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Devonta Freeman Faceoff

David Dodds and Stephen Holloway offer differing views of Devonta Freeman

The staff members at Footballguys are full of opinions. In a Faceoff, we allow two members to voice their opinions on a specific player. One picked the high side, and the other took the low side.

High Side by David Dodds

We saw a glimpse last year as to how dominate Freeman could be if asked to shoulder the load. In Weeks 3 through 8, Freeman wasn't just good; he was among the best ever over six games. His stat line of 130-666-8 rushing and 33-290-1 receiving over these six games prorates to 2,500 combined yards and 24 touchdowns for a full season.

So why is Freeman not universally loved going into 2016? His critics generally cite these things:

  1. He amassed those yards and touchdowns against the softest defenses in the NFL.
  2. Tevin Coleman (who was injured a lot in 2015) will cut into his snaps.
  3. His body of work outside these games isn't of an elite back.

I am not looking to refute any of these things. All are at least partly true. Freeman isn't likely to destroy the league like he did in that span of six weeks in 2015. But at Freeman's PPR ADP of RB7, he really does not need to do that. RB7 earned just 214.7 PPR fantasy points last year. To achieve this level of production this season, Freeman would need just 1,400 combined yards, 40 catches, and 6 touchdowns. With a vastly improved offensive line (due to the arrival of Pro Bowl center Alex Mack from Cleveland) , I suspect Devonta Freeman smashes through his RB7 ADP.

Low Side by Stephen Holloway

There are several reasons to appreciate Devonta Freeman. After all, he was the #1 fantasy running back in 2015 in both PPR and non-PPR leagues. He dominated the Falcons running game with 264 rushing attempts, 69.3% of the team's total. He caught 73 passes - third most among running backs last year.

So, what is the issue with ranking Freeman near the top of the running back list? A year ago, he began the season playing behind rookie Tevin Coleman. Coleman rushed for 80 yards in their first game, while Freeman had 10 carries for 18 yards. In the second game, Coleman ran for 32 yards and a TD in the first half before fracturing ribs. After that injury it was all Freeman, except for Week 12 which Freeman missed under concussion protocol and in that game Coleman had 18 carries for 110 yards. Coleman averaged 4.5 YPC compared to Freeman's 4.0. Coleman was a 3rd round pick (73rd) a year ago and was the 4th running back drafted. He should continue to get opportunities.

It's still early and quotes now may not mean much, but general manager Thomas Dimitroff indicated that Coleman and Freeman make a nice tandem. Bobby Turner (running backs coach) said that Coleman will get more touches. If Coleman can stay healthy, it is reasonable to assume more of a shared back field. Don't get me wrong, Freeman will likely remain the starter, but today's NFL focus on keeping the team's running backs healthy may reduce his carries enough to somewhat depress his value.