Atlanta Falcons’ 90-man roster analysis: The running backs

Falcons running backs Caleb Huntley (from left), Qadree Ollison, Mike Davis and Tony Brooks-James get in some work during organize team activities (OTAs) Tuesday, May 25, 2021, at the team training facility in Flowery Branch. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Caption
Falcons running backs Caleb Huntley (from left), Qadree Ollison, Mike Davis and Tony Brooks-James get in some work during organize team activities (OTAs) Tuesday, May 25, 2021, at the team training facility in Flowery Branch. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Editor’s note: This is the second of an eight-part, position-by-position series analyzing the Falcons’ roster before they report for training camp Tuesday.

The Falcons’ new regime nearly cleaned out the running back meeting room and signed local product Mike Davis in free agency.

They didn’t re-sign Todd Gurley and Brian Hill and cut Ito Smith. All three were the RB1 at different junctures last season with the Falcons as the team finished ranked 27th of 32 NFL teams in rushing.

“Running the football is an attitude, and that’s going to start obviously up front,” Running backs coach Desmond Kitchings said. “It’s an attitude to come out and establish the line of scrimmage as a ball carrier being fast and physical ... (exerting) our will on our opponents and trying to create an advantage in the run game for us.”

Davis, who played at Stephenson High and South Carolina, is with his fifth NFL team. He was drafted in the fourth round of the 2015 draft by San Francisco. He’s rushed 412 times for 1,531 yards (3.7) and 11 touchdowns over his career with San Francisco (2015-16), Seattle (2017-18), Carolina and Chicago (2019) and Carolina (2020).

Davis rushed 165 times for 642 yards and scored six touchdowns for the Panthers last season. He added 59 catches for 373 yards and two touchdowns. He signed a two-year, $5.5 million deal by the Falcons.

“Mike does play the game physical with breaking tackles,” Kitchings said. “I think Mike also has some very good short-area change of direction and ability to make some guys miss in the open field.”

Credit: AJC

Caption
New Falcons running backs coach Desmond Kitchings highlights the players he'll be getting ready for 2021 season.

Credit: AJC

Davis hopes to take his place along some of the Falcons’ great running backs.

“Of course, I watched Warrick Dunn a lot,” Davis said. “He was able to juke everybody, catch it out of the backfield and do it all. I liked Michael Turner and Steven Jackson. My favorite though, I would probably have to go with Warrick Dunn.”

In addition to Davis, the Falcons retained the seldom-used Qadree Ollison, signed former wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson as a running back, brought back practice-squad player Tony Brooks-James and signed undrafted running backs Javian Hawkins and Caleb Huntley.

Falcons coach Arthur Smith had running back Derrick Henry to anchor the Tennessee offense. He’ll have Davis, who had over 1,000 total yards last season with the Panthers, head up the committee. Ollison had a strong offseason and will enter camp second on the projected depth chart followed by Patterson.

“Ollison, some familiarity there, having played against him I believe it was 2017 at Pitt when I was at North Carolina State,” Kitchings said. “He had a productive career there. His running backs coach and I are good buddies. So, I’ve got some really good background on him.”

Ollison, who was taken in the fifth round (152nd overall) of the 2019 draft, showed promise as a short-yardage runner as a rookie. He rushed 22 times for 50 yards and four touchdowns.

Last season, in part because he was labeled as a poor pass-protector, he only had one carry for three yards and only played in three games.

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan hands off to running back Qadree Ollison (30) while running offensive drills during team practice at minicamp Wednesday, June 10, 2021, in Flowery Branch. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Caption
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan hands off to running back Qadree Ollison (30) while running offensive drills during team practice at minicamp Wednesday, June 10, 2021, in Flowery Branch. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

“He’s a guy here in his third year, he should capitalize on his opportunity coming up to help us win some games,” Kitchings said. “Big-body guy, played in a pro-styled offense in college. Hopefully, he can be productive for us going forward.”

Patterson, a four-time All-Pro special-teams player as a kickoff returner, rushed a career-high 64 times last season with the Bears. He gained 232 yards and scored a touchdown.

Over his career, he’s rushed 167 times for 1,017 yards and eight touchdowns. He was drafted as a wide receiver in the first round (29th) of the 2013 draft by the Vikings after playing in the SEC at Tennessee.

“You look at the last two to three years of his career, he’s kind of evolved more into that running back (role),” Kitchings said. “He’s had some production up in New England and this past year with Chicago.”

Patterson has averaged 29.8 yards over 239 career kickoff returns. He also has scored eight touchdowns.

“When you study his film, he runs like a running back,” Kitchings said. “I think some of that is attributed to his style as being a kick returner and the success he’s had there as a vertical, downhill guy that plays physical.”

Falcons running back Cordarrelle Patterson runs for yardage during team practice at minicamp Wednesday, June 10, 2021, in Flowery Branch. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Caption
Falcons running back Cordarrelle Patterson runs for yardage during team practice at minicamp Wednesday, June 10, 2021, in Flowery Branch. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Patterson is listed at 227 pounds by the Falcons.

“He’s a big back with some good speed,” Kitchings said. “Obviously, he has the ability to catch the football out of the backfield and create some potential matchup advantages for us in the passing game.”

Huntley, who’s from Locust Grove and played at Ball State, also is a slightly bigger back at 229 pounds. He rushed 576 times for 2,902 yards and 21 touchdowns in college.

“He brings more physicality,” Kitchings said. “He’s a bigger back with quick feet.”

Brooks-James (179 pounds) and Hawkins (185) are smaller backs.

“Hawkins brings an element that we don’t have in the room right now from the speed standpoint,” Kitchings said. “He has elite speed. The ability to create some explosive big-plays, that was appealing to add him as an undrafted free agent. He’s tough for his size.”

Atlanta Falcons’ 90-man roster analysis:

Part 1: Quarterbacks

Part 2: Running Backs

Part 3: Offensive line

Part 4: Special Teams

Part 5: Wide receivers/Tight ends

Part 6: Defensive line

Part 7: Linebackers

Part 8: Secondary

Credit: AJC

Caption
New Falcons running backs coach Desmond Kitching highlights the players he'll be getting ready for 2021 season.

Credit: AJC

Here’s a look at the projected depth chart heading into training camp:

OFFENSE

WR 18 Calvin Ridley, 83 Tajae Sharpe, 88 Frank Darby, 13 Christian Blake, 86 Antonio Nunn

WR 14 Russell Gage, 17 Olamide Zaccheaus, 12 Chris Rowland, 82 Austin Trammell, Jeff Badet

LT 70 Jake Matthews, 74 William Sweet, 72 Willie Beavers

LG 68 Josh Andrews, 77 Jalen Mayfield, 66 Willie Wright, 62 Bryce Hargrove

C 61 Matt Hennessy, 67 Drew Dalman, 65 Joe Sculthorpe

RG 63 Chris Lindstrom, 64 Ryan Neuzil, 75 Kion Smith, 71 Sam Jones

RT 76 Kaleb McGary, 73 Matt Gono, 77 Jalen Mayfield

TE 8 Kyle Pitts, 81 Hayden Hurst, 85 Lee Smith, 87 Jaeden Graham, 46 Parker Hesse, 80 Ryan Becker, 89 John Raine

QB 2 Matt Ryan, 5 AJ McCarron, 15 Feleipe Franks

HB 28 Mike Davis, 30 Qadree Ollison, 84 Cordarrelle Patterson, 36 Tony Brooks-James, 25 Javian Hawkins, 42 Caleb Huntley

FB 40 Keith Smith

DEFENSE

DL 90 Marlon Davidson, 55 Steven Means, 95 Ta’Quon Graham, 79 Chris Slayton

DL 97 Grady Jarrett, 93 Zac Dawe, 94 Deadrin Senat, John Atkins

DL 96 Tyeler Davison, 50 John Cominsky, 99 Jonathan Bullard, 69 Olive Sagapolu

OLB 56 Dante Fowler, 92 Adetokunbo Ogundeji, Shareef Miller

ILB 45 Deion Jones, 51 Brandon Copeland, 53 Erroll Thompson

ILB 54 Foyesade Oluokun, 43 Mykal Walker, 48 Dorian Etheridge

OLB 91 Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, 49 Kobe Jones, George Obinna

RCB 22 Fabian Moreau, 20 Kendall Sheffield, 29 Chris Williamson

LCB 24 A.J. Terrell, 33 Tyler Hall, 34 Darren Hall, 38 Marcus Murphy, 41 J.R. Pace

NCB 26 Isaiah Oliver, 25 Delrick Abrams, 35 Avery Williams

FS 23 Erik Harris, 27 Richie Grant, 37 Dwayne Johnson

SS 21 Duron Harmon, 32 Jaylinn Hawkins, 39 T.J. Green, 38 Marcus Murphy

SPECIALISTS

K 7 Younghoe Koo

P 4 Sterling Hofrichter, 9 Dom Maggio

LS 47 Josh Harris

KO 7 Younghoe Koo

KR 84 Cordarrelle Patterson, 12 Chris Rowland, 35 Avery Williams

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