The Devonta Freeman versus Tevin Coleman debate is going to rage on until the moment one of them leaves town. That’s just the way it is.
Until that happens, though, it’s worth appreciating just how lucky the Falcons are in the running back department. Freeman has been one of the league’s most well-rounded backs since 2015, Coleman is a stellar athlete who has become a better-rounded back as time has gone on, and Ito Smith looks like (at worst) a very capable #2 in the NFL. Brian Hill’s also kicking around, and at worst he’s a solid #3.
That’s why it’s exciting to see what happens when the Falcons get Devonta Freeman back, as they may this week. The Falcons absolutely gashed the Carolina Panthers on the ground, but it’s worth noting that Coleman only has 84 yards the last two weeks combined, has one of the lowest rushing success rates in the NFL this season, and remains somewhat of a boom-or-bust back. Nearly half of his 2018 rushing yards have come on just four plays, as I noted in a thread on Twitter earlier today.
I see a fair number of "why don't the Falcons just keep Tevin Coleman and trade Devonta Freeman?!" takes. With Freeman coming back, I thought I'd take a closer look at what separates the two— The Falcoholic (@TheFalcoholic) October 3, 2018
When healthy, Freeman tends to be able to reliably grind out positive yardage, allowing the team to eat up the clock in a way they simply haven’t been able or willing to do with Coleman and Smith. When you’re up against a high-powered offense and want to limit their opportunities, as Atlanta’s going to want to do with both Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay, that’s a potential difference-maker.
I’m not suggesting the Falcons should get away from their dynamic passing attack or mothball Coleman, because both of those would be foolish decisions. I am suggesting that Freeman will be a welcome addition to the offense, and having Freeman, Coleman and Smith available allows the offense to tailor their snaps and rushing attack to the opponent. That’s a net positive, and it could turn an already rolling offense into an unstoppable one.