FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – There has been a good deal of speculation about what the addition of wide receiver Calvin Ridley could mean to the Falcons' offense this season, but at least one writer believes we shouldn't be too quick to overlook fourth-round running back Ito Smith's potential impact.
CBS Sports' Chris Trapasso recently published a piece highlighting the underrated rookies who could make an impact for their teams in 2018, and Smith was the first name on that list.
"Smith is definitely the type of running back the Falcons love, a fluid athlete with plus receiving skills. He had 132 receptions in his last three years at Southern Miss and averaged a whopping 10.3 yards per grab. Yes, he's squarely behind Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, but Atlanta does have 74 touches from 2017 to replace from Terron Ward and Taylor Gabriel. Smith is a bouncy jump-cut back ready to be an efficient offensive chess piece as a rookie. I could've included Atlanta's second-round pick, cornerback Isaiah Oliver here too. With the way the NFC South plays offense, stockpiling cornerbacks is almost a necessity. The Falcons got a good one in the former Colorado standout ... he can fly and tracks the football well."
Although the Falcons already have one of the NFL's top running back tandems in place with Freeman and Coleman, they like what they have in Smith.
In his four years at Southern Mississippi, Smith gained 4,538 rushing yards, 1,446 receiving yards and scored 49 touchdowns. His 5,984 combined yards from scrimmage are the 15th-most in FBS history, ahead of players such as Archie Griffin, LaDainian Tomlinson and Marcus Allen.
Among the qualities Smith possesses that impressed the Falcons most was his jump-cut ability, which is a necessity for running backs in the outside-zone scheme Atlanta employs. Watching Smith play, it's clear he excels in that regard, but that's not the only aspect of his game the Falcons like.
"He's got very good hands," Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said shortly after the team drafted him. "You know the factor of us using our running backs in all ways. Ito is certainly going to fit into that as well, running it, throwing it to him, all of the above. He's got real explosiveness. In our system, you have to really press and then make one cut as violently as you can and get vertical. I'm sure you guys saw some of the clips of him, that is 100 percent his strength. For Thomas and for myself, we look at the player for us and for the things we'll ask him to do. In this system, it's certainly a very good fit for us."