It is no secret that Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman is an integral part in the Falcons offensive plans.
Just take a look at his statistical impact the last two seasons as a starter in the Falcons offense:
2015: 15 games, 1,634 scrimmage yards, 14 total touchdowns
2016: 16 games, 1,541 scrimmage yards, 13 total touchdowns
So entering his third season as the starter for the Falcons, Freeman has established himself as one of the more versatile running backs in the entire league. Thanks to a five-year, $41 million dollar contract, Freeman now has a little more comfort when taking the field. It is apparently easy to assume that Freeman may have himself a career-year. Based on the average of his past two seasons as a key weapon on the Falcons, here is the over/under on his total yardage: 1,587 yards.
Why He May Surpass It
The Falcons possessed a 57.3%/42.7% pass-run ratio in 2016 which partially explains why quarterback Matt Ryan reached career-highs in yards, touchdown passes, and yards per game. It also somewhat explains why there was a slight dip in production for Freeman in 2016. Where that changes is within the overall philosophy of new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.
During his play calling duties at the collegiate level, Sarkisian adjusted to his talent level and at times favored the run game slightly over the passing element. As a matter of fact, Sarkisian averaged a 53%/47% run-pass ratio in college. So this is slight evidence in favor of Freeman, Tevin Coleman, and the Falcons run game, which was fifth in the league in rushing at 120.5 yards per game. How does this tie in to Freeman's production? Sarkisian's philosophy likely calls for a few more carries than normal, which is music to the ears of the Falcons #1 running back. More touches equal more opportunities to accumulate yardage.
Why He May Not Surpass It
There's a presence in the same backfield with Freeman, and that is 220-lb Tevin Coleman.
That's right. Coleman is now 10 pounds heavier, and for an electric runner that has had durability concerns, the added weight will help him stay on the field. Which means he will considerably see more time on the field. Coleman played in 13 contests last season and posted 941 total yards and 11 scores. There is no doubt that the combination of Freeman and Coleman makes up an elite one-two punch. Coleman showed significant development last season and the probability of that occurring again is notably high and could block Freeman's overall touches.
Not to mention, the incorporation of wide receiver Taylor Gabriel and tight end Austin Hooper more fully into the offensive scheme will also take place. On a team with an overload of playmakers on offense, Freeman has to share the one ball that the team uses every game.
Bottom line, fourth-year running back Devonta Freeman is a key member of the Falcons offense. He has carved out a nice reputation as one of the better versatile backs in the league and it will be interesting to see how productive Freeman will be this upcoming season.