Each day, we’ll tackle one big question for a new Falcons roster position. Today’s concerns running back, and specifically Devonta Freeman.
Devonta Freeman has been so good in his young NFL career that a season where he put up nearly 1,200 all-purposed yards and eight touchdowns qualifies as a bit of a disappointment. Freeman played just 14 games last year, his career low since seizing the reins back in 2015, and put up low marks in yardage, touchdowns, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. It’s fair to suggest that the Falcons will be looking for a bounce back season from him.
That’s today’s question: Will he bounce back? The answer depends entirely on his health.
It’s sort of miraculous Freeman did as well as he did when you consider that he dealt with two concussions in less than a year, plus MCL/PCL damage that made him a non-factor against the Eagles. He’ll need to be fully recovered from both to set the turf ablaze again in 2018, and while I have no doubt his legs will be healed, the concussions are the kind of long-term concern that I’ll never fully be able to erase from my mind. He also has to contend with Tevin Coleman, who remains dangerous enough to get real run in this offense, and rookie Ito Smith, who figures to pull down limited snaps early before growing into a larger role late or in 2019.
If Freeman is fully healthy, though, this is more or less a slam dunk. A couple of blown blocks and the injuries have created a little bit of a pall over Freeman at times, but it’s all too easy to forget just how elite he can be. His 2016 season was one of the best in team history, with over 1,600 all-purpose yards and 14 touchdowns to his name, and he’s still just 26 years old. His blocking could probably use a bit of a boost and he’s not always the best short yardage option, but a healthy Free is a top ten NFL running back, and the Falcons won’t hesitate to give him the touches he needs to enjoy a great season if he’s running and catching well.
Having heard nothing about any setbacks, I think it’s safe to assume at this point that Free will be back, and will be the lead back for all intents and purposes.
The upshot is that Freeman’s here for the long haul, barring something catastrophic, but the Falcons may well choose to lean a little more on Tevin Coleman and rookie Ito Smith in the early going until they’re sure Freeman’s locked and loaded. At the end of the year, I fully expect Freeman to put up the kind of season that’s in line with his career averages, which would put him over 1,000 yards on the ground with double digit rushing touchdowns.
How about you?