Atlanta Falcons 2021 offseason positional expectations: Running back

Dec 13, 2020; Inglewood, California, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Todd Gurley (21) during pregame warmups before playing the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 13, 2020; Inglewood, California, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Todd Gurley (21) during pregame warmups before playing the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports /

The Atlanta Falcons enter the offseason without a number one running back.

Running back is one of the Atlanta Falcons most intriguing positions heading into the 2021 offseason. With the addition of a new head coach, Arthur Smith, speculation has run rampant on the Falcons’ need to duplicate the Titans’ offense by finding a Derrick Henry clone.

Smith has repeatedly said he plans to be flexible and build around the talent in the locker room and he has assembled a staff that has coached backs of all shapes and sizes.

He himself was on the same staff with then OC Matt LaFleur, who has had a ton of success in GB with Aaron Jones, LaFleur was of course the QB coach in ATL under Kyle Shanahan. And we all remember how Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman looked in that offense. Smith’s scheme will be a combination of Shanahan, LaFleur and his own concepts.

With such a varied combination he will be successful with whoever is on the field because it will be tailored to that person.

Smith doesn’t NEED Henry.

Current Roster:

Ito Smith, Qadree Ollison, Tony Brooks-James

With both Todd Gurley and Brian Hill entering free agency the Atlanta Falcons enter the 2021 offseason without a clear-cut number one guy on the roster. While Ito has shown some flashes, but it’s becoming evident he isn’t going to handle RB1 duties.

Ollison spent most of the 2020 season as a game-day inactive despite showing promise as a short-yardage back in 2019. In 2019 generated four TDs on 22 carriers.

Brooks-James was signed to a futures contract at the end of the season.

All three of these back are on pretty minimal contracts that make them easy to move on from. Spotrac has all three saving 750K+ with minimal or no dead cap.

Brooks-James ends up being the odd man out in this backfield.

Free Agency:

There are a ton of interesting names the Falcons should take a look at in this year’s RB free agent pool.

However, if you have your mindset on the biggest names: Aaron Jones, James Conner or Chris Carson I think you are going to be disappointed. I am sure we will see them linked to the names above but with the cap being tight and the value of the position I just don’t see it.

However, expect the addition of a solid veteran.

Whether that is a guy that has shown the ability to be a lead back in limited opportunities or someone who has battled injuries we will have to wait to see. Guys like Mike Davis, Malcolm Brown, Jamaal Williams have lead back potential but have been in crowded backfields.

Marlon Mack, who suffered a season-ending Achilles injury week one of the 2020 seasons is an interesting name to keep an eye on. He has shown the ability to lead a backfield, racking up almost 1200 total yards and 8 TD’s in 14 games in 2019, and should be cheap.

If he’s 100% it’ll be a steal, if the injury lingers the contract won’t hamstring the team for the long term.


I absolutely love this draft class and the Falcons should too. There will be players available all three days that can be lead backs at the next level.  A lot of people immediately link Alabama’s Najee Harris to the Falcons because his combination of size, speed, and agility mirror Derek Henry. While it’s an easy connection to make it will cost a first-round pick for Najee and even if the Falcons traded back I don’t think they burn a pick on day one.

Day two has a ton of talent and I believe this is where they send in the card for their guy. Travis Etienne is a fringe first-rounder but might be there at the top of the second. Javonte Williams has been a popular name for the Falcons and his UNC running mate Michael Carter is also extremely talented, both backs accumulated over 1400 yards and 10+ TD’s in 2020.

In the third or potentially even on day three, backs like Trey Sermon and Chuba Hubbard could be available. Both are extremely talented and could easily lead an NFL backfield.

A new backfield in 2021

By the time the season rolls around I fully expect a brand new one-two punch in this backfield. My money is on a solid veteran starting the year as RB1 but ceding carries to a day two draft pick as the season goes on.

This is part two of nine discussing the off-season expectation of the Atlanta Falcons roster. Culminating in a 7 round mock draft finalizing my thoughts on where this team will go.