Signing veteran running back Mike Davis is one of the best free agent acquisitions the Atlanta Falcons have made this offseason. Davis is a versatile power back, capable of helping the Falcons’ inept ground game and the passing attack. His dual-threat ability and power give the Falcons something they simply did not have last year.
Yet, even with Davis in the fold, the Falcons should be adding another back on draft weekend.
With multiple injuries to Christian McCaffrey, Davis was pushed into a starting role in Carolina last season. He flourished with the opportunity, posting 1,015 yards from scrimmage on 224 touches in 12 starts. That nearly matched Davis’ entire production from his first five NFL seasons.
Following that kind of breakout season, it’s only natural to expect Davis to be a starter again, and he has landed on a team with no other obvious choices to start in the backfield.
Davis could certainly start this fall. But his addition, more than anything, gives the Falcons options rather than a guaranteed starter. In a perfect world, the Falcons will be splitting carries between the 28-year-old and a rookie draft pick.
Sharing touches between running backs has become the norm in the league. There are very few workhorse backs left, but a two-back system would likely be very beneficial to Davis. Last season was the first time Davis received more than 150 touches, and as a result, he wore down towards the end of the year.
Over the first six games he started, Davis averaged 4.2 yards per carry and 86.5 yards from scrimmage per game. During his final six starts, he recorded 3.6 yards per rush and 64 yards from scrimmage per contest.
Maybe with a full offseason program and the experience of having been the primary guy in the backfield, Davis will be able to avoid a dropoff in production during November and December this year. Still, a better plan would be for the Falcons to add another back to the fold.
No running back has the clout to go No. 4 overall, but the good news is the position is one of the easier ones to target in the middle rounds. Travis Etienne and Najee Harris are the favorites to be the top two backs off the board. If both are gone before Day 2 (that’s likely), the Falcons could target either back from North Carolina — Javonte Williams and Michael Carter.
NFL.com draft expert Daniel Jeremiah called Williams “a complete player and could emerge as the best running back in the 2021 class.” That would be quite a pick if the Falcons could land him on Day 2.
Pairing Williams with Davis would set up an interesting running back tandem. While Williams is the quicker and more elusive of the two, both players can do a little bit of everything. With each back around 5-foot-10 and 220 pounds, they possess a similar frame as well. Rather than designing set plays or formations for each back, Arthur Smith could run the same offense with either Davis or Williams.
Carter can also do quite a few things, but at only 199 pounds, he won’t run between the tackles as much. Carter, though, will be able to contribute immediately as a pass catcher. For the Tar Heels, he caught 25 passes for 267 yards in 2020.
With another pass-catching running back, Davis won’t need to play on third down as often. The Panthers used Davis in all situations because they had little depth behind him due to the injury to McCaffery. Davis never had 20 carries in a game, but he reached 20 touches in each of his first four starts. His production began to dip after that.
If Carter is receiving the running back touches in the passing game, Davis is more likely to hold up for 12-17 carries between the tackles per week.
Whether it’s one of the two top rated running backs in the class, one of the backs from North Carolina or another runner, don’t think the Falcons won’t add another running back because they signed Davis. He’s a nice piece, but the veteran is only part of the solution for Atlanta fixing its ground game.