Training camp is around the corner, and the Falcons' most improved unit might be the one that was already a strength. Running backs of Bijan Robinson's caliber don't normally get added to one of the best running games in the NFL, but the Falcons decided to do just that. Adding him to a unit that already had Cordarrelle Patterson, Tyler Allgeier, and fullback Keith Smith should only make the Falcons running back unit one of the best in the league.
The Falcons decided to take Bijan Robinson with the No. 8 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft to be an offensive weapon for the team. While he is a running back primarily, he will be used all over the formation in a manner similar to Christian McCaffrey or Alvin Kamara. The Falcons have a ton of talent at the position, but the most naturally talented guy of the group is easily Robinson. The Falcons will have him be their featured running back, and so much more.
While he should see around 15-to-17 touches every game, don't expect all of those to be carries. The Falcons will rotate their running backs to keep them fresh when it comes to running the ball. Expect Robinson to see around 225 carries, but around 60 catches out of the backfield. The Falcons are buying into Robinson's big play ability and hoping he can turn some of the runs that went seven or eight yards in 2022 into runs that go for 20-to-25 yards in 2023.
Role with the Falcons in 2023: Starting Featured Running Back
Career Stats: 210 Carries, 1,035 Yards, 3 Touchdowns, 16 Catches, 139 Yards, 1 Touchdown, 0 Fumbles
Tyler Allgeier broke the over-40-year Atlanta Falcons rookie rushing yard record in 2022 with 1,035 rushing yards. He should see a ton of carries in 2023 as well. While Robinson should see around 50 percent of the touches within the running back group, Allgeier should see 40 percent of the touches to be a true change of pace. The Falcons want a true thunder and lighting pairing with Robinson as the lightning and Allgeier as the thunder.
The goal is for Allgeier to be the Michael Turner to Robinson's LaDanian Tomlinson. In terms of projected carries, Allgeier should see around 175 with an additional 30 to 40 touches in the passing game. Atlanta has a true bruiser in Allgeier and his real benefit to the team will be as a closer of sorts. Much like in baseball, Allgeier will come in during those four-minute scenarios when the clock needs to be run out and will pound the other team into submission at the end of games.
Role with the Falcons in 2023: Starting Change-of-Pace Running Back
Career Stats: 464 Carries, 2,330 Yards, 22 Touchdowns, 289 Catches, 2,757 Yards, 15 Touchdowns, 1 Punt Return, 9 Yards, 266 Kick Returns, 7,836 Yards, 9 Touchdowns, 11 Fumbles
Cordarrelle Patterson might be the all-time leader in kick return touchdowns, but in Atlanta the last few seasons, he's been their featured running back. The Falcons don't need him in that role anymore and can now use him all over the formation. He might not see a ton of carries in 2023 with only a projection of around 50 in that regard, but he should see around 75-100 total touches depending on the injury situation the Falcons face at the running back position.
Patterson is getting older and limiting his touches to put him in a position where he can make big plays is the way to move forward with him. He's still great depth at the position, but having him only come in for certain situations and spend a lot of time out at wide receiver is the better option moving forward. Atlanta has talented players all through this unit and having Patterson play more of his 2021 role is the way to get the most out of him moving forward.
Role with the Falcons in 2023: Third Running Back, Kick Returner, and Offensive Weapon
Career Stats: 22 Carries, 53 Yards, 0 Touchdowns, 35 Catches, 205 Yards, 0 Touchdowns, 5 Kick Returns, 63 Yards, 0 Fumbles, 57 Tackles, 5 Fumbles Forced, 2 Fumbles Recovered
Keith Smith has been the starting fullback in Atlanta since 2019 and hasn't left the role since. He should be the starting fullback again in 2023 for his sixth straight season. Smith's role isn't a huge one since the Falcons run a lot of two-tight end sets, but they do like to have him on the field when they're grinding down opponents. His biggest benefit comes more from playing special teams, though. He was a college linebacker and that shows up when he's working on the core-four special teams units.
Role with the Falcons in 2023: Starting Fullback and Special Teams Ace
Career Stats: 22 Carries, 109 Yards, 1 Touchdown, 13 Catches, 61 Yards, 0 Touchdowns, 38 Punt Returns, 445 Yards, 0 Touchdowns, 39 Kick Returns, 803 Yards, 0 Touchdowns, 2 Fumbles, 25 Tackles, 1 Fumble Forced, 2 Fumbles Recovered, 1 Pass Deflection, 3 quarterback hits
With the Falcons having one of the deepest running back rooms in the NFL, Avery Williams won't see a lot of time at the position in 2023. He might play out in the slot or out wide at times, or even play in the backfield in some passing situations, but his touches will be limited. Williams' biggest asset is obviously his punt return skills. He was one of the best punt returners in the NFL in 2023 boasting a 16.2 yards per return average on punts. That's where he makes his bones.
Role with the Falcons in 2023: Punt Returner and reserve running back
Career Stats: 76 Carries, 366 Yards, 1 Touchdown, 2 Catches, 3 Yards, 0 Touchdowns, 1 Fumble
Caleb Huntley was the third running back in the rotation in 2022, but with the Achilles tendon injury he suffered late in the year and the addition of Robinson, don't expect him to do much in 2023. Huntley will likely be placed on the physically unable to perform list to keep him on the roster unless the Falcons have an injury situation open up a roster spot for him. Even then, don't expect him to see a ton of carries unless it's Allgeier or Robinson who gets hurt.
Role with the Falcons in 2023: Physically Unable to Perform List until week 8. Injuries could open a roster spot for him.
While fullback isn't really up for grabs considering how well Keith Smith has played the role for the last half-decade, it wouldn't be surprising to see Clint Ratkovich earn a roster spot here should the Falcons feel the need to upgrade the athleticism of the position. Ratkovich is a solid enough blocker, but his speed down the field and special teams ability will give him a shot at earning a role on the roster. He was a practice squad member in 2022, and that could be his path for 2023 as well.
Role with the Falcons in 2023: Camp player, potentially practice squad
Carlos Washington has some speed but is a bruiser like the rest of the Falcons' running backs. He's not exactly someone who would be expected to earn a roster spot in 2023, but Atlanta could surprise with him on the roster should he beat out Caleb Huntley and earn a role on special teams. This opportunity for Washington is more to try and catch the eye of another team or to potentially earn a practice squad role with the Falcons in 2023.
Role with the Falcons in 2023: Camp player, potentially practice squad
All advanced stats are courtesy Pro Football Focus or Football Outsiders. All traditional stats are courtesy of official team websites, NFLGSIS or CFB Stats. All RAS and athletic testing numbers are courtesy of DraftScout.com and Kent Lee Platte's RAS Football website.