2022 Falcons Backfield Breakdown: Dumpster Diving

by Noah Hills · Best Ball Plays & Strategy

The 2022 Falcons Backfield Breakdown is part of an offseason series in which I take a deep dive into one NFL team’s backfield and examine the respective rushing performances of the players in it. In doing so, I hope to gain insights into key players from a talent evaluation standpoint, and using that evaluation as a baseline, from a dynasty valuation standpoint. The first installments in the series can be found here.

I’ll start by taking a quick overview of each team’s raw rushing volume and propensity to run the ball. Then, I’ll dive into the player evaluation portion. Before we start, let’s define the metrics I’ll use as part of those evaluations:

Key Metrics

Yards per Carry+ (or YPC+)

The degree to which a player’s raw yard per carry average exceeds or falls short of the collective yard per carry average of all other running backs on his team. Meant to be an overview of a player’s team-relative efficiency.

Box Count+

The degree to which the average amount of defenders in the box that a player faces on his runs exceeds or falls short of the collective average faced by the other running backs on his team. Considering that the outcome of any given rushing attempt is largely dependent on the amount of defenders in the box pre-snap, Box Count+ describes the relative degree of difficulty of a running back’s carries.

Breakaway Conversion Rate (BCR)

Quantifies performance in the open field by measuring how often a player turns his chunk runs of at least 10 yards into breakaway gains of at least 20 yards.

Box-Adjusted Efficiency Rating (BAE Rating)

Improves upon YPC+ by accounting for the box counts that a player carried the ball against. Looks at team-relative yards per carry against each individual box count, then uses a weighted average (based on total carries against each box count) to generate an overall score. A score of 100-percent indicates that a player is producing exactly the per carry output of his teammates, a score above 100-percent indicates that he is outdoing their per carry output to whatever degree, and vice versa for a score below 100-percent.

Relative Success Rate (RSR)

Measures player consistency using Success Rate, but relative to his teammates and adjusted for the box counts that he faced in the same way that BAE Rating is. “Success” on a given carry is defined by gaining 40-percent of yards needed on first down, 70-percent of yards needed on second down, and 100-percent of yards needed on third or fourth down. A score of 0.0-percent indicates that a player is succeeding on exactly the same percentage of his carries as are the other backs on his team, a positive score indicates that he is succeeding more often than his teammates are, and vice versa for a negative score.

Volatility Rating

Measures the disparity between a running back’s percentile ranks in BAE Rating and RSR in order to indicate how volatile a player’s per-carry performance is. High overall efficiency paired with low rate of success indicates boom/bust output, while low overall efficiency paired with high rate of success indicates steady, low-ceiling output. Measures degree of volatility, not quality of performance.

Composite Efficiency Score (CES)

Presents a single-metric overview of the quality of team-relative performance a player produced on his carries in a single season. Calculated using the average of a player’s percentile ranks in Box-Adjusted Efficiency Rating and Relative Success Rate, represents player performance on a 0-100 scale.

Team Rushing Volume

The Atlanta Falcons were one of the lowest-volume rushing teams in the NFL last season. They finished as one of only four teams with fewer than 400 total attempts. Their 393 represented the No. 4-lowest total in the league and almost 60 fewer than league average.

According to rbsdm.com, Atlanta probably intended to have more balance on offense. They were a very-average No. 18 in the NFL in early-down run rate in neutral game script situations (when win probability for either team did not exceed 80-percent) in the first year of the Arthur Smith era. They were similarly middle-of-the-road from a circumstantial play-calling standpoint. They opted to run the ball just 1-percent more often than expected (given league-wide play-by-play data) considering the down-and-distance situations they found themselves in.

It’s possible that we see the Falcons attempt to run the ball more often this year than last given the departure of Matt Ryan. However, they’re likely to remain a pretty weak team that will frequently be trailing in games. We shouldn’t count on Atlanta to be a high-volume rushing attack in 2022.

Efficiency Numbers

Converted wide receiver and GOAT kick return man Cordarrelle Patterson was the lead running back for the Falcons last season.  He was joined by Mike Davis as the second mainstay in the backfield rotation. Behind them, Wayne Gallman and Qadree Ollison handled limited work. Here are the full rushing efficiency profiles for each of those four runners:

Patterson isn’t really a traditional running back. While his athletic gifts allow him to perform efficiently on the aggregate, his poor showing in Relative Success Rate is an indicator that he lacks some of the nuance necessary to consistently create positive outcomes on his carries. He stepped into the lead role in this backfield and performed admirably. However, he’s simply miscast as a number-one runner in the NFL. His Composite Efficiency Score of 49.2 was No. 22 in the league among lead backs.

2021 was Davis’ seventh NFL season (and his sixth in which box count data was available). He should be well-understood as an undynamic plodder at this point in his career. He converted none of his 11 chunk runs (10+ yards) into breakaway gains of 20 yards or more. While he did succeed on a respectable amount of his carries relative to the other backs on his team, last year was the first time he’d done so since 2018.

Gallman was very bad on limited work, while Ollison provided both efficiency and consistent output on his own small sample.

So Now What?

Davis is now gone and has been replaced in the backfield by sixth-round rookie Tyler Allgeier and the newly-acquired duo of Damien Williams and Jeremy McNichols. The other backs under contract include Caleb Huntley and Avery Williams. Williams played cornerback at Boise State and primarily returned kicks with the Falcons last season.

This is one of the worst running back depth charts in the NFL from a talent standpoint. Although, it might be an unintentional optimization of resource allocation given the realities of #RBsDon’tMatter and the full gamut of skills offered by the various pieces of the backfield. Allgeier is a two-down pounder. Patterson is a Swiss Army Knife-type weapon. Williams is a quality satellite back+. McNichols is a dynamic athlete who can fill in the gaps.

If I was constructing an NFL roster, my backfield might look something like this. However, it’s very messy for fantasy football purposes. In dynasty, Allgeier is worth a shot in the late second or early third round of rookie drafts. This is true considering his impressive resumé as a collegiate producer and efficient runner. However, the long-term solution at running back is not currently on the Falcons roster. If you’re doing anything in redraft other than taking the cheapest option out of Patterson, Allgeier, and Williams, you’re fucking up.

Final Word

Please don’t invest heavily in any Falcons running back.