In the finale of the series of looking at the best performances of the first half of the Atlanta Falcons 2015 season, we’ll evaluate which players have raised or lowered their stock the most by looking at the most improved and disappointing players.
Most Improved Player: Devonta Freeman
Given that Freeman spent much of last year as the team’s third running back on the depth chart and is now currently leading the NFL in rushing with 709 yards, it’s a pretty easy pick.
He could have faced some competition from a fellow 2014 draft pick in safety Ricardo Allen, who spent all of last year on the team’s practice squad but is now holding down the fort as the starting free safety. But while Allen has been a more than capable starter, he’s not anywhere close to the best in the league.
That has been exactly what Freeman has been, which is particularly surprising since he did not even begin the year as the team’s starting tailback. Freeman got his first real opportunity in Week Two after rookie starter Tevin Coleman suffered a rib injury. Freeman had a couple of key runs late in the Falcons comeback against the New York Giants that week and then exploded for 141 yards the following week against the Dallas Cowboys. He hasn’t looked back since and has averaged 111 yards in all six of his starts.
Not only is Freeman the league’s leader in rushing yardage, but also in carries and rushing touchdowns. He also ranks second and third in receptions and receiving yards, respectively, among NFL running backs. Freeman has been a production workhorse for the Falcons this year and their most reliable option on offense. The team is certainly hoping that continues into the second half of the season.
Most Disappointing Player: Roddy White
This now makes two years in a row where White was named the team’s most disappointing player at the midpoint. A year ago, through the first half of the season, White had tallied 33 receptions for 419 yards and three touchdowns on 61 targets in seven games through the first half of the season. This year he has 16 receptions for 210 yards and one touchdown on 28 receptions. Meaning that if he keeps his current pace, his year-end totals won’t even match what he did in the seven games last year where he was really struggling to separate.
This was supposed to be a bounce back year for White, who suffered through a bothersome knee injury a year ago. White certainly looks sprier, yet he’s been mostly eliminated from coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s offense. After snagging four catches for 84 yards on eight targets in the season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles, White was held without a catch on just one target the following two weeks. Since then he’s been targeted a consistent three or four times per game. It’s a steep dropoff for the veteran receiver that averaged nearly 10 targets per game over the previous eight seasons.
Without a much stronger second half, it appears that the writing is on the wall that White, the Falcons’ all-time leading receiver, is on the verge of playing his final games in Atlanta.