Despite playing in one fewer game than Tevin Coleman, Devonta Freeman still out-touched his backfield mate 232-205 in 2017, with 1,182 total yards from scrimmage versus Coleman’s 927. Coleman remains the more productive pass-catching back on a per reception basis, but Freeman is the feature back when he’s healthy.
That’s worth re-stating because of the ongoing perception battle in the fanbase over Freeman and Coleman. There are fans and analysts who think the team should not have paid Freeman and should either make a strong effort to retain Coleman to pair with Freeman or try to find a way out of his contract. Freeman does have his flaws—his blocking is not always as effective as we’d like—but when he’s healthy and rolling he’s still one of the best backs in the NFL, and still young enough to have good years ahead of him.
But we’re not here to mull Coleman’s future with the team—which I hope, against the odds, proves to be a long one—but to talk about what’s ahead for these two backs in terms of production this year.
So how will the Falcons divvy up touches in 2018? Honestly, if we assume good health from both backs, it’s likely to be about the same, with Freeman out-touching Coleman by anywhere from 50-100 carries and receptions. Freeman will have had a long offseason to recuperate from his concussions and ligament issues, and while the former is a genuine long-term concern, I do expect him to be healthy. He’s the team’s lead back on the ground, and while I think Steve Sarkisian will make an effort to get Coleman more involved through the air and wrap in rookie Ito Smith on that front, Free is still a capable, largely sure-handed threat in his own right.
Expect Freeman to be the lead back in both name and production, then, and we’ll see what lies ahead for Coleman and Smith.