FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The 2018 NFL combine has come and gone, but the evaluation of prospects for the upcoming draft never ends.
Although the Falcons have one of the NFL's best running back duos with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, they could opt to draft a player at the position for the second year in a row. With Freeman signed to a five-year extension prior to the 2017 season, many have speculated that Coleman may be too expensive for the Falcons to re-sign.
General manager Thomas Dimitroff said during the end-of-season press conference that he believes there is a "realistic" chance to keep the two running backs moving forward, but it wouldn't be a total shock to see the Falcons address the position in the draft.
The real question is if the Falcons do opt to draft a running back, when would they do so? This year's running back class is very deep, and a quality player could still be available in the later rounds. I've identified a few players who could fit what the Falcons do on offense, here they are, listed in alphabetical order:
Dimitri Flowers, FB, Oklahoma:With fullback Derrick Coleman expected to hit free agency, the Falcons will likely be looking for another fullback to block for Freeman and Coleman. Flowers was one of the very best fullbacks at the college level, but he also has impressive athleticism, as evidenced by his 22-carry, 115-yard performance at running back against Iowa State. If Flowers is available on Day 3, the Falcons may make a move to secure a starting fullback.
- Comparable: Not available
- Why he's a good fit for the Falcons: While Flowers will help as a lead blocker and can carry the ball in short-yardage situations, his ability to contribute as a receiver may be his most enticing quality. The Falcons used former fullback Patrick DiMarco as a receiver in the flat effectively in 2016, and Flowers can do much of the same.
Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon:Freeman was a very productive back during his time at Oregon, where he gained 4,264 yards and scored 42 touchdowns in just three years. A lot of mileage in his college career as well as a knee injury in 2016 that sapped his explosiveness could cause him to drop into Day 2 or Day 3, but he could step in right away and make an impact in the Falcons' scheme.
- Comparable: D'Onta Foreman
- Why he's a good fit for the Falcons: The Falcons' outside zone run scheme calls for a player who can read cutback lanes and accelerate through the hole, which Freeman has shown he can do very well.
Fantastic rep by Kerryon Johnson. Sells the route with sunken hips, a jab step, and a head fake on the top. Pause and watch his eyes at the catch point though, looks in the ball the entire way. Not flustered w/ a high pass, RBs sometimes lack that sudden adaptability, great job. pic.twitter.com/J0xFUu4js6 — Cagen Cantrell (@CeeingTheDraft) March 2, 2018
Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn:One of the best running backs in college football in 2017, Johnson gained 1,394 yards and 18 touchdowns while averaging 4.9 yards per carry. Notably, Johnson's NFL.com draft profile compares him to Tevin Coleman, recognizing his ability to change his running tempo in the blink of an eye and glide through the hole as it develops. Johnson is projected to go off the board before the Falcons pick, but if he begins to slide, he's certainly a player to keep an eye on.
- Comparable: Tevin Coleman
- Why he's a good fit for the Falcons: As if drawing comparisons to Coleman isn't enough, Johnson is great at manipulating defenders by subtly shifting his own speed. He's a strong runner, and he can also add value as a receiver.
Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State:Penny ran the third-fastest 40-yard dash among running backs at the combine, completing the event in 4.46 seconds. He has nice vision that can help him find the open lane in a zone scheme and is a hard runner who will break arm tackles. Making him even more attractive is his ability to add something in the return game. Penny averaged a whopping 30.2 yards per kickoff return in his 81 career returns at San Diego State, and he scored seven touchdowns on kickoff returns.
- Comparable: Javorius Allen
- Why he's a good fit for the Falcons: The balance of having Freeman as the shifty, fluid runner and Coleman as the home-run hitter has worked for the Falcons so far. Penny brings that home-run hitter skillset. Plus, his short-area quickness makes him a nice zone-scheme runner.
It's good to see Roc Thomas finally getting some buzz. He's a good prospect. With a good Combine, he has a chance to position himself to be a mid-to-late round pick.
Roc Thomas, RB, Jacksonville State:If the Falcons are looking for a player late in the draft, Thomas, who is currently projected to go in the fifth round, may be an option. Although he didn't have many carries or much production in college, something common in the backs the Falcons have recently drafted, Thomas has the raw tools to be an effective player in a zone scheme.
- Comparable: Elijah McGuire
- Why he's a good fit for the Falcons: Thomas may be a bit of a project, but the Falcons have the luxury of letting him learn beside two of the best backs in the NFL. He's a very good athlete whose biggest issues, patience and discipline, can be worked on.