Let’s talk about a guy that many are high on this year (again) but he hasn’t been able to stay on the field enough the past couple of years – Devonta Freeman. Now in his age 27 season, Freeman was a Miami area high school product after helping his team win the 2010 Class 6A state championship where he secured the MVP after rushing for 308 yards on 36 carries (in 1 game)! Considered a four-star recruit by Rivals.com, he was rated the best running back in the nation, and attended Florida State. During his time at FSU, Freeman improved during each of his 3 seasons. His junior year he rushed for 173 times for 1,016 yards (5.9 YPC) and 14 TDs, adding in 22 catches for 278 yards and another TD.
Drafted in the 4th round by the Atlanta Falcons of the 2014 NFL Draft, he ran a 4.58 second 40-yard dash at the Combine. During his rookie season, he was part of a crowded backfield with Steven Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers and Antone Smith but still managed to carve out a role where he accumulated 248 yards on 65 carries, adding another 225 receiving yards on 30 catches, with 3 combined TDs. Despite missing about 10 days of practice, and the entire preseason due to a hamstring injury, 2015 was Freeman’s breakout season. Then age 23, he rushed for 1,056 yards at 4.0 YPC and 11 TDs as well as caught 73 passes on 97 targets for 578 yards and another 3 TDs. That year he also missed one game with a concussion.
In 2016, Freeman played in all 16 games and had similar production to his 2015 season, combining for 1,541 rushing and receiving yards as well as 13 TDs. He suffered a hip pointer injury midway through the season but it didn’t cause him to miss any time. Before the start of the 2017 season, Freeman signed a 5 year, $41.25M contract extension to make him the highest paid RB in the NFL. Statistically Freeman took a step back this season, as his YPC dropped from 4.8 to 4.4, as he rushed 196 times for 865 yards, 7 TDs (down from 11 the previous year) and caught 36 passes on 47 targets for 317 yards and 1 TD. Injuries played a role in Freeman’s performance in 2017, as he suffered 2 concussions, one in the preseason, and a second in November, then suffered a Grade 2 (partial tear) of his right MCL and PCL. These are two of the major four ligaments in the knee. The MCL is commonly injured, usually by taking a hit to the outside of the knee. The PCL is the thick ligament that crisscrosses with the ACL, and is important in stabilizing the knee. It essentially serves to counteract the forces of the ACL, and is not commonly injured. Typically landing hard on the ground with a flexed knee is the most common way to cause a PCL sprain. Grade 2 PCL sprains rarely require surgery but take several months of rehab before the person is comfortable running again. The person may describe their knee as unstable, or ‘loose.’
Heading into the 2018 NFL season, Freeman spent the majority of the offseason recovering from his right knee MCL/PCL. Despite ending his season prematurely with the 2 major knee ligament injury, Freeman was being drafted in the mid-second round in PPR leagues, as the 12th RB off the board. In one word how did Devonta Freeman’s 2018 season go? Awful. It’s easy to forget that. Let’s review why. He suffered a right knee injury (the same knee as he injured about 9 months prior) in Week 1 and was forced to miss the next 3 games. In his first game back, Week 5 against the Steelers, Freeman sustained foot and groin injuries in that game. During the 2018 season many people’s mid-second round pick rushed for a TOTAL of 14 carries, caught 5 passes and then underwent season-ending sports hernia surgery in October. Wow. So now he has 4 separate issues that he is dealing with: a bum right knee, a foot injury, a groin injury, and sports hernia that required surgery. Don’t forget about his history of 3 concussions (that we know of).
The good news is that Freeman has since recovered from surgery and was able to fully participate in training camp and OTA’s, earned praise from head coach Dan Quinn for his “energy” and “mental toughness.” Looking at 2019, Freeman really doesn’t have to worry about his sports hernia, as those rarely get reinjured after surgery, but the same can’t be said about his right knee issues, foot injury as well as a history of multiple concussions. Those I’m concerned about. He is entering his age 27 season, and should lead the Falcons backfield ahead of Ito Smith, Qadree Ollison, Brian Hill and Kenjon Barner. There have been rumblings that 5th rd rookie Qadree Ollison will help out in the short-yardage situations, where the Falcons struggled without Freeman last year.
The problem I have with Freeman this upcoming season is that I simply don’t trust him and his right knee. Freeman is a classic boom-or-bust RB in 2019. On one hand, he is healthy and is the starting RB for one of the best-projected offenses in the league. The RB depth chart is favorable as just mentioned and he is just 2 seasons removed from finishing as the RB6 (PPR) and has fewer career touches than similarly aged players such as Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon. On the other hand, the pass-happy Dirk Koetter returns as the Falcon’s OC, the same position he held in 2014 during Freeman’s rookie season (and worst fantasy season, outside of 2018). Given the above, as well as his durability concerns, I don’t believe that Freeman can be trusted as an every week RB1. He is currently being drafted in the late 3rdround, in between Marlon Mack and Derrick Henry, before rookies Josh Jacobs, David Montgomery and Kerryon Johnson. Personally I’d rather have all 5 of those RBs before I draft the 27 y/o RB coming off 2 injury-riddled seasons.
Injury Risk: High. 7/10.
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