Atlanta Falcons: Devonta Freeman leads the best backfield in the NFL


The days of the Atlanta Falcons not being able to run the football are long gone. And not only is the rushing offense a strength this season, but they could have the best backfield in the entire league.

Devonta Freeman has set the world alight since becoming the starter in Week 3. Since then, he has piled up 462 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. That means he’s averaging 115.5 yards and two touchdowns per game in his past four. Those are incredible numbers.

Now, Freeman isn’t the best running back in the league. He has a long way to go to be able to make that claim, and the likes of Le’Veon Bell and Adrian Peterson are way ahead in that conversation. But what the Falcons have is two excellent running backs capable of dominating this season.

Who are the candidates for the best duo of running backs in the league? Bell and DeAngelo WilliamsAlfred Morris and Matt Jones? Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard? Eddie Lacy and James Starks? Here’s how they stack up.

[table id=47 /]

Of course, the Falcons have played six games, and there are other circumstances to consider such as Le’Veon Bell’s two-game suspension. You can almost forget about the total yards due to the fact Atlanta has played the extra game, but the yards per carry is a more accurate statistic.

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That table is just to get an idea of how each duo is performing. In almost all of those, the team has a premier back complemented by the second back. Williams was the main guy while Bell was out, but now he plays a backseat role to the third-year man. Lacy is the No. 1 in Green Bay and Freeman leads the way in Atlanta, but Cincinnati and Washington have more of an equal split at running back.

So let’s forecast ahead to the end of the season. Which duo wins?

Oct 15, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman (24) runs for a touchdown past New Orleans Saints free safety Jairus Byrd (31) during the fourth quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints defeated the Falcons 31-21. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Looking at the combinations, it’s hard to see a pair that complements each other’s styles as well as Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman do in Atlanta. It’s early to tell with Coleman, and the jury is still very much out on him. But what we’ve seen from him—particularly in New Orleans as the complementary back—was a perfect change of pace. 

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With the Saints trying to stack the box and shut out Freeman, Coleman was able to use his speed to burst out into the open space and make a play. This is going to make the combination of the two tough to defend. Imagine them in a two-back set.

Eddie Lacy and James Starks pose a different kind of threat in Green Bay, but the two complement each other just as well. Both are power backs; Lacy is the premier runner and Starks comes on with fresh legs, and is actually very underrated.

There are of course other good teams of backs in the league. Andre Ellington and David Johnson could be a dangerous pairing of the future, so long as Ellington can stay healthy. Maybe LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams will dominate in Buffalo, and Chip Kelly’s trio of DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles has to hit its full potential soon, right?

But if Coleman can continue his development, fix any fundamental issues he has—particularly with ball security—and continue to be used on offense, the Falcons ground game could thrive.

Freeman is proving week in week out that his hot streak is no fluke. Finally given his opportunity, he’s proven himself to be an excellent running back. With the potential of Coleman complementing him and some good run blocking up front, the Atlanta Falcons could have the best duo of running backs in the NFL.