Even with the loss of Tevin Coleman, the Atlanta Falcons feel good about their depth behind Devonta Freeman.
Last year started to go off the rails for Devonta Freeman early with a preseason knee injury, and then a groin issue that required surgery sidelined him after just two games. But at the dawn of Falcons’ training camp Monday, Freeman’s status as the team’s No. 1 running back is being stamped as unquestioned.
Tevin Coleman formed a productive backfield duo for the Falcons with Freeman over the last four seasons, and filled in capably when called upon for a bigger role. But he signed with the San Francisco 49ers in free agency. There’s no way to easily (or singularly) replace Coleman’s production, but head coach Dan Quinn has hinted at what the plan will be behind Freeman this season when speaking about the running back situation.
It’s a position that has good talent for us,” Quinn said of the backs. “And now to be talented as a group, it may be a combination of those roles and featuring what those guys can do best … That’s deeper than we’ve been at that position for a while, and I’m looking forward to the unique stuff that the guys do have.
Ito Smith is most directly in line for more work behind Freeman as the favorite to be Atlanta’s No. 2 back. He saw a fair amount of action as a rookie last year, but was mostly unimpressive as he averaged 3.5 yards per carry with four touchdowns on the ground along with 27 receptions over 14 games. Brian Hill (20 carries for 157 yards) is another holdover from last year’s roster.
Kenjon Barner was signed as a free agent, and Atlanta drafted Qadree Ollison in the fifth round of April’s draft. Ollison had over 1,100 rushing yards in each of his two seasons as a starter at Pitt, but he is not considered a dynamic athlete and a report out of OTAs pointed to him competing with Hill for a roster spot. Barner has intriguing talent from a certain perspective, but he’s become a journeyman and he’s not guaranteed to make the 53-man roster
Freeman has started all 16 games just once in his career, due to a variety of injuries and notably including multiple concussions. So it behooves the Falcons to have good depth behind him, and at this point they’re attacking the idea with numbers and camp competition after losing Coleman.