Atlanta Falcons 2023 NFL Draft: Could The Team Address Running Back in Round Two?
By Joe Carlino
We're officially two weeks away from the NFL Draft, and like all other 31 teams, the Atlanta Falcons are finalizing their draft board and determining which players they'd like to select with each card they submit to Commissioner Roger Goodell. As is standard at this time, mock drafts are ripe with "suggestions" that scouts and collegiate enthusiasts alike believe will benefit each organization and their overall success, but as evidenced by the recent acquisition of top 2020 cornerback Jeff Okudah for a fifth-round pick, sometimes "misses" occur and a player needs a fresh start.
Side note here: Atlanta now has the BEST corner from that draft (AJ Terrell) and Okudah to go alongside Casey Hayward/Mike Hughes and Richie Grant/Jessie Bates/Jaylinn Hawkins at safety. This secondary will be hard to throw on, that's pretty evident on paper.
What are the options for the Atlanta Falcons in the 2023 NFL Draft?
Getting back to the draft, as mentioned prior, with mock drafts ripe, nobody truly knows what's going to happen when it's the Falcons' pick at eighth overall. Do they select a top defensive player if they're available? Do they try trading up for a top target, or trade down and accumulate more selections to fill out the roster? Which of these players are truly considered to be, in general manager Terry Fontenot's words, the "best player available"?
For many scouts on the offensive side of the ball, while the quarterbacks are strong and the wide receiver class is "unimpressive", running backs have some interesting positional value, especially in the history of first-round backs. Currently speaking, the only active backs selected in the first round in the last decade are Josh Jacobs, Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey, and free agents Leonard Fournette and Ezekiel Elliott. The track record of first-rounders is tough, especially considering these players have to be a "bell cow", so to speak, and therefore take more wear and tear on their bodies.
That said, if Atlanta's last draft was anything to make a note of (which it was), the team found a gem in the rough with Tyler Allgeier, who burst onto the scene with his 1,035-yard season surpassing the franchise record for rushing yards by a rookie. Keep in mind: Allgeier was benched the first week of the season, so it's even more impressive what he did.
If the Atlanta Falcons want to dominate the ground game again, they should look at getting Allgeier a tough running mate
While Allgeier appears to be the starting running back entering the 2023 season, the rest of that room is currently an enigma as fan favorite Cordarrelle Patterson should still be the do-it-all feature around the line of scrimmage and Avery Williams did okay in spurts, but nothing is known about Caleb Huntley in his return from a torn Achilles against the Saints. If Atlanta enters the season with just these players, despite the vast improvement of the offensive line, it'll be tough to succeed.
This leads to the player Atlanta should look to draft if he's available: Alabama Crimson Tide running back Jahmyr Gibbs. Gibbs, who originally played for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets before transferring was a pretty good back for Tech, but his name on those teams was more from his prowess in the kick-returning game (hey, more help for CP). However, once he transferred to Bama, his name truly began coming up on the map, being named the 2022 All-SEC top running back alongside an AP All-American award.
At the Combine, Gibbs ran a 4.36 40-yard dash, which was the second-fastest time clocked of all players at his position. His ability to follow his offensive line, such as this play below, showcases a player who takes what the defense gives him and not someone who recklessly attacks while attempting to gain extra yardage. Furthermore, his speed on tape demonstrated a player who can take advantage of linebackers covering him in the passing game, with elusiveness that will go a long way at the next level.
The negatives that can come out for Gibbs probably would be attributed to his height. Sitting at 5-foot-9 and weighing 199 pounds (okay, let's round to 200), smaller running backs tend to have shorter careers because their bodies simply can't handle the amount of wear and tear of consistent contact with mammoth defensive linemen and linebackers. That said, Atlanta could use this as an advantage with their attack because the last time Atlanta had two very good backs with a small difference in height (Devonta Freeman at 5'8"; Tevin Coleman at 6'1"), they had one of the most dominant ground games in football. What better way to return to that glory and assist Desmond Ridder with another top-running attack?
Keep in mind, Arthur Smith was the offensive coordinator in Tennessee, and the last anyone checked, they do have a mammoth of a former Alabama back in Derrick Henry still toting the rock. Now, this is not to say Gibbs is anywhere near Henry's level (in fact, it might be hard for any Alabama back to reach the level of the "King"), but rather a glimmer of hope for Smith's offense to once again shine with a young man that has special talent.
If he falls to the Falcons' pick in the second round (which could happen; he's projected anywhere from the late first round to early Day Two), then adding him with Allgeier could give Atlanta that "thunder and lightning" combination the team hasn't had since Freeman and Coleman.
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