The tendency when a Falcon leaves is to say good riddance, or pretend that player was not essential. For Atlanta and Tevin Coleman, it’s a tough parting not because the Falcons don’t have options—they have Devonta Freeman, Ito Smith, Brian Hill and Kenjon Barner, after all—but because Coleman gave the team some genuinely great plays and is still just 25. If all goes well, he’ll have a lot of good football in front of him.
On a sleepy Sunday, I wanted to take a moment to remember some of Freeman’s better moments in Atlanta as we prepare for a season without him.
Coleman beat expectations
Coleman joined the team in 2015 when it wasn’t immediately clear that Devonta Freeman would be the starter, and despite not seizing the starting job outright, he still beat the expectations most analysts had for him coming into the NFL. Coleman was considered to be a one-dimensional back whose speed made him intriguing, as he had not been a receiving threat in college.
For one season, that appeared to be true. Coleman largely played the change of pace role for Freeman before his 2016 season with Kyle Shanahan, which saw him account for nearly 1,000 combined yards and 421 receiving yards. In a single offseason, Coleman went from a “one-dimensional” back to a true receiving threat, and his speed made him an incredibly dangerous weapon for that Falcons team. Pair that with underrated blocking skills and you can understand why Coleman vs. Freeman was a legitimate topic during the rest of his run in Atlanta.
Coleman never quite hit the heights he did as a receiver after 2016, but with Freeman increasingly banged up in 2017 and 2018, he became the closest thing Atlanta had to a feature back. He remained boom or bust, but those big plays could be 39 yard receptions or 50-plus yard runs for a team that needed explosive plays under Steve Sarkisian. He finished four seasons in Atlanta with 2,340 yards on the ground, 1,010 yards through the air, and 29 combined touchdowns. The Falcons predictably lost him to free agency and a Kyle Shanahan reunion, but for four seasons Coleman delivered on his third round draft status and then some.
If the team’s backfield is healthy, they’ll be terrific, but there’s no question there will be moments when they miss Coleman’s speed and pass catching ability. I wish him well in San Francisco, right up until these two teams have to play.