Warrick Dunn Told Falcons' Devonta Freeman to Avoid Big Hits After 2018 Injuries

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistJune 5, 2019

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 06:  Jordan Hicks #58 and Kamu Grugier-Hill #54 of the Philadelphia Eagles tackle Devonta Freeman #24 of the Atlanta Falcons short of the goal line during the first half at Lincoln Financial Field on September 6, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Warrick Dunn spent 12 years in the NFL, so the advice he offers to fellow running backs comes from a place of personal experience. When it comes to Atlanta Falcons star Devonta Freeman specifically, discretion is the better part of valor.

"A lot of times, these guys always want to prove that they're tough or that they can get the tough yard, but sometimes you have to live for another down," Dunn said, per ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure. "My advice to Devonta was, 'You have to learn how to protect yourself at the same time. You're picking up tough yards, but you have to be smart and strategic about it.'"

That guidance is especially applicable to Freeman after the two-time Pro Bowler underwent season-ending groin surgery last October. He had also missed a stretch of games earlier in the year with a knee contusion.

Dunn told McClure he "wouldn't want to get hit at all" when carrying the ball during his career and that he was "not going to take shots."

Dunn's production shows how successful that approach was. He ran for a career-high 1,416 yards in 2005 when he was 30 and followed up with 1,140 yards in 2006. Dunn still averaged a respectable 4.2 yards per carry in 2008—his final season—when he had turned 33.

The Falcons probably agree with Dunn's assessment.

Freeman's last Pro Bowl appearance came in 2016, when Atlanta finished first in offensive efficiency, per Football Outsiders. Over the past two years, he has combined to run for just 933 yards and seven touchdowns. Not coincidentally, the Falcons were ninth and eighth, respectively, in offensive efficiency during that time.

Tevin Coleman isn't around either to provide depth behind Freeman after signing a two-year, $8.5 million deal with the San Francisco 49ers.

Atlanta needs Freeman to be back to his best in order to have an elite offense again, and that won't happen if he's battling injuries.