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Devonta Freeman Is Undervalued Once Again

Coming off of a 2015 breakout season, Shawn Siegele suggested that Devonta Freeman was still wildly undervalued. Shawn showed that his receiving prowess should’ve put him ahead of players like Adrian Peterson and Lamar Miller at the time but instead he was being drafted behind them. It’s now 2018 and the league has moved further toward the dual threat backs, but Freeman is coming off a down year and finds himself getting drafted behind some shiny new toys. Here’s why I believe that’s a mistake. 

The Floor Is as Safe as It Gets

Last season the Falcons were facing significant regression. Matt Ryan was coming off of an MVP season where his average TD percentage jumped from 4.45 percent to over 7.0 percent. Not only that but the team lost it’s highly touted play caller Kyle Shanahan and replaced him with someone who had never called plays in the NFL before. Yet even with all that working against him, Freeman finished the season as the RB13.

Freeman is currently being drafted as the RB13 in MFL10s, with drafters expecting a repeat performance. Reports that the Falcons want to get Tevin Coleman “more involved in the passing game” may also continue to push Freeman down the board.

I’ve been a Coleman truther for a long time, but even if they ramp up his usage a bit, it’s tough to see why the team would want to take Freeman’s off of the field. Using the Rotoviz Screener we can see that he has been one of the better dual threats in the modern era through his first four seasons.

PLAYER START END reRECS.Q1
LaDainian Tomlinson 2001 2004 291
Reggie Bush 2006 2009 260
Ray Rice 2008 2011 250
Le’Veon Bell 2013 2016 227
Matt Forte 2008 2011 223
LeSean McCoy 2009 2012 220
Maurice Jones-Drew 2006 2009 201
Chris Johnson 2008 2011 194
Devonta Freeman 2014 2017 193
Steven Jackson 2004 2007 190

It’s also worth mentioning that no player has scored more PPR points than Freeman over the last three seasons.

Touchdowns Are UnPredictable?

It’s been proven that year-over-year touchdowns are pretty random. However that doesn’t seem to be the case with Freeman. No player has more rushing touchdowns than him over the last three seasons (31) and his touchdown rate has been fairly steady.

Devonta Freeman Is Undervalued

Last season I did a study that showed quarterback air yards correlated with red-zone opportunities. So while Freeman’s raw opportunity share may have dropped from his breakout season, his touchdown opportunity seems to be secure based not only on his own historical numbers but also Ryan’s.

It’s noteworthy that last season was a little odd in terms of that red-zone usage. In 2015, Freeman led the NFL in red-zone fantasy points. In 2016 he was top five. However last season he ended up outside the top ten and his teammate Coleman even outscored him. Perhaps that’s what offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian wants to do in the future, but considering the previous two seasons, we can safely expect that some red-zone usage will bounce back toward Freeman in 2018.

Conclusion

When I look at the RBs being drafted ahead of him, I’m left scratching my head. The big four make sense because they really don’t have any competition for touches and they each have an RB1 season on their résumés. After that it seems that some recency bias may be at play.

  • Alvin Kamara should be a monster for the first month of the season but should fall in line when Mark Ingram returns from suspension. His ridiculous efficiency in 2017 is also a reason to be leery.
  • Saquon Barkley looks like he’ll be an amazing player but wouldn’t be the first “greatest prospect since …” type to come in and disappoint.
  • Kareem Hunt had a really strong rookie season and honestly I can’t really knock anybody for buying into Hunt and the Andy Reid offense.
  • Leonard Fournette only had two really great rushing performances. He’s a banger type who battled injuries last season and has to fight T.J. Yeldon and Corey Grant for passing-game work.
  • Similar to Barkley, people loved Dalvin Cook‘s ability coming out of college, but we haven’t seen him do much on an NFL field.
  • Christian McCaffrey is a really fun player, but shouldn’t be going ahead of a guy like Freeman. Last season he lived off of receptions, but the Panthers added another receiver in the first-round of the NFL draft. D.J. Moore, Devin Funchess, Greg Olsen, and Curtis Samuel could put a serious dent in that opportunity on a team that hasn’t averaged 20 pass completions per game since 2014.

In the midst of the RB renaissance in fantasy football, many are recommending the popular Zero-RB strategy. If Freeman’s ADP doesn’t adjust over the next month, he’ll be the reason I don’t.

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