Falcons have decisions to make at running back for the future

The Atlanta Falcons figured they had a pretty potent running back combo for the future with two-time Pro Bowler Devonta Freeman and home run hitter Tevin Coleman working in unison.

But could Week 5 of the 2018 season have been the last we've seen of the duo?

Freeman is scheduled to undergo groin surgery in Philadelphia on Thursday, meaning he'll go on injured reserve and won't be able to return until after the next eight games. It probably would not make much sense to bring him back if the Falcons (2-4) are out of the playoff picture by late December. He's played in just two games this season due to knee and groin injuries.

With that in mind, here's a quick breakdown of how the team's running back situation stacks up beyond this season:

Devonta Freeman, 26 | 5th year in NFL

Draft position: Fourth round, 2014

Signed through: 2022

Average salary: $8.25 million | 2019 cap number: $6.75 million

Notable numbers: The two-time Pro Bowler has two 1,000-yard rushing seasons, 3,316 rushing yards on 767 carries (4.3 yards per carry), and a combined 37 touchdowns in 63 games.

The outlook: When healthy, there's no doubt Freeman can be a game-changer with his vision, determination and ability to run routes like a receiver. Coach Dan Quinn previously said he's not concerned about Freeman's long-term health despite multiple concussions, knee injuries, and now the groin injury. As long as Freeman comes back strong from his first-ever surgery, he should be in a starting role. But everyone knows the NFL can be a cut-throat business to injured players. Freeman's 2019 base salary of $3.75 million becomes fully guaranteed on the third day of the 2019 league year.

Tevin Coleman, 25 | 4th year in NFL

Draft position: Third round, 2015

Signed through: 2018

Salary: $791,268 (final year of rookie deal) | 2019 cap number: NA

Notable numbers: Coleman has 2,639 yards from scrimmage and 23 touchdowns on 505 touches and a career average of 4.2 yards per carry.

The outlook: Obviously, the Falcons have to reconsider letting Coleman walk into free agency next year based on Freeman's status. General manager Thomas Dimitroff previously said he envisioned keeping them together for years to come despite signing Freeman to a five-year, $41.25 million extension. Well, we'll see how much the Falcons are willing to pay Coleman, who is sure to generate free-agent interest if he reaches the open market. The Falcons typically don't use the franchise tag, and next year's franchise tag for running backs is projected to be $11.3 million, so giving more than that to Coleman next season -- especially with Freeman in the picture, wouldn't make sense. The Falcons won't get Coleman for a bargain, either, with Coleman represented by Adisa Bakari, the same agent for current Steelers holdout Le'Veon Bell.

Ito Smith, 23 | 1st year in NFL

Draft position: Fourth round, 2018

Signed through: 2021

Average salary: $770,218 | 2019 cap number: $725,218

Notable numbers: Smith set a franchise rookie record with rushing touchdowns in three consecutive games, a streak that is ongoing as of Week 6.

The outlook: So far, Smith has impressed in a backup role after being doubted coming out of Southern Mississippi. Quinn said he has been impressed with Smith's balance and open-field running, plus Smith's ability to pick up blitzes. The 5-foot-9, 195-pound Smith likely will have to be content with the backup role in the immediate future, although the punishment taken by running backs could thrust him into a lead role at any point.

Brian Hill, 22 | 2nd year in NFL

Draft position: Fifth round, 2017

Signed through: 2019

Average salary: $600,000 | 2019 cap number: $645,000

Notable numbers: Has 11 career carries for 37 yards with a long run of 11 yards.

The outlook: Hill made a bold statement after being selected when he told the media he was the best running back in the draft. He then got cut by the Falcons and spent time with the Bengals. The Falcons see some promise in him or they wouldn't have brought him back. Hill might have a chance to see some action the rest of this season as the third back, now with Freeman on IR. In order to stick beyond this season, he needs to show he can contribute on special teams. Plus the coaches have been working with him on blocking, with Hill being a bigger back at 6-1, 219. Maybe playing fullback should be in his future.