Cash In Carries 2021 – Atlanta Falcons Edition
The final instalment of Cash In Carries digs into the Atlanta Falcons. Who is left in the Running Back room at the NFC South team? And who could get the go-ahead for the carries?
FALCON OFF ELSEWHERE
Many Falcons fans had a miserable time last season. After seeing so many promising additions to the squad, you can forgive them for expecting more. But the schedule did not run as planned. A string of defeats, culminating in a defeat to long-time rivals Carolina, led to Dan Quinn getting his notice.
Once the season was over, Atlanta held a 4-12 record. Only one win against divisional rivals, and two wins at home, was not good enough. Interim coach Raheem Morris, who took over in Quinn’s place, did not retain the job.
GURLEY GETS HURLED
Not only did Morris get shown the door, but plenty of playing staff did too. One of the most unsurprising releases was Todd Gurley. The former Ram was brought in on a one-year deal, amid concerns about his knee arthritis.
While the Running Back made solid impacts over the goal line, that was the extent of any serious contributions. His yard output (678), yards per carry (3.5) and first downs (45) continued a downward trend. And, after 195 carries (47.56%) he is no longer on the roster for 2021.
Neither are two of that season’s backups, Ito Smith (15.61%) and Brian Hill (24.39%). Both were used on a rotational basis throughout the season. But their uses were slightly different. Hill saw usage at a low-yet-consistent level, while Smith saw higher peaks and troughs in usage.
Their departures are significant as you could expect one of them to take control of the backfield without a lead back. However, those players leaving creates a void in the run game.
In addition, Brandon Powell (0.36%) and Matt Schaub (0.73%) also move on.
The Falcons have made one or two notable signings in the offseason. One of which is a new head coach. Arthur Smith moves from his Offensive Co-ordinator position at Tennessee to take control. At the Titans, Smith was responsible for a run-heavy offense, primarily channelled through Derrick Henry. And, at the time of writing, the lack of backs suggest carries could gravitate towards another big addition…
It may have been some time coming. But the former Seahawk, Panther and Bear could finally have himself a lead back role. Most recently, Davis saw carries in place of the injured Christian McCaffrey, and it is likely he has impressed watching teams.
In a way, it was fortunate that McCaffrey got injured. Because, before CMC’s Week 2 injury, Davis was mainly on special team duties. However many of the weeks that followed saw a dramatic uptick in offensive snaps. In those games, Davis’ offensive snap percentage did not drop below 50%.
Naturally, this helped him with carry attempts. 10 of those 13 games without CMC saw him get double-digit carries, including a high of 19 vs. Detroit in Week 11.
Now he joins a team that saw 19 carries or more in four regular season games. And this was with other experienced backups available. So the volume should be there for Davis to continue impressing.
He may be entering the 2021 season as an experienced 28 year old, but he hardly has the wear and tear of a veteran. This, coupled with the fact he has joined from a divisional rival also speaks volumes about his desire to stay atop the depth chart. And why not? This opportunity is ripe for picking!
The converted Wide Receiver is another old head brought into the Falcons roster. Seen by many as a gadget player, Patterson saw usage as such by the Bears last season. It was more common to see Patterson carrying the ball rather than catching it.
Furthermore, this was consistent – the wide man saw carries in every game but one in the 2020 season. That also included 10 carries in one game. Strangely enough, that was also at home to Detroit, just like Davis.
This has not just been a one-season blip either. The Patriots used Cordarelle in a similar role in 2018. The volume was not as large as what the Bears gave him. However, this highlighted Patterson’s potential as a run-game threat – and that should continue in 2021. In fact, when you look at the Falcon’s receiving threats and Patterson’s previous stat-lines, this could be the only area where he sees significant action.
The Falcons have made a few rookie signings to help address needs in this area. None of them came in the draft, but the first highlighted player is already turning some heads.
An undrafted rookie signing from Louisville, Hawkins has shown solid production in two of three college years. He exploded onto the scene in 2019, putting up 1525 yards off 264 carries (5.8ypc) and 9 touchdowns on his redshirt freshman year. This helped the Cardinals to a Music Bowl victory over Mississippi State.
While 2020 affected many player prospects, Hawkins remained deterred in his sophomore year. He only played 8 games, but they produced 822 yards and 7 touchdowns off 133 carries – equating to over 16.5 carries per game. So he knows volume.
And this usage is what makes Hawkins stands out – he ranks as 9th on the Louisville rushing yards list. There are many recognisable names on the rankings, including Lamar Jackson. Jackson stands out as first place – and shines even more so by putting up the record numbers in only three years of college. Those around him mainly did it in the full four years. But not Hawkins. He also ranked inside the top ten on just three college years.
In fact, there is scope to say that he really did it in two, as he only played twice (and carried twice for 8 yards) in his first season. So these make the stats even more appealing. And to get eligibility after just your sophomore year means more track on the tyres, and an easier mind to shape by NFL coaches.
He may not be as polished in the pass-catching side of the offense. But, looking at the college stats, there is no reason why he couldn’t slot in behind Davis as the team’s ground-and-pound RB2.