Draft Strategy

Early Round Landmines – Devonta Freeman

The early rounds of 2017 MFL10 drafts are a chilling place to be. The dread begins to creep in late in the first round, once we leave the land of the elite eight, and doesn’t really ease up until the noose begins to loosen around the fourth round.

The top eight seem set in stone.

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Fresh off the warm and fuzzy feeling of drafting a Mike Evans or Odell Beckham, things quickly deteriorate as the slow realization dawns that we have to spend a late-first or second-round pick choosing between a lot of guys with a lot of question marks.

A busted early-round pick can destroy your draft in a hurry. It’s an immense amount of capital, and getting it right is crucial. I predict picking your way through these potential early-round landmines will lead to a lot of lost sleep this summer. Or is that just me?

I’m going to take a look at a number of players the first few rounds who cause me cold sweats, and I’ll attempt to answer the question – is the fear justified?

Next up, Devonta Freeman

FREEMAN ISN’T FREE

In 2015, Devonta Freeman was the runaway RB1 in all formats. In 2016, he followed that up with an RB7 finish in PPR formats. He’s been a straight stud, and drafters are going to the well once again in 2017.

Freeman is going in the late first round, right alongside LeSean McCoy and Melvin Gordon, two other running backs I looked at as potential early-round landmines.download (3)

Of the three, for me, Freeman instills the most confidence. He’s hitting his athletic prime at 25-years old and has been a proven producer in the past.

Yet he still makes me a whole lot of nervous. Is the fear justified, or can we condone his single-digit draft status in 2017?

IT’S THE RBBC, SILLY

For all the factors in Freeman’s favor, I keep coming back to this: he is very much in a committee with another talented RB whom the coaching staff seems to like.

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When active, Tevin Coleman was a significant part of the Atlanta offence. It was only when Coleman was out of the lineup that we saw Freeman’s snap count approach 70 percent, otherwise he was just on the better side of a 50/50 split.

In terms of raw rushing production, Freeman was the backfield boss in Atlanta.

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Freeman more than doubled Coleman’s rushing output and averaged nearly a half-yard more per carry.

As pass catchers, the two were almost even in yards, despite Coleman getting 25 fewer targets; Coleman also scored one more receiving TD than Freeman. Tally up the TDs, and the younger Coleman scored 12 total TDs to Freeman’s 13.

I’m not going to argue that Tevin Coleman is the better back, but he was very good in both reality and fantasy terms in 2016, finishing as a back-end RB2 – the 21st-highest-scoring back in PPR leagues. It’s clear the coaching staff likes and trusts Coleman.

Freeman should remain on the right side of the snap share in 2017, but Coleman is not going anywhere. I don’t see the Falcons suddenly giving Freeman more than 60 percent of the carries as long as Coleman is healthy.

I dialed up the Game Splits App to see just how much air Coleman takes out of Freeman’s balloon when he is active.

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When Coleman is out of the lineup, Freeman’s rushing attempts, rushing yards, receiving production, and overall TDs all increase. Most importantly, he scores four-plus PPR points more per game than when Coleman is out of the picture.

It may not be a tremendous discrepancy in fantasy production, but the fact that we are even talking about a time share at all makes me wonder whether Devonta Freeman belongs in the fantasy first-round conversation.

SO LONG, SHANNY; ‘SUP SARK

Kyle Shanahan got a lot of the credit for being the architect behind the league’s best offense in 2016. He was able to parlay that credibility into a head coaching position with the San Francisco 49ers. It’s fair to say that Shanahan’s scheme, which features a lot of zone-blocking and outside runs, created a bevy of beautiful cut-back lanes for Freeman to exploit.1

The Shanny family scheme has been making a lot of RBs a lot of money for a lot of years. The Falcons also ran the most play-action passes in the league last year, according to Football Outsiders, leaving the Atlanta RBs with fewer stacked boxes. I’m not suggesting Freeman is a product of this system, but that system has been replaced by an unknown quantity.

I say unknown because, as far as I can tell, incoming offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has called one game as an offensive coordinator – Alabama’s national championship loss to Clemson.

So I don’t want to speculate too much on what kind of offense Sarkisian might bring to Atlanta. His offenses at the University of Washington tended to feature a lot of shotgun formations and some read option plays. But based on this quote from 2014 while Sark was at USC, it’s fair to wonder whether the Falcons might be in store for less outside zone and more between the tackles running.

“We’re similar in a lot of the different schemes that we run,” Sarkisian said when talking about John Harbaugh’s 49ers teams. “(The 49ers are) a power running team, we love to run the power play. They love to run the counter. We love to run the counter.”

Of course, that’s not to say that Freeman can’t be a between-the-tackles runner, nor to make an assumption about how Sarkisian will call games.

Presuming to know what the Atlanta offense will look like this season would be conjecture on my part, but when one of the NFL’s best offensive minds is replaced with a play caller who has no NFL experience in that role, that should be some cause for concern for the entirety of such an elite, well-oiled offence.

CONCLUSION

Devonta Freeman was a league winner in 2015. In 2016, he was a first-round fantasy draft pick and finished as the RB7. This year, he will once again cost you a first-round, or an early second-round pick.

Meanwhile, the other half of the Falcons RBBC is the 19th running back off the board, despite finishing as the RB21 last year. Tevin Coleman is being taken around the fourth round, just after Isaiah Crowell and just ahead of Christian McCaffery.

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Last year, with a late-round ADP, Coleman was clearly the way to play the Atlanta backfield. This year, considering their respective costs, I’m not sure either player represents much value.

I think these ADPs assume that the 2017 Falcons offense will look a lot like the 2016 version. But minus Kyle Shanahan, I’m not sure that’s a safe assumption to make.

The bottom line for me is that I have never taken an RB who shares almost half his snaps in the first round of a fantasy draft before, and I’m not going to start in 2017.

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  1. Sorry, Falcons fan.  (back)
By Cort Smith | @cortnall | Archive

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