Knee Deep in Muddy Backfields: The Falcons

After the NFL draft, there are quite a few backfields without a clear picture of who the workload is going to fall on. While it’s possible some backfields may continue as committees, more than likely, a few of them will have one guy receive a large volume of the work. That’s what I’m aiming to dive into in this series: who will emerge from the muddy backfields and cement their place as a fantasy value this season?

Luckily, JJ Zachariason has already put in the research to show us what to look for. Even though his research is primarily for redraft, we can apply it to dynasty as well. Breakout running backs typically aren’t handcuffs. They come from ambiguous backfields and are oftentimes drafted as the 2nd back from their team. Pass catchers have an easier route to breakout, as there is typically a three rush to one reception workload ratio. Most importantly, age doesn’t matter. Players in their 5th year are just as likely as rookies to break out in these situations.

Current Depth Chart

The only Falcon with meaningful rushing numbers that returns to the team is Matt Ryan. Todd Gurley and Ito Smith are both free agents, and Brian Hill is a Titan. The Falcons return Tony Brooks-James and Qadree Ollison, but neither one has contributed much to the franchise at this point in their careers. The biggest name in the Falcons backfield is Mike Davis, who they signed to a two-year $5,500,000 contract this past offseason. The team also signed Cordarrelle Patterson, a converted wide receiver who saw 64 carries with the Bears last season. Not to be lost in the fray, are UDFAs Javian Hawkins and Caleb Huntley.

  1. Mike Davis
  2. ???
  3. ???
  4. ???

I’m not going to lie to you. I have no idea what the Falcons are doing with their backfield, but one thing seems certain, it’s Davis’ job to lose.

Lead Back or Committee?

The Falcons hired Arthur Smith, former Titans offensive coordinator, as their newest head coach this offseason. While it is expected he’ll put a similar offense in place in Atlanta, he simply doesn’t have the same weapons. It’s great to be able to say, “So-and-so is going to be the Derrick Henry in the Falcons offense,” but I don’t think it’s fair. Derrick Henry is an athletic freak; he’s 6’3, 247 lbs., and runs a 4.5. The Falcons don’t have that on their roster. I do expect him to establish the run in order to create play-action passing opportunities. 

Last season Mike Davis showed he could handle a workhorse load taking 224 touches for 1,015 yards and eight touchdowns. Even though he’ll be 28 entering the season, he’s the only player on the roster that has shown he can handle a full workload.

Smith’s offense gave Henry 378 carries in 2020 and 303 in 2019. While I don’t believe Atlanta has a guy that can handle that much work, the fact remains, there will be plenty of opportunities to go around.

Who Do I Roster?

The easy answer is Mike Davis. Since he’s older you can get him for relatively cheap. If you’re a competing team, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to trade a 2nd round rookie pick just to have the added depth. If you’re in a rebuild, you should be looking to move him sooner rather than later.

The real values come from the remainder of the Falcons bench. Ollison couldn’t beat out the likes of Ito Smith and Brian Hill, so I don’t expect him to suddenly have everything fall into place. Patterson was not great for the Bears last season. Despite being a great special teams piece, his contributions on offense aren’t great for fantasy. Javian Hawkins is undersized and may not be able to handle the full workload.

The guy I’m stashing through the offseason is Caleb Huntley. He isn’t blowing anyone away athletically, but he is a power runner that got downhill fast in college. He saw 576 carries in 33 college games at Ball State. In 2020 he went over 100 yards in the three games he played. As I said, he isn’t a freak athlete, so he could end up not even making the final roster, but he’s basically free, and I think he has as good a chance as anyone else to handle the bulk of work.

Thanks for reading! If you have any fantasy questions, reach out to me on Twitter @fantasyonefive, and be sure to check out the rest of my work on DFF!


Copy Editor for @DFF_Dynasty and host of Fantasy Fifteen, a #FantasyFootballAdvice show answering all your #fantasyfootball questions in 15 minutes or less.

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