Falcons' Antone Smith finally gets his shot
College Contributor Network
Where did Antone Smith come from? Who is this kid on the Falcons that's leading their team in total touchdowns after six weeks? Is he just some undrafted rookie, picked up off the scrap heap who, like the Chargers' Branden Oliver, is catching NFL defenses off guard because they have no idea who he is?
Nope. Smith is not new to this league, he's been in it for five years already.
It doesn't seem like it, though. When you watch Smith catch a pass from Matt Ryan four yards behind the line of scrimmage and then go warp speed about 45 yards for a touchdown in Week 6 against the Bears, it doesn't look like a running back who will be 30 years old by next season.
But that's Antone Smith, and he's finally getting the carries afforded to a player with his game-breaking ability. His 13 carries and 10 receptions so far this season are both career highs, and five of those 23 touches have ended in six points.
He's the prototypical change-of-pack back, a special weapon the Falcons unleash -- cut from the same cloth as Darren Sproles. He's averaging nearly a first down per carry, and every time he catches it out of the backfield it goes for an average of 22 yards.
It's been a long time coming for Smith to make noise in this league. In his senior year at Pahokee High School in Florida, he rushed for over 2,800 yards and 44 touchdowns. Those are not his career totals, that's just in one season.
In his senior year at Florida State in 2008, Smith had more rushing touchdowns, 15, than quarterback Christian Ponder had passing touchdowns, 14. Smith went undrafted in the 2009 NFL Draft, while Ponder was the 12th overall pick two years later. After the '09 draft, from May to late September, Smith was signed and almost immediately cut by the Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings and Houston Texans.
Despite his ludicrous speed, having run a 4.33 40-yard dash at his Pro Day, and his ability as a dual-threat running back, teams weren't giving Smith serious consideration.
Was it his height? Smith clocks in at 5-foot-9 and is listed at 192 pounds, not the exact dimensions you think of for a professional football player. If that's indeed what scared off the Lions, Vikings, and Texans, maybe they didn't watch the Chargers. By the end of the '08 season, Sproles had his breakout year and the 5-foot-10 LaDainian Tomlinson was already a surefire future Hall of Famer.
Whatever it was that scared away those teams, it didn't faze the Falcons. He became a special teams fixture and, despite giving him only one carry in his first three years with the team, the club signed him to a two-year extension after the 2012 season.
That extension paid for itself after the first year. In the entire 2013 season, Smith was given only five carries, but they went for 145 yards and two touchdowns. That's a home run hitter.
And boy do the Falcons need him this year. While he is the third running back on the depth chart, he's finally being utilized because Steven Jackson isn't half the player he was in St. Louis and backup Jacquizz Rodgers hasn't had a 10-yard run since Week 1. At this rate, it won't be long before Smith plays more snaps than Rodgers.
Smith is a nice story for a team that hasn't had a great season (despite his efforts, the Falcons need desperate help on the defensive side of the ball). Regardless, Atlanta should try to keep their secret weapon from walking in free agency after this season.
Although, just imagine what Chip Kelly could do with him.
Hunter Kossodo is a junior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. He is a rabid supporter of Boston sports having lived there for most of his life. Follow him on Twitter: @HKossodo