Continuing the countdown of the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, let’s break down the 22nd best player in running back Devonta Freeman.
To read about the methodology in how these rankings came about, you can click here.
Total Score: 53/100
Last year’s rank: 38th
Player Grade: 55/100
Teams he is starter: 6 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 6 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 29 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +2
Positional Bonus: +3
Freeman is hurt in these rankings largely because he’s an unproven player at a position that is relatively deep in the NFL. There are a lot of good running backs throughout the league, and Freeman is out to prove that he’s one of the best among them this season.
He’ll have a bit of a tough road ahead of him because he’ll have to spend the entire year looking over his shoulder at rookie running back Tevin Coleman as Freeman attempts to claim the spot as the Falcons’ go-to option on the ground. Yet Freeman has what it takes to take the lead in that competition.
It appeared that when the team selected him a year ago in the fourth round of the draft that he was poised to be a situational player in Atlanta. His skillset was similar to that of departed running back Jacquizz Rodgers, with similarly limited size and a more quick-than-fast running style. Freeman’s most immediate application to the professional level appeared to be his upside in the passing game despite a solid career as a runner at Florida State.
But with the hiring of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan this offseason, Freeman’s role expanded to that of someone that could legitimately become a starter in Atlanta. A lot of buzz surrounded Freeman’s potential as a lead tailback this past spring, which sort of settled down a bit after the Falcons used a third-round pick on Coleman. With Coleman in the fold, there is little doubt now that Freeman will simply be handed the job.
More than likely, both Freeman and Coleman will each get opportunities in a committee-based system at running back. The player that best takes advantage of those opportunities will only see increased chances to get more reps as the 2015 season progresses.
Freeman potentially has a leg up over Coleman despite the fact that the rookie tailback is probably a bit more physically gifted as a runner due to superior size and breakaway speed. But Freeman plays with good vision and is a little bit more polished in pass protection.
Freeman’s vision should allow a near seamless transition to the zone-blocking scheme as his playing style is very well suited to the outside stretch plays that are the hallmark of the scheme.
While the Falcons want to be a more balanced offense in 2015 with Shanahan at the helm, there’s no doubt that quarterback Matt Ryan’s arm is where the offense’s bread is buttered. So until a day in which Coleman can showcase himself to be a more reliable pass-protecting option, Freeman will likely get the early nod in those situations as well.
Eventually, the Falcons are optimistic that Coleman will become the team’s primary runner. But in the meantime, there is lessening concern over whether Freeman can carry the brunt of the workload.