The Falcons opted not to draft a running back during the 2021 NFL Draft when many believed they might. Head coach Arthur Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot stayed true to their best player available approach and the board didn't necessarily fall in the favor of a running back.
After three consecutive seasons of a below average rushing attack, one of Smith's biggest tasks will be getting Atlanta's run game back on track. The Falcons have yet to solidify the No. 1 running back spot but with the team signing Mike Davis to a two-year deal in free agency this offseason, all eyes point to him being the person most likely to win the job.
In addition to Davis, the Falcons have Cordarrelle Patterson, Qadree Ollison, Tony Brooks-James, Caleb Huntley and Javian Hawkins at the position. And according to new running backs coach Desmond Kitchings, the competition will be in full force.
Davis played in 15 games with the Panthers in 2020 and rushed for 642 yards on 165 carries and six touchdowns. Patterson was signed in free agency after playing wide receiver for most of his career but will transition to the running backs room with the Falcons. Ollison was a fifth-round draft pick in 2019 and has played in 11 games over the last two seasons. Brooks-James spent the final five games of the 2020 season on Atlanta's practice squad.
Kitchings believes his room is full of players who will enter training camp ready to battle it out for roster spots.
"You look at my room, I have some guys who still probably should have a chip on their shoulders to prove themselves," Kitchings said. "Mike (Davis) got an opportunity last year, but he hasn't really been a feature guy. Patterson is transitioning in his role. You have some guys like Qadree Ollison and Tony Brooks James and these rookie free agents, they all should be chomping at the bit to prove they are a caliber game to help this team go win games as a ball carrier, pass protector and pass receiver out of the backfield."
Smith and Fonenot have said their depth chart will be fluid and no position is ever untouchable. Competition will be the central theme of Smith's program and the battles that will take place in the running backs room might be some of the most intriguing as the offseason gets underway.
"We didn't draft a running back … so, if I'm in the room, personally, I'm seeing this opportunity like it's an open-door policy, let's go out here and compete" Kitchings said.