Editor's Note: The 'Falcons Breakdown' series analyzes the state of every position group in Atlanta. We'll take a look back at the group's overall production in 2022, who we think will stay in 2023 and who could be on the chopping block. We'll also pinpoint the position's biggest question of the offseason. We've already analyzed the quarterback position, now we'll take a deeper dive into one of the Falcons most productive position groups of 2022: The running backs.
For the first time in a decade, the Falcons can say they are a run-first, run-often and run-productively team.
From the start of the 2022 season until the end, the Falcons put together one of the league's best rushing attacks, consistently ranking in the top five across the league in rushing yards per game and yards per carry average. By the season's end, Atlanta had the third-best rushing defense in yards per game average (159.9). They also had the fourth-best yards per attempt average (4.9) which was a full yard more than it was a year before (3.7).
- Falcons positional breakdown: Quarterbacks
- Rookie Review: Desmond Ridder
- Defensive coordinator interview reports: Vic Fangio, Al Holcomb
- State of Falcons salary cap entering 2023 offseason
The progress Atlanta saw in its rushing attack in 2022 was significant. So much so, that by the end of the season, it brought comfort to a first-time starter at quarterback.
In Desmond Ridder's first start in Week 15, Tyler Allgeier ran for a career-high 139 yards on 17 carries.
"Every time you hand the ball off, you're expecting that he's going to make one guy miss," Ridder said about Allgeier. "You know it's going to take more than one guy to tackle him and bring him down. That's almost a security to just hand the ball off and know that he's going to get positive yards."
Allgeier's evolution in 2022 also helped Cordarrelle Patterson, too, who saw his role in the offense become more versatile as the year went on.
If 2022 showed us anything, it's that the Falcons identity lies in physicality. That was shown every time the Falcons ran the ball. A lot should (and will) be said about the offensive line's role in this, but for right now, let's take a look at the running backs and the record-setting year they had in Atlanta.
Tyler Allgeier: 16 games | 210 carries for 1,035 rushing yards | 4.93 yards per carry average | three rushing touchdowns | zero fumbles | 16 catches for 139 receiving yards | one receiving touchdown | broke the franchise record for most rushing yards by a rookie in their first season
Cordarrelle Patterson: 13 games | 144 carries for 695 rushing yards | 4.83 yards per carry average | eight rushing touchdowns | one fumble | 21 catches for 122 receiving yards
Caleb Huntley: 12 games | 76 carries for 366 rushing yards | 4.82 yards per carry average | one rushing touchdown | one fumble
Avery Williams: 17 games | 22 carries for 109 rushing yards | 4.95 yards per carry average | one rushing touchdown | one fumble | 13 catches for 61 receiving yards | one receiving touchdown
Who stays: Allgeier, Patterson, Huntley and Williams
On the chopping block: No one
This may be a little bit of a hot take but I don't see the Falcons parting ways with anyone in this room in 2023. They were too good as a collective unit in 2022 to change it up now. Patterson will be on the last year of his two-year contact. He has said time and time again he'd like to not only stay in Atlanta, but potentially retire here.
Allgeier was one of the biggest surprises of the 2022 season. He morphed into the Falcons feature back by the season's end. The expectation should be that he remains in that role through the 2023 offseason.
Williams true bread and butter lies within his role on special teams. He was used sparingly as a running back and receiver throughout the year, but he'll continue to take up a running back spot on the 53-man roster thanks in part to what he provides the Falcons as a return man. He finished 2022 averaging just over 16 yards per punt return. That average led the league by a significant margin when the regular season came to a close. So, no, he's not going anywhere, either.
That leaves Huntley. After earning a spot on the practice squad to start the year, Huntley became a reliable and physical runner for the Falcons when Patterson was placed on injured reserve in the middle of the season. Huntley - or "Duke" as Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith call him - earned a spot on the 53-man roster with his production during that time. When Patterson returned, Huntley's carries dropped slightly to account for three healthy running backs, but his production didn't.
Huntley suffered a season-ending Achilles injury at the beginning of the Falcons Week 15 game against the Saints. Smith called it one of the craziest injuries he's ever seen as Huntley stayed on the field until the drive ended because Smith wanted to go hurry-up to start that game. Huntley underwent surgery to repair his Achilles soon after.
If Huntley's rehab goes well, there's no reason to believe the Falcons won't bring him back in 2023.
Biggest offseason question: With this position group the question isn't really about personnel, who we could we see in this room or who we won't. The question is this: Can the Falcons sustain the success the run game saw in 2022 into a new year?
It's likely the Falcons could see changes across their offensive line. Kaleb McGary is on contract year and Elijah Wilkinson was only on a one-year deal in 2022. If that happens and changes come, how does it affect the running backs and what they can do? The Falcons offense may also operate in a different capacity according to the quarterback they decide to start in 2023. How would that decision alter the usage of this group? Those are the questions.
Join us as we take a look back at our favorite photos from the 2022 Atlanta Falcons season.