The Atlanta Falcons entered May’s draft desperately needing to bolster their rushing attack. Led by Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers, who both averaged a measly 3.5 yards per carry, the Falcons finished the 2013 season ranked 31st in total rushing.
Even with one of the game’s most explosive passing attacks, the Falcons needed to get quarterback Matt Ryan and company some help in order to return to the postseason in 2014. Said help has potentially come in the form of fourth-round pick Devonta Freeman.
A Florida State product, Freeman’s size and speed don’t jump off the page, but his downhill running style should translate nicely to the pros. Running back is one of the highest impact positions for rookies, and Freeman can make an instant difference for Atlanta this fall by earning the coaching staff’s trust over the summer.
If he can showcase the vision, quickness and toughness he put on display during Florida State’s national championship run, he’ll do much more than provide the Falcons with depth; he’s capable of stealing carries from Jackson, if not supplanting him as the feature back.
Becoming the starter might be a bit ambitions for Freeman as a rookie, as he’s been tabbed the potential starter of the future, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. In the event Jackson’s struggles continue and Freeman steals the show, the future could become the present at running back in Atlanta.
Pass protection is one area where Freeman will need to develop rapidly to snag a significant role come Week 1, especially considering how frequently the Falcons throw the football — only the Cleveland Browns and Denver Broncos threw more in 2013. “The big thing that he needs to work on is the ability to work in pass protection because we ask our backs to do a lot,” head coach Mike Smith recently said of Freeman to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Freeman’s aptness in pass protection in addition to his ability to make plays on the ground and as a receiver out of the backfield will be key to his prospects of contributing, much less garnering anything close to a starting role.
His play should be interesting to monitor throughout the Falcons’ training camp, which will be spotlighted on HBO’s Hard Knocks, and the preseason.
Cody Strahm is an NFL Senior Writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter.