Devonta Freeman only managed to play in two games last year, but if he can stay healthy and avoid hits this year, he could rebound in a big way.
Warrick Dunn ran for over 10,000 yards in the NFL, so he is a good person to listen to for backfield advice. As part owner of the Atlanta Falcons, he has a relationship with Devonta Freeman and recently advised him to be more careful about the hits he takes.
It is good advice, particularly since Freeman has missed time in the NFL 3 different times due to concussions, and has also dealt with knee, hip, and foot issues. Of course, no NFL player avoids all injuries, and running backs, in particular, take a lot of abuse.
But Freeman has been known since he entered the league not only for his quick cuts and great vision, but also for his aggressive, sometimes reckless running style. Willingness to take on potential tacklers with aggression is an admired, sought-after trait in a running back, and Freeman has certainly shown he is willing.
But if Freeman will willingly avoid some hits instead of always dishing out the punishment on his runs, he will extend his career and avoid injury. Dunn is emphasizing to Freeman that 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. “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.’
In 2015 and 2016, Pro Bowl seasons for Freeman, he had 1,634 total yards and 1,541 total yards, respectively. He only missed one game during those seasons, and his career was off to a torrid start. However, injuries began catching up with him in 2017, and ruined his 2018 season completely. He simply must heed Dunn’s advice and be more strategic about the hits he sustains moving forward.
If he does, there is no reason to believe he cannot return to his early career form and finish the season with over 1,500 total yards. In fact, now that the Falcons have more receiving weapons and an improved offensive line, it is absolutely within the realm of possibility for Freeman to have the best season of his career, even pushing toward 2,000 total yards.
He is one of the few bell cow running backs left in the league, with Tevin Coleman having left via free agency and Ito Smith the only other back on the roster likely to receive carries. If he can avoid hits, I see Freeman rebounding into the top 10 running backs in fantasy in 2019.
Kevin Scott is a fantasy football veteran and plays in over 30 leagues per year. He has made a profit 10 years running. You can follow him @champofantasy.