Atlanta Falcons: Can Devonta Freeman continue his success in 2016?
Can Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman build on his success in 2016?
In 2014, the Atlanta Falcons were coming off a 6-10 season and starting fresh with a new coaching staff that many fans hoped could restore the team back to the top of the NFC. While many players were taking vacations with their friends and families, one man went back to his hometown not only to give back to his community, but also continue to work hard to impress his new coaches.
Want to take a guess as to which player it was?
Running back Devonta Freeman was voted to his first Pro Bowl in 2015 and proved to be the team’s best running back after a lasting battle with rookie running back Tevin Coleman. Freeman wowed fans with his ability to turn negative yardage plays into positive ones with his elusive footwork and great field vision.
He collected 1,056 rushing yards with 578 receiving, and it seems he’s now apart of a special trio in Atlanta along with quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones.
With all of the success achieved in the previous year, their question lingers if Freeman can build on it in 2016?
Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has implemented the zone-blocking scheme everywhere he has gone and has produced many noticeable running backs like Alfred Morris and Steve Slaton but Freeman possess a different element that separates him from others.
In his college days at Florida State University, Freeman ran a similar system where he became the first 1,000-yard back since Warrick Dunn. His vision and ability to change direction at a dime’s drop impressed many but decisive cuts in and out is where he made a name for himself with NFL scouts and ultimately the Atlanta Falcons.
Fast forward to the 2016 and you can see that Freeman could elevate his game even higher with the new additions of center Alex Mack and wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, whose impact may be greater than many expect.
Last season, the Falcons dealt with problems at the interior of the offensive line, despite helping pave the way for the team’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Michael Turner. Mike Person switched position from guard to center in the beginning of the 2015 offseason after the team released Joe Hawley after being derailed by injuries. Person, however, made the coaching staff cautious of making him a long-term solution after multiple games where he seemed out of place.
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This is where center Mack comes into play. The three-time Pro Bowler also anchored the offensive live Shanahan helped construct in 2014 with the Cleveland Browns. In a zone-blocking scheme, the center is the most important piece and it is his responsibility to make the correct checks and calls at the line of scrimmage. Mack may be a much-needed signing from a need standpoint but his impact will hold more with the inclined production of Freeman.
For all great backs, having a great supporting cast helps in the long haul when thinking of long-term decisions. Freeman has the pleasure of playing alongside of one the of the game’s best receivers in Jones. He also has a respectable quarterback in Ryan, who could use the production from Freeman to help take pressure off of his own play. In terms of versatility, Freeman has shown a better all-around game than the previous running backs that played in Shanahan’s offense.
In the NFL, players who show a well-rounded game to play in any situation leaves coaches to keep him on the field and Freeman has that talent. He was the third best pass-catching running back and was second on the team with 578 receiving yards and three touchdowns to prove that he is stable every-down back.
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The 2015 season enlightened the Falcons of the talent of their young running back core more than ever, but Freeman seems to be the guy to lead the backfield to greatness. Some may argue he is a product of the system, but the talent from Freeman is special — and it’s something the Falcons haven’t had in a long time.