One of the biggest and most lethal playmakers in recent Falcons history may be on the verge of moving on to another city and team in 2010. Jerious Norwood has been one of the fastest players in the NFL since he’s been in an Atlanta Falcons uniform. Every time #32 would touch the ball, fans and opponents alike knew he could take it to the house in an instant. His lightning quick speed, agility, and elusiveness has made him one of the biggest home run threats in the league. However, “threat” would be a good description as Norwood has also been a very large well of untapped potential. Since he was drafted in the third round in 2006, three different coaching staffs vowed to get him more involved and figure out ways to produce more touches, but his rushing yardage has significantly decreased every year (stats below) and he was never able to go over 1,000 yards rushing and receiving combined in his career.
Much of the reason Norwood never exploded could be attributed to lack of touches, schemes, and coaching. But one of the biggest reasons Norwood might not be back in the Georgia Dome is due to him being severely injury-prone this year. Norwood has missed some games throughout his career, but particularly this season. Again, this might not be his fault either, but if he’s not on the field he can’t be explosive. With the possibility of becoming a free agent this year, many thought Norwood would have his best year to date and perform a job interview to be someone’s feature back. Couple that with the emergence of Jason Snelling as a force in the backfield and it will be interesting to watch.
Drafted out of Mississippi State after a stellar career there, Jerious Norwood started fast out of the gate rushing for 633 yards, 2 touchdowns, 102 yards receiving, and 320 yards returning. That was a great start for a rookie running back, particularly when he was only the number 2 back. His long run of 78 yards from scrimmage and stout 6.4 yards per rush average led many to believe his career would only skyrocket. When Bobby Prictrino was hired he promised to figure out ways to get Norwood the ball. In the sense of pure combined rush and receiving yards, it was his most successful finishing with over 2,000 all-purpose yards (1,317 return yards, 613 rush yards – 1 TD, 277 receiving yards).
The first year of the Coach Smith regime saw similar numbers and while his rushing yards took a dip to 489, he had an all-time high of 338 yards receiving. With a year full of weapons and high expectations in his potential free agent year, Norwood got hit hard by the injury bug, Missing 6 games entirely and getting pulled due to injury in many others. By far and away, Norwood had the worst season of his career finishing with only 252 rushing yards, 186 receiving yards, and 1 total touchdown. Norwood suffered several injuries throughout the year including knee, ankle, and a concussion. The injury opened a big hold for Jason Snelling to rise up and prove he could take over as the number 2 back if needed.
Norwood still has the game-breaking ability he had when he first came in the league and given the right amount of touches, he can be a perfect complement to Turner (and even Snelling’s) hard charging, between the tackle running style. Michael Turner certainly can be very elusive and showed last year that he can carry the team, but this year saw a more fragile Turner that needs a solid number 2 back to be successful. The NFL has become a two, and even three, back league. With the amount of hits running backs take, teams need to be very deep in the backfield. Injuries mostly cannot be controlled and Norwood just had some bad luck in a year filled with injuries across the board. Like many others in the league, Jason Campbell comes to mind, Norwood has been the victim of having 3 different offensive coordinators and schemes in 4 years.
#32 didn’t get ANY help this year utilizing his speed in the passing game with screens and the like. Even though Snelling has proven himself to be a legit back in the NFL, he doesn’t possess the speed that truly complements Turner’s running style. He may be a free agent, but most likely it appears he will be restricted and the Falcons can afford to give him another year to prove the injury bug was a fluke and maybe Coaches Smith and Mularkey can provide him more chances to be successful. Norwood has combined for almost 6,000 all-purpose yards in four years as Atlanta Falcon as a backup and deserves one more year.
Norwood has been a major game-breaking threat since he came into the NFL, but he has remained a large well of untapped potential. It is true that he has had three different coaching regimes in four years, but Norwood proved this year not to be durable enough to count on. It is accurate that players can’t help themselves getting injured, but running backs are getting to be pretty expendable these days in the NFL. Teams are always looking to get younger and are willing to do it much quicker with the number of running backs coming out in the draft. The success of rookie running backs expedites the process even more. Knowshon Moreno, Shonn Greene, Ray Rice, and Chris Johnson, just to name a few, have all had excellent rookie and second year campaigns. The Falcons obviously won’t be looking to draft a running back in the first round (unless CJ Spiller miraculously drops to #19), but the Falcons would be in a very good position in being able to add a speed back to develop behind Michael Turner and Jason Snelling. Speaking of Snelling, Norwood has been replaced by #44 as the number 2 back in Atlanta. One man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity and Snelling took full advantage of the chance he got.
Even when healthy, Norwood has had trouble proving he can run between the tackles and too often times gets tripped up extremely easy in the backfield. Will the Falcons be willing to match an offer from another team if he is a restricted free agent? Moreover, will the Falcons be willing to spend some serious dough on Norwood when they can draft their own guy with a likely arsenal of 8 picks in the upcoming draft? Norwood had a big chance this year to prove that he can be an every down back and, injuries aside, the result was not good. Norwood has been a great player and individual since becoming an Atlanta Falcon and he will be missed, but the business side of the game says that Norwood’s time has come to an end in Atlanta. The following link from Pro Football Weekly reaffirms this point.
What’s your thoughts on Jerious Norwood’s future as an Atlanta Falcon and potential free agent: save ‘em or send ‘em?