Should Devonta Freeman be the Atlanta Falcons’ starter?


Devonta Freeman finally showed the world what he is capable of after a breakout game in the Atlanta Falcons comeback victory over the Dallas Cowboys.

Filling in for the injured Tevin Coleman, the second-year back rushed 30 times for 141 yards and three touchdowns, and also added five receptions for 52 yards. Every time he carried the football it felt like he could break away for a home run.

Selected in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft, Freeman saw limited opportunities in his rookie campaign, sitting behind Steven Jackson. When Jackson was released and Jacquizz Rodgers joined the Bears in free agency, he had his eyes on the starting role. But Atlanta turned to Tevin Coleman in the third round of this year’s draft, and a hamstring injury through preseason landed the starting job for the rookie.

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What Freeman needed was an opportunity to prove he can carry a heavy load in the backfield. I wrote last week that the second-year man would have a big game against Dallas as he would receive the football early and often, and that’s exactly what happened.

The big question now is who takes the lion’s share of the carries when Coleman returns from injury?

Heading into the game with Dallas, there were a number of question marks. Could Freeman be a bell cow back? Could he produce against the then-best run defense in the league, or would the Falcons become pass-happy?

The answers to those questions were exciting for the Atlanta Falcons. With 30 carries, Freeman has proven he can play hard for the distance. Despite his small size, he is as tough as they come and can be your between-the-tackles runner. But what’s a real bonus is his versatility and ability to help out in the passing game. Already this season, he has caught 12 passes for 115 yards. With space in the open field, he is so difficult to bring down.

Sep 14, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Tevin Coleman (26) carries the ball between Philadelphia Eagles inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans (59) and Mychal Kendricks (95) in the first quarter at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Shanahan needs to get the ball in his hands more often after this lights out performance, but how will this affect Coleman moving forward?

The rookie impressed on debut against the Eagles, rushing 20 times for 80 yards. He made a good start in New York six days later, taking nine carries for 32 yards and a touchdown. But a ribs injury forced him out of the game. The Falcons like what they have in Coleman, so it’s unlikely he will be demoted on the depth chart.

So what’s next? Will the two split the reps? Will Coleman be the premier back again, or will the rookie be a complementary back to Freeman?

I’m opting for the former and that they will share the carries. Sure, Freeman has proven he can be a bell cow back, but rushing 30 times each week is a fast-track pass to burning out. Keeping both backs fresh throughout the season will be of benefit late in the season deep into a playoff push.

The Falcons can benefit from their two styles. Freeman packs a punch and is versatile, while Coleman has plenty of speed which can be deadly in the open field. Together, the two can form a strong 1-2 punch in the backfield.

If the run game continues to improve and these two can stay healthy, look out. This offense has the potential to reach an elite status.

What do you think, Falcons fans? Should the Falcons have a lead back, or should the reps be split evenly?

Next: Falcons fantasy outlook for Week 4?