Devonta Freeman: A Sell-High Candidate?

Austan Kas


After a quiet rookie season, Devonta Freeman exploded onto the scene and ended 2015 as the highest scoring running back. He racked up an incredible 303 points in PPR formats, outscoring second-place Adrian Peterson by a whopping 51 points despite missing one game and a majority of another.

Freeman carried the ball 264 times for 1,061 yards and 11 touchdowns. He really made hay as a receiver, hauling in 73-of-97 targets for 578 yards and three scores.

It was a fantastic year and one which drastically altered his dynasty value. Five of our rankers have him as a top-five running back, and honestly, at a position which has been a pure bloodbath this year, Freeman has to be ranked up fairly high. I personally have him eighth.

I say all that to say: I think Devonta Freeman is the best sell-high candidate in dynasty football.

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I Despise Running Backs

Freeman plays running back, so I automatically look at him with an untrusting glare out of the corner of my eyes. I’m terrified of running backs. When assembling a roster, I build my team around receivers and go with cheap, low-cost propositions at running back, jumping at any chance to acquire an undervalued back.

Receivers are much, much safer propositions over the long haul.

In our top 100 rankings, Freeman is slotted in the neighborhood of wideouts such as Jarvis Landry, Martavis Bryant, Donte Moncrief, Brandin Cooks and Keenan Allen. I would deal him straight up for any of those players 1,000 out of 100 times. Even if those players aren’t to your liking, with the year Freeman had, you may be able to aim higher into the tier of Randall Cobb, Sammy Watkins and Demaryius Thomas, especially if you find an owner in desperate need of a running back.

In dynasty football, it’s so uncommon to find a running back who can sustain anything resembling longevity. It’s like a celebrity marriage — three years is a smashing success.

The position is getting to the point where when a younger guy puts together three or four good weeks, he’s an immediate threat to creep inside the top 15 dynasty running back rankings. We’re grasping at any semblance of an every-down, workhorse back.

It makes sense; we all know how important running backs are in fantasy football. They’re so darn hard to trust, though.

Freeman had a really great season, but the chances of him playing at this level in 2017 just aren’t very good. The odds of any running back putting together three consecutive very productive, relatively injury-free seasons are slim. Honestly, if I had any highly-coveted back, even Todd Gurley, I’d be dangling him in hopes of netting an elite wideout.

Freeman’s Season Was Misleading

As a rookie in 2014, Freeman had a very quiet season, although he really didn’t get much of a chance to assert himself. He carried the ball 65 times for 248 yards (3.8 yards per carry) and one score. He did show well as a receiver, catching 30-of-38 targets for 225 yards and another touchdown.

The truth is, he didn’t really improve his efficiency as a runner or receiver in 2015; he just got a ton more volume.

Freeman averaged a mediocre 4.0 yards per rush, which ranked 32nd among backs with at least 100 carries, but he excelled as a receiver. He finished third among running backs in targets and receptions, trailing only Danny Woodhead and Theo Riddick. He caught 78 percent of his targets as a rookie and 75 percent of his looks in 2015. He registered 7.5 yards per reception in 2014 and posted a 7.9 yards-per-catch clip this past season.

Of course, there is something to be said for maintaining his level of efficiency with 242 more touches from Year 1 to Year 2. I’m not trying to say he didn’t have a good season — he did. I’m trying to show he didn’t significantly improve his per-play rates from his rookie campaign. He was a volume king.

Two Birds In The Nest

Tevin Coleman is good, and the Falcons’ coaching staff agrees. Not only did the new regime come in and draft Coleman, but Coleman started Atlanta’s first two games.

In week 1, Coleman thoroughly outplayed Freeman. While Coleman racked up 80 yards on 18 carries, Freeman amassed only 18 yards on 10 carries, and he had a nine-yard run, meaning he gained a total of nine yards on his other nine carries. Freeman did add three receptions for 29 yards.

Coleman also started in Week 2, rushing for 32 yards and his first touchdown on nine carries, but he exited early with a rib injury. As we know, he never got the lead job back.

Freeman has certainly earned the right to open 2016 as the Falcons’ top dog. However, if he continues to rush for 4.0 yards per carry, like he’s done through his first 329 NFL rushing attempts, I think Coleman will start to eat away at those carries.

Albeit in a smaller sample size, Coleman averaged 4.5 yards per carry in 2015, totaling 392 yards and one score. Coleman has not shown anywhere near the pass-catching ability of Freeman, making just two grabs on 11 targets last year, so Freeman certainly has a stranglehold on third-down work.

Tale of Two Halves

After Coleman went down in Week 2, Freeman started the week 3 contest against the Dallas Cowboys and went bonkers. He exploded for 193 total yards (141 on the ground) and three scores.

It was his breakout game and the start of a scorching hot stretch. Freeman put up at least 120 total yards over the next five games. From week 3 through week 6, here were his week-by-week PPR point totals: 42.3, 37.9, 32.7 and 35.6.

That’s some insane stuff right there. Those numbers would make Antonio Brown blush.

Those weeks were inflated by some favorable touchdown luck as he scored a hard-to-believe nine touchdowns over those four games.

Obviously, Freeman didn’t maintain that pace (no one could), but he was still a solid week-to-week producer. Over his final eight games, counting Week 11 when he left in the first quarter with a concussion, Freeman scored at least 15 points six times.

However, he was really propped up by his receiving numbers. After excelling on the ground in weeks 3-6, he fell back in line with his career rushing numbers. Actually, over the final five weeks, once he returned from the concussion, Freeman averaged a putrid 3.0 yards per carry. He offset this with immense volume, averaging 19.4 carries per game in that stretch.

In Conclusion

Trading is my favorite part of dynasty football. I love taking advantage of what I believe to be inaccuracies in the market and capitalizing on buy-low/sell-high opportunities.

I recently put together a list of buy-low candidates, and I was doing a flip-side piece on sell-high options when I thought of Freeman. His numbers were so intriguing, I had to explore it more thoroughly.

There is no discounting the end result of Freeman’s 2015 season; it was superb. The process of how he got to those numbers, however, can be nitpicked. Freeman’s totals were boosted up by a crazy, unrepeatable four-game run. Coleman, if he can navigate showers, will likely see more work next season, especially if Freeman’s rushing inefficiency continues. Coleman is actually a very nice buy-low option.

It’s not that I think Freeman will be a bad player going forward; I don’t believe he will put up these kinds of numbers again. That is the crux of it all. I believe Freeman just had the best year of his career, and it presents his owners with a chance to exchange him for a high-end asset, something which was unfathomable six months ago.