The Atlanta Falcons are experiencing change at the running back position this offseason. Falcons General Manager Terry Fontenot entered the offseason with a clear goal in mind to improve a backfield that averaged a pathetic 85.4 rushing yards per contest throughout 2021. Only the Houston Texans fielded a less effective rushing attack (83.6/game). Fontenot has made several acquisitions at the position this offseason. Most notably, Fontenot re-signed do-it-all weapon Cordarrelle Patterson and released veteran ball-carrier Mike Davis, who finished second in team carries (138) last season. The Falcons also drafted former BYU running back Tyler Allgeier and signed veteran Jeremy McNichols earlier this week, who has familiarity with the coaching staff. Another wild card is apparently set to enter the picture as sophomore defensive back Avery Williams moving to running back, head coach Arthur Smith confirmed on Thursday.
It’s a curious move for a player that entered the league as a highly intriguing nickel cornerback out of Boise State. Williams played cornerback for four seasons at Boise State, totaling 152 tackles, 22 passes deflected, and four interceptions throughout that time frame. The Falcons drafted Williams as a cornerback. He played 121 defensive snaps as a first-year player. Asking Williams to swiftly abandon the position he’s spent the previous five years playing feels like a premature decision, particularly when the sample size at the professional level remains small.
Playing running back isn’t totally new to Williams. He played the position as a senior at JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano, California. Williams rushed for 1,175 yards and 14 touchdowns on offense en route to being named Trinity League co-Most Valuable Player. Williams pulled double duty as a secondary defender and would eventually walk on at Boise State as a cornerback. His brief background as a ball-carrier gives this current position change a chance to prove fruitful, but Williams’ skill set seems best suited to cornerback.
It’s worth noting that regardless of what ‘position’ Williams plays going forward, his best chance to continue developing into a contributing performer is via special teams. Williams returned 20 punts for 153 yards and 23 kicks for 490 yards, leading all Falcons players last season despite playing alongside one of the greatest returners of the modern era in Patterson. Williams was a dynamic returner in college as well, scoring nine touchdowns (six kick returns, three punt returns) in four seasons, including a career-high four scores in his final campaign (2020). Regardless of Williams’ potential struggles to acclimate to one position on offense or defense, he remains an ascending special teams talent that carries the potential to go down as generational in that area of the game.
It’s fairly straightforward to understand why Smith and the Falcons’ offensive coaching staff would search for more opportunities to get the ball in Williams’ hands. He’s a dynamic and elusive player with the potential to create game-breaking plays. A Falcons offense that lacks high-end proven talent could possibly benefit by adding a new wrinkle involving Williams to their game plan. We’re just not convinced it requires a full-fledged change to running back to do it. Creating offensive packages for Williams while allowing him to continue playing cornerback and special teams (which Smith has already confirmed) feels like a more suitable outcome.
Nonetheless, the Falcons have seemingly made up their mind. Williams will turn back the clock and return to his ball-carrier days. It represents a fairly concerning situation for Williams’ prospects of locking down an actual NFL position, but his unique abilities via special teams will likely keep him in the conversation (and on the roster, and potentially into the Pro Bowl) for the foreseeable future.
- Jun 24, 2022
- Jun 24, 2022