Hey, Fantasy Football Owners: Don't Forget About Devonta Freeman
A huge chunk of player potential in fantasy football â€“ redraft leagues, at least â€“ comes down to opportunity. Because of opportunity, a mediocre, slow, boring player who sees the field on a regular basis can often outproduce a talented, speedy, fun one who doesn't. If you donâ€™t believe me, 2012â€™s Shonn Greene is laughing at you.
Part of the reason a lot of folks are so interested in Titansâ€™ new running back Bishop Sankey right now is because he not only was the first running back selected in the NFL Draft, but heâ€™s probably got the best opportunity to produce when compared to any upcoming first-year runner in the league. If you donâ€™t believe me, 2014â€™s Shonn Greene is laughing at you.
The truth is, unlike last year where players like Eddie Lacy and Leâ€™Veon Bell had clear paths to being high-volume running backs during their rookie campaigns, the 2014 season doesnâ€™t really bring the same type of obvious opportunity for rookie runners. Or at least, thatâ€™s what it initially looks like.
Thereâ€™s actually another guy Iâ€™m really interested in, and heâ€™s one that may be off the casual NFL fanâ€™s radar. Itâ€™s Devonta Freeman, a fourth-round selection that landed in Atlanta, a place where Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers look to be the only roadblocks to his first-year potential. Sign me up.
Again, there are two sides to this equation. While opportunity is one of them, talent is the other. If a player really is going to become relevant in fantasy, he needs a bit of the latter, regardless of the number of carries or catches heâ€™ll get. And because Freeman was the ninth running back off the board last week, itâ€™s clear that there may be some concern over his potential in the league.
But my goodness, letâ€™s not overlook the opportunity he has.
Steven Jacksonâ€™s the lead back in Atlanta, and will enter the season as a 31-year-old player. Last year, the ex-Ram missed four games due to injury, and totaled -12.67 Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP). Among the 35 running backs with 150 or more carries, that ranked 23rd. And on a per rush basis (Rushing NEP divided by rushes), Jackson ranked 27th.
While his Rushing NEP score wasnâ€™t the worst of his career, a lot of that had to do with the fact that it was the first season since his rookie year without 200 or more carries. In truth, Jacksonâ€™s -0.08 Rushing NEP per tote average tied him for the worst one heâ€™s had over his entire 10-year NFL stint. Had he seen his usual volume, it would have probably gone down as one of the worst aggregate seasons of his career.
Backup Jacquizz Rodgers doesnâ€™t look any better. The fantasy community has wanted him to be good since entering the league in 2011, but heâ€™s produced some really awful numbers. Without even reaching 100 attempts in a single season, â€˜Quizz has a worse Rushing NEP per rush average over the course of his career than what Jackson saw last year (-0.08 vs. -0.10). Considering that's with little volume, Rodgers doesn't look like a huge talent in the way of Freeman.
Lastly, there's Antone Smith, who, in 49 NFL games, has six rushing attempts.
Thatâ€™s it. Thatâ€™s Freemanâ€™s competition. An aging running back that showed signs of it last year, another guy whoâ€™s been incredibly inefficient on the ground during his first three years in the league and a player with six rushes in five years.
If Freeman isnâ€™t any good though, then this really doesnâ€™t matter. Fortunately, using our READ metric, we can see the potential he has during his first year in the league. READ looks at combine results of a player, pairs them to players with similar numbers and attributes, and spits out a number of comparables. Then, since we know the kind of offense Freeman is moving into, READ will adjust these comparables to only show players who played in a similar offense.
The top comparable for Freeman, given his opportunity and metrics, is Domanick Davis. While that may be a turn off, remember that Davis was actually nice fantasy back during his rookie year, finishing 13th within the running back position while rushing for 1,031 yards and scoring 8 times. The second-best comp is Ronnie Brown, who also was pretty good during his first year in 2005, finishing the season as the 24th-ranked runner. Knowshon Moreno's rookie year ranked third, and he was even better than Brown, scoring nine times.
His comps are by no means beastly, but they're serviceable for a player who may not even be close to a thought to fantasy football owners right now. And while plenty still has to play out, knowing that there's opportunity for Freeman could pay off towards the tail-end of a fantasy draft.