As a rule of thumb, I try to avoid overreacting to what happens in any one week. I may (and often do) freak out during and immediately after a game, but then you have to cool down, take a hard look at what happened, and decide whether any of it is particularly likely to resonate beyond the current week.
There are those story lines that deserve a longer look, though, and I’d like to start looking at one of those per week. That begins with a big question that follows a big game from Tevin Coleman. Can he supplant Devonta Freeman as the starter this year, and will he?
The Case For
Coleman was drafted to be a starter when the freshly Kyle Shanahaned Falcons took him in the third round in 2015, and he opened the season as a starter, turning in a workmanlike Week 1 where he put up 100 yards on 25 carries. In Week 2, though, he got hurt, Devonta Freeman blew up for a five or so week span, and Coleman never got the job back.
I’ve been on record stating that I think Coleman will be the starter by 2017, but I didn’t expect to be talking about the battle this early, necessarily. Coleman looked just as good as Freeman running behind some poor blocking in Week 1, however, and he reeled in 5 catches for 95 yards, looking comfortable and impressive in a pass catching role. Freeman’s big calling card is his complete skill set, so if Coleman’s pass protection is up to snuff and he can put together games like this through the air, he’s going to put pressure on Freeman immediately.
Plus, Coleman has a trait the Falcons both crave and need: Genuine speed. He can take the ball and run a long way, and besides Julio Jones and Aldrick Robinson, the Falcons don’t have any genuine speedsters in this offense.
The Case Against
Despite his second half slowdown last year and weak showing in Week 1, Freeman has excellent vision, runs with physicality, and does everything pretty well. The blocking seems more to blame than Freeman for most of his showing—and it’s worth noting that Coleman did not fare much better on the ground—and it should take more than one week for Freeman to be relegated to a smaller role.
There’s also the ball security question. Coleman had some costly fumbles a year ago, and while the coaching staff certainly seems to trust him now, he may need to show that improvement for more than one game to steal a job away from Freeman.
Caveats aside, I am willing to push my chips toward the center of the table and say that Coleman will be the nominal starter at some point this season. If he strings together another couple of quality weeks, it could happen by the time October rolls around, because I do think he is considered the future at running back, and he does add an element to the offense the team otherwise lacks.
That said, even if he loses the starting gig, Freeman will get plenty of run a short yardage back, pass catcher, and pass protection option on clear passing downs, so it’s not like he’ll disappear from the offense. He just may need to get going very quickly to stave off Coleman.