Two rookie RBs, Devonta Freeman and Jerome Smith, will not only add much-needed talent and depth to the backfield of the Atlanta Falcons - they’re also trying to compete for the right to become the successor to Steven Jackson once the veteran rusher decides to hang up his cleats or the team chooses to cut ties. Jackson is entering the second year of his three-year contract.
Atlanta ranked last in rushing yards per game last season, a far cry from its reputation as a top-tier running team from 2008-2011 (the Falcons were second in rushing yards per game in 2008). The offensive line did face many lineup shuffles due to injuries to key players like OT Sam Baker. Even with a healthy line, however, I don’t know if the rushing attack would have had more success. Jackson missed a chunk of games due to injury and did not play like his future Hall-of-Fame self. Backup Jacquizz Rodgers didn’t fare any better, only breaking the 50-plus rushing yard mark in a game just once as a starter.
That’s where Freeman and Smith come in. They’ll definitely try to light a fire under Rodgers, but the rookies may be battling for a starting spot of their own within the next three years as well, should both remain on the team.