Breaking down running backs: Atlanta

June, 9, 2011
6/09/11
12:00
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Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson examines the state of the running back corps for each NFC South team.

Personally, I have mixed feelings about Michael Turner. Atlanta loves to use heavy run-oriented offensive personnel groupings and very much wants to be the more physical team with a power rushing attack. Turner fits that mold very well. He is a load to bring down and can batter a defense. Turner is also excellent in short yardage and near the goal line. He takes and dishes out a lot of punishment.

[+] EnlargeMichael Turner
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesMichael Turner has been a workhorse for the Falcons when healthy, but are his best days behind him?
But on the other hand, I see a back whose best days might already be behind him and someone who will never be an asset in the passing game. And Atlanta is sure to feature its passing attack more and more as Matt Ryan continues to rapidly develop. Turner needs a lot of carries to flourish. He ran for over 100 yards six times last season, but also failed to reach the 50-yard barrier on five other occasions. So, in the end, I now see Turner as an above-average starting NFL running back, but not a guy who is as valuable as he once was. And the arrow is probably going down.

Turner’s backup is Jason Snelling. Depending on the collective bargaining agreement, Snelling could hit the open market. This is a very good all-around player who probably views himself as a starter somewhere in this league. Snelling is a big-bodied running back who also fits Atlanta’s scheme very well, but he offers much more in the passing game than Turner. Snelling caught 44 passes in 2010. But Snelling isn’t quite the sledgehammer that his measurables would suggest. And Snelling also has very little wear on his tires.

Jerious Norwood will become a free agent, but the drafting of Jacquizz Rodgers seems to have sealed Norwood’s fate as playing for someone else next season. Rodgers is a much more physical runner than Norwood. He is built very low to the ground and has some power in his short frame. Rodgers is extremely quick and tough to lay a good hit on, while also having the skill set to be a prominent member of the Falcons’ passing attack. He doesn’t have Norwood’s long speed, but Rodgers was a steal in the fifth round.

One player to keep an eye on if Turner were to go down is Gartrell Johnson. Johnson very well could end up not making this roster, but if he were to stick and be thrust into a prominent role, this hard-nosed power back might surprise.

The Falcons also have one of the better run-blocking offenses in the league -- and that extends to every position on the field. Julio Jones also fits the mold of a big physical wideout who can help spring running backs for long runs with perimeter blocks. But there could be some reshuffling of the offensive line during free agency.


Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com. Follow Matt Williamson on Twitter @WilliamsonNFL.

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