Falcons’ 2018 unit-by-unit analysis: The running backs 

The Falcons were projected to compete for the Super Bowl title, but injuries robbed the team of key players on defense.

The Falcons stumbled out of the gate, but regrouped as they were 4-4 at the halfway point. But a lackluster performance in Cleveland led to a five-game losing streak.

The team closed with three straight wins, but that wasn’t enough to save the jobs of coordinators Steve Sarkisian, Marquand Manuel and Keith Armstrong. 

Here's the second installment of our unit-by-unit review of the 2018 team. Today, the running backs:

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

RUNNING BACKS

Who: Tevin Coleman, Ito Smith, Brian Hill, Jeremy Langford, Devonta Freeman, fullback Ricky Ortiz

Contract/free agent situation: Coleman appears headed to free agency. The Falcons gave Freeman a six-year, $41.25 million deal in 2017. Coleman is worth a four-year $30 million deal similar to that the 49ers gave Jerick McKinnon. That’s likely too much money to put into the backfield when the offensive line needs to be fixed. Freeman, Smith and Hill figure to be the top three backs in 2019.

What they did in season: The speedy Coleman led the way with 199 touches (167 runs, 32 receptions) for 1,076 yards (800 rushing, 276 receiving) and nine touchdowns (four rushing, five receiving). Freeman was slowed by knee and groin injuries. He played in just two games and was placed on injured reserve.

Smith served as the primary backup to Coleman following the injury to Freeman.

Smith had a fine rookie campaign before suffering a season-ending knee injury. He had 90 carries for 315 yards and four rushing touchdowns. He caught 27 passes for 152 yards. 

He ran well in between the tackles and impressed the coaching staff. 

“I am happy with the progress that he’s made,” said coach Dan Quinn before placing Smith on injured reserve with two games to play. “Obviously, with Devonta going down, his role significantly increased. Like with any rookie there are some proving moments. That happened.”

The Falcons thought he’d fit nicely in their system.

“I thought not only did he show he belongs, but this is the offense that he can thrive in,” Quinn said. “He can catch. He can run zone. He can make people miss. I think he’s got a good future.”

Hill played well down the stretch and had a powerful run against the Panthers.

Ortiz needs to improve his lead blocking. Grade: B

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

Monday: Quarterbacks

Tuesday: Running backs

Wednesday: Offensive line

Thursday: Wide receivers

Friday: Tight ends

Next Week: Defense/Special teams

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