Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot have done all they can to ensure the Atlanta Falcons can feature the running game during the 2022 NFL season. The head coach and general manager committed resources in both free agency and the draft to beefing up their options in the backfield.
Smith and Fontenot’s foray into the free-agent market yielded a former Super Bowl-winning starter. He ought to be a lock to take plenty of carries away from Cordarrelle Patterson, but instead, this veteran’s spot on the roster could be under threat from an unlikely source.
One Falcons beat writer believes a player undergoing a tricky position switch this offseason could push the established running back off of the depth chart altogether.
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Former Super Bowl Champ’s Job Is In Danger
In his preview of the Falcons’ running back situation ahead of training camp, Josh Kendall of The Athletic examined Damien Williams’ chances of sticking on the roster. Specifically, Kendall outlined how the presence of converted defensive back Avery Williams could curtail the veteran’s career in Atlanta before it gets started: “If Atlanta keeps only three tailbacks then Williams, who was signed as a free agent in the offseason, could be competing for a roster spot with second-year pro Avery Williams. Avery Williams was converted from defensive back to running back in the offseason and also was the Falcons starting punt returner last year. If Avery Williams can prove his worth in that punt return spot this year, he’ll have a decided advantage over Damien Williams.”
It’s a reasonable argument, especially given the obvious upside of keeping a player who could contribute in multiple spots. Yet, it would be beyond disappointing for the Falcons to have to dump Damien Williams before he takes a handoff in a competitive game for the team.
The 30-year-old should have a ton of value for the Falcons after arriving from the Chicago Bears on a one-year deal back in March. First, there’s his championship experience.
This was one of many clutch plays during the Chiefs’ postseason run. A rebuilding team like the Falcons needs players who have delivered in the biggest games and can impart that experience to the younger, developing talents.
Running backs coach Michael Pitre endorsed these vital attributes in Williams’ game back in June, per Falcons Digital Managing Editor Scott Bair: “He’s a leader. He’s extremely hard-working. He’s a good teammate who is going to encourage and push the group with standards and expectations that we’re looking for.”
Pitre also highlighted Williams’ versatility and the “creative ways” Smith and offensive coordinator Dave Ragone can use him. Those ways will involve making use of Williams’ skills in the passing game, where he’s been productive dating back to his peak with the Chiefs:
During his time with the Chiefs, Williams caught 53 passes and four touchdowns. Williams added another scoring reception for the Bears last season after opting out of the 2020 campaign during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Williams hasn’t played a lot of football in the last two years, but his ability to make an impact in both phases of the offense is expected to ease the burden on Patterson. The former wide receiver carried the load on the ground for the Falcons last season, but Kendall believes it’s “overly optimistic” to anticipate Patterson doing the same again.
That should open the door for Williams, but the door will slam shut if two younger runners make their mark during camp.
Position Switch and Rookie Workhorse Threats to Williams’ Job
Patterson may no longer be the lead back, but any reduction in his role could be due to how successfully Avery Williams transitions to playing offense. The Falcons decided to switch the ex-Boise State DB and return man to the running game this offseason.
It’s a move based, in part, on Williams the younger’s past experience at the position. As Tori McElhaney detailed for the team’s official site, Williams was a star running back at JSerra Catholic High School before arriving at Boise State as a walk-on RB.
Williams has a lot to do to prove he can effectively return to his old position at the pro level, but this switch has one obvious potential benefit, according to Doug Kyed of Pro Football Focus:
Adding more speed to the ground game is no bad thing, and there’s more big-play capability from rookie Tyler Allgeier. The team’s fifth-round pick in this year’s draft rushed for 1,601 yards and 28 touchdowns during his final season at BYU.
Allgeier is a true bell-cow back capable of handling 25-30 carries per game. He’s already becoming a favorite with fantasy football analysts, including The Fresh Fantasy Podcast host Alex Caruso:
Atlanta’s rookies report to camp on Tuesday, July 19, a week before the veterans arrive, so Allgeier will get his chance early to turn heads among the coaching staff. If he succeeds, the Falcons will have some tough choices to make about the rest of the rotation.
Williams will be in trouble if that happens, especially if his namesake’s flair as a returner is deemed too good to dump him. Ultimately though, the Falcons still need a reliable veteran to handle the rushing chores even in a backfield committee. So keeping four running backs is a possibility, especially since it would free Patterson to feature as a receiver more often.