Free agent Le’Veon Bell signing with Falcons?
By: Cody Molla
There are a few big name free agents left unsigned after the 2021 NFL Draft. Teams will be looking to add veterans to their team moving forward. One of those big names is Le’Veon Bell. Bell is a few years removed from posting elite numbers which made him the best back in the league from 2013-2017.
The Atlanta Falcons will need to replace 89% of their running back touches from the 2020 season. After being ranked 27th in rushing yards per game last year with nearly 96 yards per game and only 13 rushing touchdowns the Falcons are letting go of Todd Gurley, Ito Smith, and Brian Hill.
An addition of Bell to the Falcons would help the running back group currently with the Falcons as well as give Bell a chance to prove he’s still got the talent to make plays and be productive.
At age 29 Bell is likely not the feature back he once was. As the NFL has moved to a multi-back system this is beneficial for Bell. He can be productive as a compliment. Bell has only played 26 games since 2017. He’s eclipsed over 1000 rushing yards in that span with five rushing touchdowns and chipped in a touchdown on 600 yards receiving.
Bell signed with the Chiefs midway through the season last year. At the time the Chiefs were Super Bowl favorites and the addition of Bell sent the league into fury. Bell struggled in his nine games as a Chief. It is with this recent play that leaves the jury undecided on his NFL future.
Earlier this week Falcons running back coach Desmond Kitchings reported that it’s an open competition for snaps going into the off season workouts. Kitchings is making his NFL coaching debut this season. He is joining the staff of new head coach Arthur Smith after coaching in the NCAA ranks since 2004.
Kitchings has been a running backs coach for most of his career. When coaching at NC State from 2016-2018 he had three straight 1000 yard rushers. One of those being Nyheim Hines who has been productive in his NFL career thus far. Earlier in his career, he worked with Zac Stacy at Vanderbilt. Stacy nearly rushed for 1000 yards in a season in his rookie year at the NFL level. Kitchings also lead a heavy run attack at Air Force in 2011, which averaged over 300 rushing yards per game.
Arthur Smith is coming from a team with a heavy run game led by bulldozer Derrick Henry. Smith is likely going to want to establish the run to set up plays for Matt Ryan and a talented group of pass catchers including Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and top draft pick Kyle Pitts.
The Falcons current running back situation is not glamorous. They added Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson via free agency. After not drafting a running back in the draft they signed undrafted players Javien Hawkins and Caleb Huntley. They also added Tony Brooks-James who has bounced around practice squads since 2019. The only returning Falcon in the running back room is Qadree Ollison who played 13 snaps in 2020.
Mike Davis is the favorite to be lead back in the offense. Davis is coming off a career year in which he filled in for McCaffrey for most of the season. Davis excelled in 2020. Davis surpassed 1000 all-purpose yards last season. Watching Davis last year the thing that stood out to me was the ability to extend plays and run through tackles. Davis can catch passes and make plays versus linebackers in the receiving game too. Even though Davis is likely to be the lead back he is not a feature back in the NFL.
The pairing of Bell and Davis could be a solid group for the Falcons. Both have similar abilities. This would add depth to the position and allow for the offense to be run all the time with no predictability pending the personnel.
The addition of Cordarrelle Patterson doesn’t impress or really add a true running back to the offense. Adding Bell would make him the lead complement back. Pattersons role is likely to be a return guy and see a handful of plays designed for him throughout the game. Patterson is still working on his transition from receiver to running back. Patterson has unique talent with size and speed that can produce homerun plays.
The other guys in the room will likely be on the outside looking in. The Falcons hope one can emerge similar to James Robinson for the Jaguars last year. A sleeper player and dark horse candidate to get offensive touches in the backfield is Avery Williams. Williams is a rookie CB drafted out of Boise St. Unknown to many Williams tied the NCAA record for return touchdowns in a career last season, with nine total. Six of those have come via punt including the record tying one.
The Falcons running back situation isn’t ideal and there is a need for another back. There is no way the Falcons go into the season with Patterson being the ideal running back two. Le’Veon Bell is a bit of a wildcard right now but his history has proven he is capable to be a playmaker and boost an offense. The ability to be patient and make guys miss in tight windows combined with his receiving skills makes him a fit for the Atlanta Falcons.
It would be wise for Bell to join the falcons as they have a lot of talent on offense. Teams will have a lot to cover and scheme for against a talented offense that can provide an opportunity to produce. The open competition means Bell could also win a starting job and see ample touches as the lead in a multi-back system. These opportunities combined with a staff that has shown the ability to generate a run game with many different players is a good fit for Bell. He can be acquired for a team friendly price and if he proves he still has it can set up the later part of his career in the NFL.