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Falcons 2020 roster outlook: 4 things to know about the running backs


Editor's note: This is part two of a series detailing each position group on the Falcons' 90-man roster.


By signing Todd Gurley, the Falcons added a two-time All-Pro and provided a major shakeup at the top of the running back depth chart. Atlanta's depth at the position remains largely unaffected by the move, but how swapping Devonta Freeman for Gurley plays out is something Falcons fans will be eagerly watching.

2019 returning production

Table inside Article
Player Games started Attempts Rushing yards Yards/attempt Touchdowns Catches Receiving yards Receiving TDs
Brian Hill 2 78 323 4.1 2 10 69 1
Ito Smith 0 22 106 4.8 1 11 87 0
Qadree Ollison 0 22 50 2.3 4 1 7 0

2019 incoming production

Table inside Article
Player Games started Attempts Rushing yards Yards/attempt Touchdowns Catches Receiving yards Receiving TDs
Todd Gurley 15 223 857 3.8 12 31 207 2

Here are four things to know about the Falcons' running backs heading into 2020:

1. Which Todd Gurley are the Falcons getting?

The discussion surrounding the status of Gurley's knee has been ongoing since he entered the league. He recently passed his physical with the Falcons, indicating the team feels comfortable with his health, but the version of Gurley who shows up in 2020 will go a long way towards determining the team's success.

At his best, Gurley is one of the most dominant players in the NFL. A two-time All-Pro and a legitimate MVP candidate in 2017 when he gained 2,093 yards from scrimmage and a league-high 19 touchdowns, Gurley has been one of the most productive running backs since entering the NFL in 2015. While undergoing load management in 2019, Gurley had one of the least productive seasons of his career, but the 25-year-old may benefit from that lighter load in 2020.

2. Who will get the No. 2 job?

After holding the No. 2 job for a good portion of the 2018 season, Ito Smith entered 2019 as Devonta Freeman's primary backup after Tevin Coleman left in free agency. Smith was an efficient runner during the first half of the 2019 season but never had a high volume of carries prior to sustaining a season-ending injury in Week 7.

Once Smith was sidelined, Brian Hill took over as Freeman's top backup. He ended the year as the Falcons' second-leading rusher and averaged more than 4 yards per carry. Hill has shown the propensity to rattle off some long runs when he gets a head of steam, and his running style is more similar to Gurley's than Smith's. Both Hill and Smith have a good case for being Gurley's primary backup, and it will likely be one of the most competitive camp battles.

3. Can Ollison be more than a short-yardage back?

As a rookie, Qadree Ollison emerged as the team's goal line running back and finished the year with a team-high four rushing touchdowns. Ollison was a productive college running back and a popular draft pick a year ago among the fan base. At the very least, he adds quality depth to the Falcons' rotation, but does he have the capability for more in 2020?

Like Hill, Ollison has a similar frame and running style to Gurley. He's a tough runner who drew praise for his savvy as a pass protector in college, setting himself up for a variety of roles with the Falcons. Ollison performed well in an important role for Atlanta last season, and he may be in line for bigger things this fall – if there is room for him in a crowded backfield.

4. Mikey Daniel will be a UDFA to keep an eye on

One of the most interesting college free agents to watch this offseason will be Mikey Daniel. During his four seasons at South Dakota State, Daniel carried the ball 364 times for 1,728 yards and 29 touchdowns. Daniel operated in a crowded backfield while at SDSU, but he emerged as the team's short-yardage and goal line running back while also showcasing enough speed and vision to break some longer gains.

The 6-foot-2, 235-pound Daniel had stated prior to the draft that he would be willing to transition to fullback in the NFL to have a better shot at landing on a roster. The Falcons already have Keith Smith at fullback, but it will be interesting to see where they work Daniel most heavily during training camp and in the preseason. His versatility is something the Falcons could fall in love with.

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