For the guys carrying the rock out of the backfield, these match-ups aren’t as consistent as with the QB’s. There are a number of reasons for that. Backs just aren’t valued as much as quarterbacks.
Also, as tailbacks approach 30, teams prefer to find cheaper backs via the draft or free agency which increases the running back by committee mantra. This past year, James Conner played ~just as well~ as Le’Veon Bell.
But for this year, the top matchups at running back the Falcons will face (in no particular order):
Week 1- Dalvin Cook with the Minnesota Vikings
Week 7- Todd Gurley with the Los Angeles Rams
Week 16- Leonard Fournette with the Jacksonville Jaguars
Week 10- Alvin Kamara with the New Orleans Saints
Week 11- Christian McCaffrey with the Carolina Panthers
Las year, in the Falcons first games of the season versus the Panthers and Saints, in back to back weeks, sound familiar, the running backs dominated the games. But not carrying the ball. Instead, as receivers.
Kamara and McCaffrey combined for 29 catches and 226 yards. They were targeted a combined 35 times. Albeit in the absence of Deion Jones. So with him back healthy, you should find a screen when these teams face off.
Todd Gurley is a top-tier back in this league. He’s a former offensive player of the year, first team all-pro, and arguably should have been a league MVP. Despite his knee issues, remember how sparingly he played in the NFC Championship and Super Bowl, Gurley is a game changer. And seeing how Grady and the gang contain him will be fun to watch.
Dalvin Cook and Leonard Fournette are each young studs in the making. After missing half of last season with a nagging hamstring issue, expect Fournette to regain his mold that made the LSU product deem playing in the NFL “really easy”.
And for Cook, I expect a breakout year. He’s in the prove it phase of his career which started three years ago but he’s electric and in week one, offers an early test.