the field, the Falcons won’t skip a beat when Smith comes in to the game. Defenses will now have to deal with the elusiveness of Smith and Freeman for 60 minutes every Sunday in 2019.
Don’t think of this combination at running back as thunder and lightning. Think of it as thunder and more thunder.
For all you fans that think the world is going to fall apart for the Falcons if Tevin Coleman doesn’t resign this off-season, don’t fret. Because, that just means we will be able to see even more of the “Judge” in 2019.