Sure, you know the names of rookie running backs like Carlos Hyde, Tre Mason and Bishop Sankey, but if you want an under-the-radar back with the opportunity to outplay his value on draft day, pay attention to the Atlanta Falcons' Devonta Freeman.
While Hyde, Mason and Sankey receive more hype—and rightfully so, as they are blessed with fantastic playmaking abilities and should be great in no time—Freeman should get some love on draft day too because he has what you essentially want in a rookie back, and that is an opportunity.
You see, Freeman is heading to a Falcons team that has an aging back in Steven Jackson who is clearly on the decline, and it's no sure thing Jackson can hold up at age 30. Jackson, who missed four games last year, has a total of 2,553 carries in his career. So, the wear is clearly on the tires.
As for the other back on the Falcons, Jacquizz Rodgers, well, he has done nothing in his time in Atlanta to separate himself as anything more than a third-down back. With a career 3.6 YPC clip, Rodgers should not prevent Freeman from getting the bulk of carries should something happen to Jackson.
Although Jackson is the unquestioned starter for the Falcons, expect the team to keep him fresh by incorporating more of Freeman into the game plan. So, between the Falcons' effort in trying to keep Jackson fresh and the good possibility of him missing games, Freeman should be in line for a good dose of carries this season.
Drafted in the fourth round from Florida State, Freeman comes to the Falcons as a winner and ready-made for the challenges that await him in the NFL.
Many people are expecting big things from him, including Vaughn McClure who covers the Falcons for ESPN.com.
When asked what training camp battles to monitor, McClure had this to say:
Although there will be plenty of competition among Falcons linebackers, I'm turning my attention to the running backs. Steven Jackson is the starter. He turns 31 next month and probably has one good season left in him -- but if he is slowed by nagging injuries, the Falcons will turn to someone else. They drafted Devonta Freeman in the fourth round with thoughts of grooming him as the three-down back of the future. If he looks as good in pads as he did in shorts, Jackson might have a battle on his hands. Even the battle for the third running back will be interesting with Jacquizz Rodgers and Antone Smith in the mix. The running backs, as a whole, have an improved offensive line to run behind. Let's see whether that helps them.
So when you combine the championship pedigree Freeman brings with him from Florida State along with the opportunity to take caries away from Jackson, he could be a steal in the later rounds of drafts.
According to FantasyPros.com's ADP rankings, Freeman is being selected as the 152nd player in preseason drafts. If you can get Freeman in the double-digit rounds in 10-12 team leagues, consider yourself lucky.
At first, Freeman should be counted on to be a high-end No. 4 RB. But with the upside he has and the opportunities that may await him, Freeman could very well end up a No. 3 back by the end of the year.
You should expect around 165-180 carries, 750-plus rushing yards and 4-6 total touchdowns from Freeman in his rookie year. That's a good base, but if Jackson goes down for a long period of time, Freeman could be in for so much more.
Do yourselves a favor and make Freeman a priority this draft season.
You'll be thankful you did.
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