Fantasy Football Film Study: Devonta Freeman

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For the 2017 season, it might be tempting to completely throw every issue and problem with the Atlanta Falcons under the bus with OC Steve Sarkisian. There has been an inordinate amount of backlash and fervor and I get it as a resident Atlantan. For fantasy owners who selected Devonta Freeman, perhaps you’ve been the driver behind the vehicle as it slowly rolls over the much-maligned coach. For our Fantasy Football Film Study series, our goal is to evaluate what we see watching every single one of Freeman’s plays in 2017 and discuss whether his decreased production was a result of simply poo-poo play-calling, diminished skill or chalking it up to injuries.

Check out where Andy, Mike, and Jason have Devonta Freeman and the rest of the RBs ranked for the 2018 season in the Ultimate Draft Kit.

2017: Fantasy Season in Review
Season Rushing Yards Rec/Targets Total TDs Fantasy Points/Opportunities  0.5 PPR Finish
2015 1056 73/97 14 279.9/362 = 0.77 RB1
2016 1079 54/65 13 259.1/292 = 0.89 RB6
2017 865 36/47 8 182.2/243 = 0.75 RB13

Many fantasy owners had a frustrating run in the middle of the season as Freeman essentially sunk your team. His Week 10 was a travesty as he suffered a concussion on the first series of the game and was out for another 2 weeks. He was the RB54 from Weeks 5 to 13 hitting double-digits once in 0.5 PPR leagues and not seeing a single TD. Yikes! He finished Week 15 as the RB4 helping many fantasy owners in the semi-finals. Overall, if you happened to acquire Freeman at any point of the season (ahem, me) then you would be left thinking Freeman was half the fantasy asset he once was.

However, on a point per opportunity basis, Freeman finished 2017 not far off from his insane 2015 breakout campaign. To compare, Freeman outpaced Leonard Fournette (0.67), Melvin Gordon (0.71), and even Le’Veon Bell (0.71). Now those stats aren’t meant to take away from these RBs as their huge touch totals pulled down their numbers but simply show that Freeman’s fantasy impact was still elite in terms of production. But did this show up on tape?

What’s On Tape

Ater taking on the daunting task of eye-balling all 243 of Freeman’s opportunities in the 2017 season, there were a couple of highlight moments and common threads that seemed to show up on film. Here is a couple takes:

-In a Week 2 clobbering of Green Bay, I found an interesting pattern. After every big play by Julio Jones, the Falcons play call immediately after was a handoff to Freeman. It got creepy after the 4th time I saw it. Beyond just seeing Freeman’s 2 TDs on the day, the Falcons had much success gashing the Packer defense on zone runs, their bread and butter in the running game. His stutter step was on point as this subtle move kept ILB Blake Martinez & SS Kentrell Brice off-balance a couple times.

-In Week 4 at home against Buffalo, early on the Falcons kept the Bills off-balance with a pitch out for 11 yards that showcased the offensive line’s athletic ability. When Freeman gets to the perimeter, good things usually happen with PFF’s 2nd ranked offensive line. With Mohamed Sanu and Julio Jones out in the 2nd half, the play calling once collapsed. Freeman did not see a target until 2 minutes left in the game. Woof.

-In Week 6 against Miami, Freeman finished the first half with 77 yards from scrimmage as the Falcons looked well on their way to a victory leading 17-0 at the half. He was every bit the bulldog running with authority and utilized in the passing game as well. Sarkasian’s play calling in the 2nd half sputtered as he called 17 passing plays to just 6 running despite having the lead for almost 80% of the game. Freeman managed only 2 total yards on 2 rushes in the second half as the Falcons went scoreless and somehow lost this home game to Jay Cutler and the Dolphins. Yuck.

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-The guy clearly knows how to win on an arrow route. When matched up against linebackers, he leaves them in the dust. There was also a number he took up the seam with much success.

Devonta-Freeman8 GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Here is another example of a sick cut against Pro Bowl (and recently convicted PED user) LB Thomas Davis.

Devonta-Freeman9 GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

-As stated earlier, Weeks 5-13 on was tough in terms of fantasy production. On film, he still looked like a tank. Against New England in Week 7, the Falcons were clearly outmatched but Freeman still was effective with his 15 touches. He brushed off an arm tackle by big DT Alan Branch to keep his balance that impressed me.

-His Week 14 showing against the Bucs revealed no real change to his violent running style. I noticed that Sark got him involved heavily in the 4th quarter seeing 9 opportunities of the 17 offensive snaps in the quarter, his highest usage all year. He also saw a season-high 7 targets.

Devonta-Freeman7 GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

What’s Not on Tape

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-If you haven’t noticed a theme yet, it’s the simple notion that he deserves more targets in space. Sarkisian schemed this Week 2 play perfectly as Freeman was given the opportunity to create and allow his blockers to get out in front of him.

Dfreeman2 GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

He lined up in the slot on occasion and was an obvious mismatch for linebackers. However, on the year, there simply was not enough screen plays called. I counted only 5 called screen completions on the year. Five. Compare this to their divisional counterpart, New Orleans, who destroyed teams with RB screens all year long.

-Freeman has a tendency to run back across the field horizontally a bit too much hoping for a bigger play. I counted at least 6 big plays that were halted by Freeman deciding to move laterally without gaining any additional yards. He’s shifty but he’s not a Barry Sanders out there.

-Another common theme was Freeman’s disappearing act in the 4th quarter. Freeman averaged just 3.6  touches in the 4th quarter all season long. To compare, Coleman saw 41 4th quarter carries averaging 5 yards a tote. In Week 1 against Chicago, Freeman had only 1 touch in the 4th quarter. In Week 8 against the Jets in the rain, Sark went with the hot hand approach as Coleman was fed the ball after seeing lots of success gaining 69 total yards on runs off right tackle compared to just 3 for Freeman. After the Falcons regained the lead, it was all Coleman on the Falcons’ final drive to try and run out the clock.

Projecting 2018

Freeman is currently being drafted comfortably in the second round according to as the 11th RB off the board. In the recent Early RB Rankings Part 2 podcast, the Ballers had him ranked in that exact spot. After dealing with a concussion as well as MCL and PCL injuries at the end of the season, he had a second opinion on his knee and isn’t expected to need surgery before the start of the next season. Based on the film, Freeman did not show any loss in his burst and ability to dominate in zone blocking schemes. He currently is being drafted at his RB1 floor and could prove more valuable with more involvement in the passing game. Coleman should still siphon away repetitions but not enough to hinder Freeman’s top-shelf fantasy value. 1500 total yards and 10+ TDs are not out of the question… something only 5 backs accomplished in 2017.

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