The Atlanta Falcons' Devonta Freeman was talented enough to be a second or third round draft pick. But he had some weaknesses, namely a lack of elite speed and a history of back injuries. So when he fell to the 4th round, the Falcons had an opportunity to get a lot for their money. And they took it.
Freeman's preseason expectedly brought a learning curve. He struggled mightily in pass protection, less-than-ideal when you play for a pass-first team. As the season has progressed, however, Freeman has improved, little by little. If you ask offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, Freeman is on his way to a more featured role. Credit to Reid Ferrin for the quote.
"We've been talking about Devonta every week," Koetter said. "He's a guy that's been improving every week. He was able to make big plays in the running game as well as in the passing game, just exactly what they thought when they drafted him, the type of player they thought he'd become. He did a good job and we look for more of the same."
He's apparently improved in pass protection in recent practices. That's important, because it was by far his biggest weakness going into the season. He's coming off his second-best game as a professional (he rated better in the Falcons' week five loss to the New York Giants). Then there's the hobbled Steven Jackson, still trying to make his way back from a quad injury.
The only thing standing between Freeman and the starting gig, at this moment, is Jacquizz Rodgers. Rodgers is actually Pro Football Focus' 19th ranked running back this season, but that's primarily due to his excellent pass protection. As a runner, he's PFF's 47th ranked running back. As a receiver, he's PFF's 18th rated running back, but only 25 running backs have receiving ratings above zero. In short, his value this season has been in pass protection (he's PFF's best blocking running back this season).
If Freeman can block, he will play. He will play because he will be the best option. It's really that simple.