The workhorse running back is an endangered species in the NFL. Running back by committee (RBBC) deployment has steadily increased over the last five years, making it much more difficult for fantasy owners to land a dependable RB1. In the 2010 NFL regular season, ten running backs eclipsed the 275 carry mark, seven of those toted the rock 300 times or more. In 2015 only two backs saw 275 carries and only one of those eclipsed the 300 carry mark.
Gone are the days in which fantasy owners are blessed to have a myriad of options for their RB1 slot. The RBBC approach has led to more wide receivers finding their way to the top of draft boards as fantasy owners seem to favor the dependability of top tier receivers. If you are going to select a running back with your first pick, you best be certain you are getting what you pay for. Honestly, I could select a handful of RB1 prospects that pose significant bust potential in 2016. But I was tasked with selecting the one back that fantasy owners should treat like the plague on draft day. Enter Devonta Freeman.
The Falcons have a more difficult schedule in 2016. Freeman will play six games in 2016 in which he will face a top eight rush defense. In 2015, Freeman had only two such match ups. In those two games, Freeman averaged only 56 yards rushing (3.3 YPC) and 20 yards receiving. In his other 14 games of 2016, Freeman averaged 73 yards (4.6 YPC) and 41.5 yards receiving. In addition, his production slowed significantly as the season progressed. Over the last eight games of the season, Freeman received 10 or more carries in seven of those contests and averaged a paltry 2.97 YPC . He managed only two rushing touchdowns over the final nine contests of 2015.
Freeman’s workload will be reduced in 2016. This is not mere speculation on my part. Atlanta’s running back coach publicly stated they plan to reduce Freeman’s workload by increasing the workload of second year back Tevin Coleman. Remember that Coleman won the starting job in 2015 and only relinquished it after an injury. Granted, Freeman took advantage of his opportunity, but the Falcon coaching staff obviously sees something special in Coleman to already be planning to increase his workload.
Value is the name of the game in fantasy football. In standard leagues, Freeman is currently being selected 16th overall/RB8. His presumed decrease in workload, tougher schedule and significant decrease in production over the second half of 2015 combine to raise a big red flag on his 2016 value. He will be more valuable in PPR formats but still will see a substantial decrease in overall production.
In lieu of Freeman, consider a guy whose current ADP is two spots later in Alshon Jeffery. The franchise tag that Jeffery will be playing under in 2016 means he will be auditioning for a huge contract in 2017. As Jay Cutler‘s unquestionable No. 1 target, a favorable strength of schedule and contract year motivation, Jeffery is poised for a big year.
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