Most of us were formally introduced to Devonta Freeman the person this past summer on the HBO series Hard Knocks. Fresh off of winning a BCS National Championship at Florida State, Freeman comes across to viewers as a scrappy rookie running back, a player looking to land a job in the Atlanta Falcons' backfield.
Devonta Freeman the football player was introduced to us during the 2014 preseason, and what an introduction it was.
In the final tune-up game before the Falcons regular season kicks into gear, Freeman was impressive once again. Carrying the ball 12 times for 42 yards and a touchdown, he let Falcons fans in on a little secret: He actually as a unique combination of speed and power—something the fanbase hasn't seen in a long time.
He can run the ball effectively, there's no denying that. His vision is great, and he keeps a low center of gravity in between the tackles. But it's Freeman's ability as a receiver that has been some what of a revelation.
His experience in that area wasn't very extensive as he entered the 2014 draft. At Florida State, he snagged only 22 receptions during the 2013 season and 10 the season prior to that.
Against the Jags, Freeman came down with five receptions for 45 yards and looked comfortable coming out of the backfield. Developing his receiving skills seems to be part of the plan for Falcons head coach Mike Smith and his staff.
And why wouldn't it be? This whole "modern day" NFL is all offensive utilizing versatile playmakers who can create matchup problems for a defense. Grooming Freeman to become an efficient runner and pass-catcher is just smart football on the Falcons part.
One thing is clear: Devonta Freeman and Antone Smith need snaps. Feed 'em like honored guests.— The Falcoholic (@TheFalcoholic) August 29, 2014
Right now, the starting running back for this team is Steven Jackson. However, that doesn't take away from the things the 22-year-old Freeman has done through four grueling weeks of preseason football. This young man has made a name for himself and everyone who has an interest in the Falcons seems to have taken notice.
Breaking down what he took away from Freeman's performance, Dave Choate of TheFalcoholic.com said: "Devonta Freeman will run well. He may not be a polished blocker yet, and I can't promise you he has the best hands, but the man knows how to carry the rock."
Another important takeaway from Freeman's outstanding showing against the Jaguars was that no matter who was playing quarterback, they felt comfortable dumping the ball off to the first-year back. There was zero hesitation, no "oh well, what other choice do I have" situations. It was all about feeding Freeman when he was open and letting him do the rest.
The coaching staff also managed to do a great job of using him in the red zone. Freeman lined up in a power formation and muscled his way through a rugged Jaguars' defensive line, scoring an early touchdown from one-yard out.
|Rushing Stats||Receiving Stats|
Stats courtesy of NFL.com
Peering into our crystal ball for a second, what emerges from the lush clouds of smoke and random bursts of lighting is that Freeman is the future of this rushing attack. Through three preseason games, he's already ran the ball as well as the man ahead of him on the depth chart, Jacquizz Rodgers, and the "let's celebrate with ice cold champagne" moment in all of this is that he's only getting better.
Watching Freeman handle all of the work that has been thrown his way this preseason is exactly why you let them play the game before rushing to judgment.
Coming out of college he wasn't considered by most observers to be a top-tier tailback. He was a bit undersized at 5'8", and as NFL.com's Nolan Nawrocki mentioned, he carried the ball "behind one of the most talented offensive lines in college football in an offense stacked with talent."
Nawrocki did get one thing right. He wrote that Freeman may "prove to be a better pro than college player." That assessment looks to be spot on so far.
As sad as it might be, everyone is aware by now that Jackson's terrific tenure as a pro running back is starting to flame out. Last season, he averaged a career-worst 3.5 yards per carry and missed four games due to injury.
Rodgers may have talent at his disposal, but we've seen his dog-and-pony show before. Freeman already appears to be the more decisive and physical runner, and again, he's just starting to put the pieces of his NFL career together.
"In his fourth game in the NFL, Devonta Freeman continued to make the Falcons look brilliant for selecting him in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft," scribed Reid Ferrin of AtlantaFalcons.com.
We now know that Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff drafted a compactly built, talent-laden running back. Considering what we've seen out of him thus far, the 5'8" terror from Florida State could end up being one of the best draft picks this team has made in a while.