Last year was Tevin Coleman’s big breakout. He didn’t surpass Devonta Freeman in terms of touches or playing time, but he proved that he could be the kind of dynamic weapon the Falcons projected him to be when they took him in the third round of the 2015 draft.
I mean, look at this:
2016: 13 games, 118 rushing attempts, 520 yards, 4.4 yards per carry, 8 rushing TDs
2015: 12 games, 87 rushing attempts, 392 yards, 4.5 yards per carry, 1 rushing TD
2016: 31 receptions, 421 yards, 13.6 yards per reception, 3 receiving TDs
2015: 2 receptions, 14 yards, 7.0 yards per reception
I think it’s safe to say that Coleman will have a role in this offense, potentially a major one, even with Kyle Shanahan gone. We don’t yet know how closely Steve Sarkisian will hew to the system Shanahan had in place, but it’s also safe to say it’ll be similar, and the new offensive coordinator isn’t going to forget how to use Coleman.
All that said, is Coleman heading for a larger or smaller role in 2017?
First, let’s consider Devonta Freeman. The 25-year-old back has had a relatively light workload for one of the better runners in the NFL, with about 280 touches a year ago and 330 the year before that. He’s an incredibly effective and devastating runner, a capable receiver, and a generally terrific blocker, so it’s not like Sarkisian is going to have a lot of reasons to pull him off the field. Add in the fact that it’s a contract year for Freeman and you have a recipe for plenty of run.
That said, I don’t expect Coleman’s touches to decrease for any reason, either. Coleman proved to be a spectacularly effective receiving option for Atlanta, and while they’re not exactly lacking for those, there’s no one outside of Julio Jones and Taylor Gabriel that has that kind of game-breaking speed and playmaking ability. The Falcons have also made it clear that they’re not going to give Freeman 300-plus carries just to make him happy, and so ultimately I think you’ll see 120-150 touches on tap for Coleman.
With Freeman nearing a contract extension that’s likely to be worth a solid chunk of change, Coleman will need to be very effective with those touches to make his case for sticking in Atlanta, or landing a big contract elsewhere. The Falcons are smart enough to know that this offense functions best when multiple weapons are being featured, and they’re smart enough to ensure that Coleman will be one of them.