Free Agent RB ‘Makes a Ton of Sense’ for Falcons

Melvin Gordon

Getty This former Pro Bowler could become "RB1" for the Falcons.

Running back is one of the few spots on the Atlanta Falcons’ roster that looks stacked. Yet, is it a question of quantity instead of quality?

Cordarrelle Patterson re-signed in free agency, while Damien Williams also agreed terms after stints with the Kansas City Chiefs and Chicago Bears. Williams will ease the burden on Patterson, who was the primary workhorse in Atlanta’s offense during 2021, but is their room for one more veteran running back in the committee?

One NFL writer thinks so, believing a former Pro Bowler who is still on the free-agent market could even replace Patterson as “RB1.” The move would allow Patterson to operate out of the backfield more often, something the wide receiver-needy Falcons should consider.

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AFC West Lifer Could Ease Burden on Patterson

If the Falcons do make room for one more running back, Pro Football Network’s Tommy Garrett believes it should be Melvin Gordon: “Mike Davis was largely ineffective and disappointed, which was surprising given his success in Carolina. Damien Williams is an interesting addition, but the backfield is far from finalized. Gordon makes a ton of sense here. He could be the RB1 with Patterson utilized all over the field as a weapon.”

Garrett doesn’t believe Patterson losing his role as RB1 is as fanciful as it seems. Not when he was subjected to a heavy workload last season: “What if Patterson is not the same player we saw last year? After all, he had almost as many touches in 2021 (205) as he did in the four previous seasons combined (220). He is 31, and Father Time is undefeated. Gordon would be a prime candidate to sign during free agency and give the Falcons a much-needed offensive boost.”

Gordon would be a suitable candidate to at least share the load with Patterson. The seven-year pro has proved his versatility during stints with the Los Angeles Chargers and Denver Broncos.

He’s been particularly effective at finding the end zone. Gordon has 67 touchdowns to his credit, including 53 on the ground.

The 28-year-old rushed for eight of those scores last season, putting him alongside some of the greatest running backs in history, per NFL on CBS:

Whether Gordon could handle the kind of lead back workload Garrett described is open to debate. He’s never completed a full season, although Gordon did start 16 games during his final campaign with the Broncos.

That same campaign saw Gordon forced down the depth chart by Javonte Williams. A similar thing happened with the Chargers, when Austin Ekeler nudged Gordon aside in 2019.

Gordon still has merit as a rotational option. He can unleash deceptive speed when kept fresh, the way he did on this touchdown against the Chiefs from Week 17, detailed by Next Gen Stats:

Gordon is also a useful receiver out of the backfield. He averaged 7.61 yards per reception last season and made 50-plus catches in back-to-back seasons with the Chargers in 2017 and ’18.

Pairing Gordon’s dual-threat talents with the similarly flexible Williams would ensure Patterson wouldn’t be missed too much in the backfield.

Patterson May Need to Spend More Time at WR

Patterson’s decision to re-up for two more years in Atlanta was welcome news. He redefined himself as a lead back last season, tallying the most carries, rushing yards and touchdowns on the team.

It was an impressive turnaround for a player who had been a career kick returner and wideout. The latter is a position where Patterson could see more work in 2022.

Calvin Ridley won’t be in the lineup this season, due to a suspension for violating the league’s betting policies. Russell Gage has moved on to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Falcons are looking at a depth chart featuring Frank Darby, Chad Hansen and Austin Trammell. Restricted free agent Olamide Zaccheaus could also return after being tendered at the right-of-first-refusal.

Patterson can make the group stronger if he spends more time split out wide. That’s where he was when he made this clutch catch to spark a win over NFC South rival the New Orleans Saints in Week 9:

There are plenty of reasons why offensive coordinator Dave Ragone and head coach Arthur Smith should deploy Patterson as a receiver more often. Those factors aren’t just related to the Falcons’ paucity of talent at the position.

There’s also the need not to waste Patterson’s sure hands as a pass-catcher, per PFF Fantasy Football:

Having Patterson play more snaps as a wideout would also offer support for playmaking tight end Kyle Pitts. They’d be the dynamic double act newly acquired quarterback Marcus Mariota will need to help him adequately replace Matt Ryan.

Add in Williams and Gordon to handle the rushing chores, and the Falcons would have something close to a balanced offense for the new season.

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