We've touched on Kyle Shanahan and Dan Quinn's remarks about Devonta Freeman, which have been glowing at the level of an O-type star. What I wanted to do is step back from those comments for a moment and try to suss out exactly what Freeman's future is with the Falcons.
Short answer? It's very bright.
Long answer? You couldn't walk into a better situation than Freeman did in 2014, even though I'm sure he didn't feel like that was the case during the season. There wasn't a ton of pressure on him in his rookie season, he was able to show reasonably well in his limited touches and he had a year to adjust to the NFL. Now Freeman's entering 2015 with Steven Jackson likely facing release, no other running backs under contract at the moment and a zone blocking scheme up front that should favor his talents. While we've learned to take coaches' statements with heavy doses of sodium, it appears Quinn and Shanahan genuinely like Freeman, and he's both young and inexpensive. He'll get his shot.
Freeman's had a year to work on his pass protection and ball security, and he's already a capable runner and pass catcher with good speed, vision and decent strength. He's not going to handle 100% of the load—the team's reported interest in Justin Forsett should tell you that much—but he's capable of being the primary back and his skillset is well-rounded enough that he'll never need to come off the field. If he develops well over the offseason, I honestly think there's virtually no chance he doesn't go into 2015 as the starter.
If he is the starter, I'd expect somewhere around 200 carries, a conservative estimate of four yards per carry, 40-50 catches and a combined 6-7 touchdowns. Those aren't numbers that pop off the page, but they're solid, and if the offense is clicking he's certainly capable of more. I do expect the Falcons' other backs, whoever they may be, to steal some of his touches.
There are ways this whole experiment could go wrong, of course. Freeman could fall flat on his face, he could be pushed aside by another running back like Justin Forsett or a rookie who plays superbly, or an injury or philosophy change could doom him. But the opportunity is there for Freeman, and I believe he has the talent and makeup to succeed.