Fantasy Football 2014: Devonta Freeman Has Sleeper Appeal
There are casual fans, and then there are fantasy fans.
Casual fans know the superstar players in this league, as well as everyone on their home team’s roster. Fantasy fans, on the other hand, know everyone. Every offensive lineman that impacts their fantasy running back. Every offensive coordinator with a track record of throwing the ball a ton. Every head coach that has a history of success with quarterbacks. Fantasy fans are probably well aware of rookie running back, Devonta Freeman.
Casual fans may need to get familiar.
The Atlanta Falcons selected the former FSU running back in the fourth round of May’s draft. 2013 was a disaster for the Falcons, as they suffered injury after injury and struggled on defense, resulting in an uncharacteristic 4-12 record. Many fantasy players (myself included) were thrilled with the potential of Steven Jackson, as he entered his first year with a high-powered Falcons offense. However, the 31-year old back dealt with a nagging hamstring issue that limited him to 12 games. In fact, 2013 was the first time since his rookie year that Jackson failed to carry the ball 200 times. And behind Jackson, Atlanta has talented Jacquizz Rodgers, who continues to tease the fantasy landscape. The guy has upside, but really hasn’t put anything together, which is why the Falcons grabbed a guy like Freeman, who is far more talented, and should serve as the backup behind Jackson.
For now, at least.
Freeman is just 5’8″, 206 pounds, and many people consider him a scatback. Many people would also be wrong. Freeman is an absolute bowling ball of a runner, who initiates contact, running with a low center of gravity. And according to Greg Pishek, 65.68 percent of Freeman’s carries last year actually came on inside runs, compared to 34.32 percent on outside carries. He changes direction well and has terrific stop-and-go burst. And perhaps most importantly, Freeman is the best pass-blocking runner in this year’s class, which is always important for rookie running backs. Combined all of that with the fact that he can catch the ball out of the backfield, and you have a very similar player to that of Ahmad Bradshaw. Dynasty owners should certainly be targeting this guy, but even in re-draft leagues, Freeman could contribute in year one.
Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter is a creative mind, and will likely use Freeman in a handful of ways. Remember, this guy effectively utilized a two-back set with Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew back in 2007.
Also, during his time at Boise State, Koetter absolutely loved utilizing screen passes, and during his time with Atlanta, he’s done the same thing. Freeman is a great fit for the screen game, and even if he isn’t catching the ball, he can pass-block at a very high level, which will allow him to see the field quite a bit.
It’s still a bit unclear whether or not Freeman will emerge as the top back in year one, but there’s no doubt that in a year or two, Freeman is going to be the featured back for the Falcons. They already stated that they envision him as such, so it’s only a matter of time.