The Atlanta Falcons backfield is wide open

Nov 29, 2020; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Carolina Panthers running back Mike Davis (28) warms up before the game against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 29, 2020; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Carolina Panthers running back Mike Davis (28) warms up before the game against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports /

With the departure of Todd Gurley, the Atlanta Falcons are set to have a full-blown competition at running back this offseason. The team did sign Mike Davis in free agency and while he should start as RB1 he will have plenty of competition and the rest of the depth chart is wide open.

With the Atlanta Falcons passing on a running back in the draft running backs coach Desmond Kitchings opened up on the competition in this backfield in a conversation with The Athletics Tori McElhaney.

Davis has shown his ability in flashes throughout his career, with his best year coming in relief of an injured Christian McCaffrey in 2020. Carrying the ball a career-high 165 times for 642 yards. Not just an early-down back Davis has shown plenty as a receiver with 59 receptions and 373 yards last year.

The Atlanta Falcons backfield is wide open

Now with the Atlanta Falcons, Davis will, for the first time in his career, head into the off-season as the number one option and will have the opportunity to show he can be a true lead back. But first, he will need to hold off the competition in what is a loaded, if not star-studded, backfield.

Quadree Ollison is the only true holdover from last year but only has 23 career carries heading into this season. While the new regime could like what they see, he has a lot to prove if he wants to carve out a significant role against the likes of Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson.

Heading into year three Ollison’s time is getting short to prove he belongs on an NFL roster. If he wants to earn his second contract the time is now and the opportunity provided by an open off-season battle is as good as it’s going to get in the NFL.

The Falcons added Cordarrelle Patterson this offseason after he spent the last two years in Chicago where he made two pro bowls and two first-team all-pros as a return man. While his return ability is where he is best known, he showed last year he can provide value as a running back.

Having spent most of his career buried on the depth chart as a wide receiver, he had a significant role as a running back in 2020 after an injury to back up running back Tarik Cohen. He carried the ball 64 times for 232 yards. While the average is not great, he will have the opportunity to run in a more friendly scheme with Arthur Smith, that will allow him to utilize his talents.

His ability with the ball in his hands shows up on kick returns and with a creative mind like Arthur Smith, he should see plenty of designed carriers allowing him the opportunity to be a game wrecker. His roster spot is locked in due to his return ability, but his value may be proven on offense.

Undrafted free agent rookie Javian Hawkins figures to be a big threat to gain share in this backfield as well. With the home run ability and a ton of production coming from Louisville, Hawkins being passed on in the draft surprised many analysts. His size is the only true explanation for him falling so far. He has a better than average chance to stick on this roster.

With his ability as a runner and receiver in a backfield that is wide open expect Hawkins to make some noise. He needs time to develop and acclimate to the speed of the NFL but his ability to take it the distance at any second makes him a dangerous option.

Tony Brooks James and UDFA Caleb Huntley are also in the mix but with the talent and depth in this group, they may be more likely for the practice squad.

While making the decision for this position group headed into 2021 the Atlanta Falcons coaching staff will certainly be writing in pencil. Expect this backfield competition to be one of the most heated all off-season and more than likely leading into week one.

The early expectation should be for Mike Davis to handle the load but do not be surprised to see a lot of specific packages and plays to utilize the various talents this group brings to the table. Atlanta Falcons fans should expect a running back by committee approach in 2021.

As a former Falcons coach used to say “Iron Sharpens Iron”, let us hope the competition in this backfield drives all of these players to show out and give the Falcons the run game they’ve been looking for.

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