Watch: The Future of the Falcons Running Game on Display this Sunday

Tom Pollin

In the past couple of weeks, the Falcons running backs group has been chewed up and spit out by the injury bug. Two weeks ago, Ito Smith was carted off the field with a neck injury and concussion. Last week he was put on injured reserve and will be out for the season. Also, in last week’s victory over the New Orleans Saints, Devonta Freeman sprained his foot. He’s already been declared out for Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers and will likely miss the Falcons Week 12 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

That leaves Brian Hill to start at running back this weekend against the Panthers and rookie Qadree Ollison getting his first carries in a regular season game. Kenjon Barner should also see snaps as a receiver out of the backfield.

Hill has already shown flashes of ability in his young NFL career. In Week 16 of 2018, he rushed eight times on the road against the Panthers and gained 115 yards in the Falcons 24-10 victory. He also played a big part in last week’s run oriented game plan against the New Orleans Saints after Freeman sprained his foot. Hill carried 20 times for 61 yards and caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan that extended the Falcons lead to 20-9.

Ollison was the Falcons fifth round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft. In the preseason he led all running backs with 50 carries and was second in rushing yards with 181. Ollison also scored two touchdowns.

This is the third consecutive season that Freeman will have missed games due to injury. He also hasn’t been the same runner when healthy that he was in the Falcons 2016 Super Bowl season. The team does have an out in Freeman’s contract after this season that would save them $3.5 million under the salary cap for 2020 if they choose to exercise it which could mean that Freeman is in his final season with the Falcons.

Ito Smith’s healthy return in 2020 is also a question mark after being placed on IR with neck and concussion issues. Hopefully that’s not the case because Smith was putting together a strong season but other running backs have had difficulty coming all the way back after sustaining similar injuries.

Other than this weekend featuring the Falcons second straight road game against a division rival, it also holds additional significance. Fans may be seeing the Falcons future at running back on the field Sunday afternoon.