Cordarrelle Patterson and Kyle Pitts are the cornerstones of the Atlanta Falcons’ offense. Patterson’s versatility as both a talented running back and gifted wide receiver helped him impact defenses in both phases last season.
Meanwhile, Pitts is the lone, elite pass-catcher on the team after the tight end enjoyed a record-breaking rookie season in 2021. Pitts and Patterson have something else in common. They are connected, in different ways, to an intriguing draft prospect the Falcons are said to be ‘high’ on.
This prospect is one of the more intriguing playmakers in the rookie class of 2022. Like Patterson, he can play multiple roles, but this player models himself on Deebo Samuel, the dual running and receiving threat who wants to be traded by the San Francisco 49ers and has been mentioned in connection with the Falcons.
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Falcons Keen on ‘Gadget Weapon’
Falcons analyst and Stacking the Board writer Cam Marino has named Virginia Tech’s Raheem Blackshear as a name to keep an eye on ahead of this year’s draft. Marino also highlighted Blackshear’s links to Pitts:
Aside from Blackshear’s history with Pitts, what stands out here is Marino’s description of the latter as a “gadget weapon” similar to Patterson. It’s an accurate definition of the type of player becoming increasingly popular in today’s NFL offenses.
The Falcons played their part in establishing this trend last season, when first-year head coach Arthur Smith and offensive coordinator Dave Ragone used all of Patterson’s skills. Patterson become the focal point, both on the ground and through the air.
He rushed for 610 yards and six touchdowns on 153 carries, while also snatching 52 receptions for 548 yards and five scores. Blackshear’s final year of production with the Hokies compared favorably with Patterson’s numbers. He rushed for 757 yards and six touchdowns on 133 carries, in addition to making 25 catches for 249 and one score, per Sports Reference.
The numbers, along with Blackshear’s flair in the return game, prompted Draft Wire analyst Jacob Infante to make another comparison, this one involved a former Super Bowl champion:
Whether it’s Patterson or Sproles, who won Super Bowl LII with the Philadelphia Eagles, Blackshear sees himself as being more similar to Samuel.
He explained how he compares to the 49ers’ ace, per Pro Football Network’s Mike Kaye: “I look at myself as like a Deebo Samuel. A person who can play running back and slot receiver. Also, I can play special teams, so kick return [and] punt return. Teams have said they want to utilize me all over the field as a running back who can catch the ball out of the backfield and run downhill.”
Selecting Blackshear during draft weekend could give the Falcons a player with Samuel’s skills without the cost it would take to trade for the established star.
Falcons Already Named Among Samuel Suitors
Samuel has asked the Niners to trade him, according to ESPN’s Jeff Darlington. It didn’t take long for the Falcons to be named among the wideout’s possible suitors.
First, Pro Football Talk Mike Florio mentioned the Falcons in a list of nine teams who should be interested in striking a deal. Then, Marino named the Falcons, alongside the New York Jets, as teams who quickly made calls to the 49ers about Samuel’s availability.
Yet, Samuel may have grown tired of being used so often as a running back, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, who also told NFL Total Access, “it is going to be extremely expensive to pull off this deal.”
The Falcons don’t have the resources for an expensive deal. Not when Spotrac.com projects the team to be just $2,542,917 under the salary cap.
Also, Smith and Ragone would surely want to use Samuel the same way the 49ers did, even though the Falcons lack a true No. 1 wide receiver. This is an offense set to be based around roving talents, including the rushing exploits of quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Adding Blackshear to a group headlined by Pitts and Patterson, but also featuring speedy slot receiver Damiere Byrd and versatile running back Damien Williams, would complete a cost-effective revamp of the Falcons’ skill positions this offseason.