Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff recently said the team still believes strongly that second-year running back Devonta Freeman can be a feature back in the NFL.
But can Freeman be that type of player?
The Falcons drafted Indiana running back Tevin Coleman in the third round, and when that happened many wondered if that meant Freeman would simply become a situational back. But it sounds like the Falcons will allow Freeman and Coleman to compete for playing time.
Freeman, who was drafted in the fourth round in 2014 out of Florida State, did not start a game in his rookie season. He had 248 yards on 65 carries. But there was frustration that the previous coaching staff did not give Freeman more carries, particularly when Steven Jackson was so ineffective late in the season.
Coleman is expected to get a long look, as the Falcons still need to improve a running game that has not been the same since Michael Turner left after the 2013 season. Coleman had 2,036 yards last season for Indiana and is the typical player most believe can now have success in the NFL. He wasn’t a first round pick, but most analysts believe you can get better value with running backs later in the draft.
And Freeman also fits that profile as a former fourth round pick. As a player that stands only 5-8, can Freeman emerge as a feature player? Perhaps the competition of another young back like Coleman will inspire Freeman, as the veteran of the two players, to win the job. But Freeman will have to do better than he did at times last season, when he failed to gain the confidence of the previous coaching staff.
The running back position will be one of the biggest spots to watch in training camp. Atlanta has the most lethal passing game in the NFL with Matt Ryan and his stable of receivers. But improvement in the running game is essential for making sure new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan can adequately implement his new offense.
Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme will be part of that plan, and that plus several new members of the offensive line will be crucial in improving the running game. But Freeman could be a key component. If he can emerge, as Dimitroff and the Falcons believe he can do, it will go a long way in making the Falcons more efficient in the running game in 2015.
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Can Devonta Freeman live up to expectations?
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