Running an offense without the talent/production of Derrick Henry is going to be an adjustment for new Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith. During the two years Smith served as offensive coordinator for the Titans, Henry amassed a truly astonishing total of 681 carries for 3,567 yards and 33 touchdowns.
Without Henry’s first-team All-Pro talent/production, Smith has already indicated that he plans to take a backfield-by-committee approach. “We’re not going to have Derrick Henry here, so it’s not like I think we’re going to have Derrick Henry and hand it off and watch him stiff-arm 15 people and go 99 [yards]. You’d love to have that but that’s not reality,” he said last week.
Leonard Fournette: A Free Agent With Boom/Bust Potential?
In an article published on Friday at NFL.com, analyst Gil Brandt suggests that the Falcons sign unrestricted free agent running back Leonard Fournette to be part of that committee, arguing that he has boom/bust potential in Smith’s offense.
The “boom scenario” is that “Fournette picks up right where he left off in the playoffs (448 yards from scrimmage and four total touchdowns in four postseason games), further reestablishing himself as a premier NFL running back after resurrecting his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers,” notes Brandt.
The bust scenario is that “Fournette fails to learn from the mistakes that brought his time with the Jaguars to a messy end,” continues Brandt, a reminder that Fournette was selected No. 4 overall by Jacksonville in the 2017 NFL Draft, but was released after three seasons, having failed to live up to his draft status.
Fournette a Poor Man’s Derrick Henry?
“Fournette has the skills to fill a Henry-like role and is even better than Henry as a receiver out of the backfield,” offer Brandt, who believes that the former Jaguar could be signed at a modest cost, as there’s a glut of running backs available in free agency, including Aaron Jones, Chris Carson, Kenyan Drake, James Conner, Mike Davis and James White.
For reference, Fournette earned $2 million in salary with Tampa Bay in 2020 ($2.5 million cap charge). He started three of 13 regular season games for the Bucs and contributed 97 carries for 367 yards with six rushing touchdowns, plus 36 receptions for another 233 yards.
Then his production really picked up in the postseason. In four games—including Super Bowl LV—he rushed 64 times for 300 yards (4.7 yards per carry) with three TDs, plus 18 receptions for 148 yards and another touchdown.
It’s interesting to try to imagine a back with Fournette’s skill set in Arthur Smith’s offense. It’s easy to forget that Derrick Henry didn’t reach his potential with the Titans until Smith became Tennessee’s offensive coordinator. During his first three seasons with the Titans (when Smith was Tennessee’s tight ends coach), Henry gained 490, 744 and then 1,059 yards.
Of course, Atlanta could also target a top running back with its first or second pick in the forthcoming draft. Some mock drafts have had the Falcons trading down in the first round to select a top back, though it seems much more realistic that Atlanta would address the position in round two or later.
Follow the Heavy on Falcons Facebook page for the latest breaking news, rumors and content!
• Falcons Re-Sign Exclusive Rights Free Agent Tight End
• Falcons Restructure O-Lineman’s Contract: Report
• Falcons Will Not Re-Sign Starting Safety: Report
• Falcons Re-Sign Younghoe Koo, 3 Other Free Agents
• Falcons’ 2021 Draft Arsenal Grows to 9 Picks