The Atlanta Falcons have been in the headlines during the 2021 NFL offseason, but not for a reason that fans of the team will be happy about. Longtime receiver Julio Jones has been widely expected to be traded for a package of draft picks and other young talent so that Atlanta can retool for the future as Matt Ryan begins to age gracefully into the twilight stage of his career – despite still being extremely productive last year.
The Falcons ended up drafting wunderkind tight end prospect Kyle Pitts out of the University of Florida with the No. 4 overall pick in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, and the team shored up needs on the secondary as well as on both the offensive and defensive lines with their remaining draft picks.
However, beyond those draft picks, Atlanta also signed a whopping 20 players to undrafted free agent contracts. While many of those players likely won’t make the final roster, there are a few notable players in the mix who could make the cut – including one clear name who will definitely be there.
With 20 players signed to undrafted contracts on the Falcons, which is the highest total in the NFL, many of them will likely spend their time on the practice squad and not be called up to the big time. However, one name that Atlanta should decide to sign to the final roster is former University of Louisville running back Javian Hawkins.
Hawkins had a breakout campaign in 2019 when he put up 1525 rushing yards on 264 attempts, good for 5.8 yards per carry. Last year, Hawkins opted out of the final four games of the season, but he was putting up huge numbers prior to that – 822 rushing yards on only 133 carries, good for 6.2 yards per carry.
In fact, Hawkins was so adept at amassing yards per carry that the undrafted back is actually 13th all-time in ACC history (since 1956) in career rushing yards per carry with a sterling 5.9 per. Not bad for an undrafted guy the Falcons were able to obtain off the scrapheap.
Hawkins has tremendous lateral quickness as well as striking burst, meaning he’ll be able to bust off some big plays in the right circumstances. The Falcons don’t necessarily have a “go-to” running back anymore, which will allow Hawkins ample opportunities to prove himself on the big stage as a potential home-run hitter for Atlanta.
According to Alex Lord of Sports Talk ATL in his profile on undrafted free agents for the Falcons, “the former Louisville Cardinal was also excellent in pass protection. On 231 pass-block snaps, he never allowed a single sack.”
That’s another area in which Hawkins could help the team, as they were seventh in the NFL in sacks allowed last season per StatMuse, with opposing defenses sacking the quarterback 41 times – not great with a drop-back passer like Matty Ice manning the QB spot.
Two other names to consider for the Falcons would be Bryce Hargrove, an offensive lineman from Pittsburgh who was widely expected to get drafted, and Feleipe Franks, a quarterback from Arkansas who could beat out AJ McCarron as Atlanta’s backup if he impresses at training camp and on the practice squad.