Key injuries will force Atlanta Falcons to utilize young assets
During the Atlanta Falcons monumental win over the Saints this past weekend, a few key players were Injured, opening up doors for a few younger pieces.
Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper is expected to miss some time with a possible MCL sprain and running back Devonta Freeman will also miss a couple weeks with a foot sprain. These injuries will allow for the Atlanta Falcons to utilize their young skill players and see what they bring to the table.
With Freeman out for two weeks minimum and Ito Smith out for the remainder of the season, Brian Hill and Ollison have a great opportunity to fill in their role. Freeman has been less than a productive back and maybe we need to view all of our options going forward.
With all four running backs healthy, not including Barner, the Atlanta Falcons potentially have depth at the running back position for 2020 and beyond.
Freeman’s lack of productivity at the running back position has greatly, among other things, hurt the falcons season. Freeman has yet to carry the ball over 20 times this season and has a total of 370 yards over nine games. That’s only 41 yards per game.
However, the defense has been putting the offense in a bind all season by forcing the offense to play from behind, thus passing more. Atlanta still needs to change its rushing efforts and maybe a change of pace is what we need at that position.
This is also a recurring cycle it seems with Freeman being Injured at some point in the season. Let’s hope it’s not anything more. Freeman still presents the best option to win in 2019. This isn’t to say that’s the case for 2020 onward. I would still like to roll into 2020 with some momentum instead of chasing a draft pick
Brian Hill filled in this week against New Orleans for the injured Ito Smith. He proved to be an effective back. Hill ended the game with 20 carries for 61 yards and added 10 more yards receiving with a touchdown late in the game.
If Hill can build upon his performance in New Orleans and carry that the rest of the season, it makes it that much easier for the Falcons to move away from Freeman in the off-season. This will give us more cap space to resign Hooper, which seems to be the main focus. Hill has shown flashes of his ceiling, especially going for 115 yards on 8 carries last year against Carolina.
We have yet to see any of our fifth-round pick, Qadree Ollison. To be honest, I’m shocked he hasn’t had a carry all season. Ollison is a pound and ground type of runner, similar to Michael Turner, just taller.
The majority of the season we have seen Ollison and Hill on the inactive list due to keeping 5 running backs after the preseason. I find it hard to say that it will be the same case for next season. The course over the next few days will determine how much if any, Ollison is used.
There is not a benefit to continuing to play Barner behind Hill, however, that seems to be the narrative for this offense.
Going forward, I still would love to see Ito Smith as the feature back. If the Falcons can develop a committee of running backs with those three athletes, it will make our offense not one dimensional anymore.
The Atlanta Falcons also lost Austin Hooper to an MCL sprain. With Sanu being traded to New England, Hooper assumed the role of Ryan’s third target, and oftentimes his go-to target.
With Hooper being out for an unknown amount of time at the moment, the roles of Russell Gage, Christian Blake, and possibly Olamide Zacchaeus will increase tremendously. Both Gage and Blake have impressed in their playing time. It seems that the Atlanta Falcons have a decision to make regarding Justin Hardy. Russell Gage will take over the number three role.
Given Hardy being 28 years old next season and only has10 catches so far in 2019, playing Gage, Blake, and Zaccheaus will really have the organizational thinking about what to do with Hardy.