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Tevin Coleman is This Year’s Breakout Running Back

Tevin Coleman had a ton of buzz before the NFL draft, but during fantasy draft season he has received virtually no hype. Some believe that Devonta Freeman will limit his upside, but let’s examine the two as prospects to disprove that notion.

Coleman or Freeman?

Coleman Freeman Comp


Coleman was drafted 73rd overall this year, and he clearly trumps Freeman in both production and speed. Some will argue that even though Coleman was drafted higher, Freeman will steal touches from him because he’s a more experienced player. Even though Freeman is more experienced, it’s the first year for both players in coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s offense so Freeman’s advantage in experience is reduced.

Also, Freeman wasn’t very efficient with his touches last year. Of running backs with at least 65 rushing attempts, Freeman ranked 44th of 67 eligible running backs in rushing efficiency.

So to recap, Freeman is slower, was less productive in college, wasn’t drafted by the current regime, and wasn’t very efficient last season. For all these reasons Coleman should see the majority of the touches out of the Falcons backfield.

Okay, How Much Coleman?

The first question about Coleman is how many touches will he receive as the lead back. To answer this, let’s take a look at Kyle Shanahan’s history during his tenure with the Redskins. I excluded his tenure with the Browns and Texans because he wasn’t there long enough to truly make his mark on either team.

Rushers Data

RB1 0.527 4.524 0.025
RB2 0.145 3.944 0.052
QB1 0.135 4.252 0.033
RB3 0.089 3.816 0.076
RB4 0.048 2.564 0.000

Shanahan clearly prefers to give one running back the bulk of his team’s carries. This also falls in line with what the Seahawks did during new head coach Dan Quinn’s tenure with the team. Coleman should see at least 45 percent of the Falcons touches, which would be the second lowest total that a top running back has received under Shanahan. Alfred Morris received over 60 percent in each of his first two seasons. If Coleman receives the same level of touches that Morris did as a rookie, he could really break out.

2015’s Leading Rookie Rusher?

Looking back at past draft classes, since 2008 an average of four rookie running backs per year have at least 100 carries and average four-plus YPC, and an average of 1.8 have over 175 carries while maintaining an average of four YPC. Tevin Coleman is currently the fifth rookie running back off the board, but it’s highly plausible Coleman ends up in both of these categories.

Most other rookie RBs being drafted ahead of Coleman have better competition to overcome. Todd Gurley is likely to miss the first few games of the season and still has a capable back in Tre Mason, and Melvin Gordon has a bad line, two capable NFL backs behind him, and has looked awful this preseason. This leaves TJ Yeldon and Ameer Abdullah as Coleman’s main competitors to be the leading rookie running back. Yeldon’s offense is dismal, and his line is also subpar. So now, the battle for the top rookie running back comes down to Abdullah and Coleman. Coleman will likely receive more carries and receive more goal line opportunities, but Abdullah should see more work in the passing game. Ultimately, I think Coleman should narrowly outscore Abdullah because of the lack of competition in Atlanta.

Out of all of these backs Coleman looks to have the highest chance to reach the 175 carry, four yards per carry benchmark. Even if we give Coleman below league average stats in touchdown rate and in the passing game, he would still be projected to finish at his current ADP of RB33. I have him projected for over 1,000 yards, seven touchdowns, 33 catches, and 283 receiving yards. This would have made Coleman the number ten running back last season, and I believe that this is his ceiling. With top ten potential and being priced at his floor, Coleman looks like an absolute steal in fantasy drafts.

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