When we look at drafting a rookie running back, one of the most important factors is the existing barrier to entry. In other words, what is stopping this running back from getting on the field?
In Atlanta, I see a unique situation where rookie Tevin Coleman offers a much more compelling profile than incumbent starter Devonta Freeman.
In his rookie year, Freeman was barely able to see more carries than career backup Jacquizz Rodgers. When he was on the field, he only slightly out-produced Steven Jackson and Rodgers on a per carry basis.
While this isn’t fatal by any stretch, it’s not a positive indicator. The part of his rookie season that was favorable was his efficiency in the pass game, but this may be an area where his edge over Coleman is exaggerated.
Let’s compare Coleman and Freeman’s college production.
In their last two collegiate seasons, Coleman was clearly superior to Freeman. He rushed for more yards, a higher market share, and more yards per carry. He also scored more touchdowns and caught a higher market share of receiving yards.
Their athletic profiles are difficult to compare because Coleman had a foot injury and didn’t participate in any pre-draft agility or jumping drills.
Coleman is faster, leading to a better speed score. Although we don’t have a number for Coleman, we can see that Freeman’s agility is not elite, especially considering his size.
Perhaps there should be some optimism surrounding Coleman’s athleticism, as no running back in the 2015 draft class was more explosive. Either way, we can take solace in the fact that Freeman is not an impressive athlete.
Compared with Melvin Gordon
One could make the argument that Coleman had better college production than first round pick Melvin Gordon.
Coleman averaged a higher percentage of his team’s rushing production in his final two collegiate seasons. Jon Moore would add Coleman performed better than Gordon against common foes.
While many question his ability to break tackles, Coleman was the only rusher in his class to average more than four yards after contact (Gordon averaged 3.58).1
Seeing as Coleman was dominant in college, you must be wondering why he’s only being selected as RB28.
Rich Hribar questioned Coleman’s reliance on distance scoring. Fantasy Douche sees Atlanta as a likely timeshare and believes you should take the cheaper half. There are also concerns about Shanahan offenses not throwing to running backs.
If the negatives sway you, Shawn Siegele explains why Devonta Freeman is a good Zero RB candidate.
While Devonta Freeman was inherited, Coleman was selected after a Kyle Shanahan’s arrival. Freeman was drafted at pick 103, despite what has so far proved to be a weak running back class. Coleman was selected with pick 73 in what appears to be a good running back class.
Coleman has some favorable comps including Jamaal Charles, Ray Rice, Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, and Ameer Abdullah.
Coleman appears to be a discount Melvin Gordon. While Gordon was drafted much earlier at No. 15 overall, both are likely the most talented backs on their teams and both are unlikely to see a lot of pass down work because of Devonta Freeman and Danny Woodhead. Coleman is going in current MFL10s roughly 31 picks later.
Coleman’s college production and lack of elite competition make him an intriguing target for Zero RB drafters. Coleman is being selected as RB28, a slot where risk exists but plenty of upside remains.
If you’re going to select a running back who isn’t going to catch a lot of passes, make it a tailback on a Shanahan offense. With Shanahan, Alfred Morris finished as RB7 as a rookie.
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- Coleman’s YCo/Att dropped against Power 5 opponents, and this fits the anti-Coleman narrative. But how much emphasis should we place on this aspect and does it give a better result when we intentionally lower the sample size? Keep in mind Odell Beckham’s TD splits last year in SEC vs. non-SEC games. Overweighting the SEC results was a big reason many at RotoViz missed on Beckham. (back)