Falcons running back coach Bobby Turner wants to decrease Devonta Freeman’s carries in 2016.
“It’s about growth,” Turner told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Free had a good year, but I’m expecting even a better year. Well, you’re saying, how can it be better? It can be even better with less carries or less catches because I’d obviously like to get Tevin (Coleman) more involved and that also keeps Free fresher.”
That statement has created the wildfire effect on Freeman’s current ADP. Coachspeak, can misinform fantasy players and lead to painful fantasy decisions.
One thing that stands clear to me: When Devonta Freeman is not on the field, the Atlanta Falcons are not the same team. Although in a small sample size, Tevin Coleman was the dominant ball carrier week 11 and 12. He replaced Freeman who concussed early 1st quarter of week 11. Atlanta lost both games, and scored a combined 31 points. Coleman fumbled in each game, and clearly was a liability in pass pro. When running routes, Matt Ryan showed mistrust and often refused to look his direction.
In light of this, I wanted to take a look at why Free’s production fell off following his return week 13. I watched every single game, every single carry, and this is what I found.
Football is a game of trenches, and Atlanta was not winning. Negative plays did there part in dropping his YPC. Over the last 5 games the offensive line accounted for 24 negative plays netting minus 43 yards. Not seeming like a big deal, this lack of production dropped a 4.6 average to a 4.02. We should also note, Atlanta’s OL ranked 22nd in stuff rate (plays for zero gain).
Why does all of this matter you ask? Well quite simply I am trying to prove Freeman can attain a higher YPC average with better line play. The interior offensive line was key to Atlanta’s struggles. Newly signed center, Alex Mack reunites with OC Kyle Shanahan after their dominant days in Cleveland. “Alex is a three-time Pro Bowler and is an ideal scheme fit for our offense,” GM Thomas Dimitroff said. With this addition, the negative/stuffed plays should drop significantly. Clearly aiding in Freeman’s overall 2016 production.
Now lets get to the Tevin Coleman factor. Not only is Freeman the more reliable pass protector and receiving back (73 rec for 578 yards in 2015), he’s the superior red zone threat. Evident in his league leading 47 RZ attempts. Comparing the two backs inside the five, Free converted 5-of-11 runs into touchdowns. While upright and stiff, Coleman converted just 1-of-5. Tevin who was running gunner duties last season, averaged just below three touches a game while Freeman was the starter.
Bobby Turner’s words were, “keep Free fresher”. When factoring in what Freeman brings to the table, there’s one instance where Coleman’s playing time should increase. When Atlanta has a double digit lead, and wants to chew clock. This speaks to keeping their starter “FRESH”. Although based off Vegas odds, (Atlanta’s win total being 7 games) I don’t see this being a critical factor for Freeman owners.
Let’s not forget how good Freeman’s 2015 campaign was. As a Pro Bowler, in 14 full games he amassed 1,595 yards, 73 receptions and 14 touchdowns. That’s equivalent to 317 fantasy points or 22.64 FP/G! To give perspective, Le’Veon Bell’s marvelous 2014 season he averaged 23.15 FP/G.
Already showcasing his ceiling as the top RB last season. We can safely project Freeman’s carries to decline, but to think he falls off a fantasy cliff is absurd. MFL10 ADP data surely suggest the latter. As he is currently the 8th RB selected and 20th overall. We should thank our competitors and BUY Freeman while we still can. With a built in floor due to his passing game skills and red zone abilities, he’s one of the safest selections this season.
Projection: 257 att for 1,061 yards, 75 rec for 558 yards and 11 total touchdowns.