When Tevin Coleman played 32 snaps in week 1 compared to only 36 for starter Devonta Freeman, it confirmed what the Falcons had been preaching all off-season: their backfield was going to be a true committee. To those who had not been following this situation closely, this came as a great surprise: after all, Freeman was last year’s fantasy football darling, finishing the 2015 season with 14 touchdowns in 15 games and even serving as a player captain in the Pro Bowl. Why would the Falcons want to take him off the field for an unproven backup in only his second year?
What people often forget is that Tevin Coleman actually won the starting job for Week 1 as a rookie last season. It was only after an injury that Devonta Freeman got his chance and ran with it, scoring an eye-popping 9 TDs in his first 4 games as the starter. Needless to say, by the time Coleman got back his role had diminished significantly. However, that certainly doesn’t mean Coleman played poorly, as he averaged a solid 4.5 YPC in an admittedly small sample size compared to just 4.0 from Freeman, who wore down significantly in the second half of the season. Given Freeman’s relative lack of size and apparent inability to handle a full “workhorse” role effectively, it’s hard to fault the Falcons for looking to reduce his role heading into 2016. But why relegate him to a full-on platoon?
Coming into the league as a third round pick last year, Tevin Coleman’s skillset wasn’t the most diverse, but he was clearly very talented. In fact, his breakaway speed and physicality led me to believe he was right up there with Todd Gurley as one of the best RBs in his draft class. While some people were worried about his ability to break tackles and make people miss, he finished 7th in the country in elusive rating during his final season in college according to Pro Football Focus and has done nothing that would suggest he can’t operate in space (https://www.profootballfocus.com/backfield-breakdown-atlanta-falcons/). Additionally, while he never caught more than 25 passes or reached 200 receiving yards in a season in college and had a mere 2 receptions on 11 targets last season, Coleman seems to have added a receiving element to his game this year that should help him get on the field on some third downs. The Falcons made it a point of emphasis this offseason to try to involve him more in the passing game as a means of using his speed, and that certainly showed in Week 1 where Coleman caught 5 of his 6 targets for 95 yards.
So, just when could we see Coleman get his opportunity to truly break out? It’s hard to make fantasy owners any promises, as conventional wisdom says Freeman’s presence makes it unlikely that a full breakout occurs within the next two seasons. But given the potential for injuries and short overall shelf life for running backs, it could happen earlier than anyone anticipates. It’s nearly impossible to predict just when Coleman will get his chance (or even with what team), but when he does he’s poised to take advantage in a big way. It’s time to stop looking at him as simply the “other guy” in Atlanta’s backfield, and recognize him as a promising young player in his own right.