After Week 1, the Atlanta Falcons backfield quickly became an intriguing storyline for a lot of fantasy owners.
Widely considered a top five fantasy running back coming into the season, Devonta Freeman shared the backfield with fellow back Tevin Coleman in Week 1. That was one of the main reasons why Freeman scored a very underwhelming four fantasy points the first week.
All eyes would be on the Atlanta backfield with many owners hoping Freeman would bounce back versus the Oakland Raiders. Let’s take a look to see what happened for the Falcons running backs in Week 2.
It was a much more reassuring day for Freeman. He did bounce back, rushing for 93 yards on 17 carries and averaging 5.5 yards per carry, but the 24-year-old still left something to be desired. He wasn’t used at all in the passing game and didn’t find the end zone.
So despite the healthy yards per attempt average, Freeman failed to break the 10-point fantasy threshold for the second straight game. Once again, Coleman was a major reason why.
Falcons’ offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan seems convinced the two backs are equally talented, so Atlanta has been going with the split backfield in the first two games. In Week 1, Freeman received 36 snaps while Coleman had 32.
It was much of the same in Week 2, as Freeman had 17 touches to Coleman’s 14. Freeman started and played the entire first drive but then Coleman began the second series. The two backs pretty much alternated drives and spelled each other after just a couple plays the entire game.
Freeman was far more effective, as Coleman only averaged 3.8 yards per carry, but the 23-year-old caught two passes and found the end zone on a red zone carry. Coleman has 24.8 fantasy points while Freeman has just 13.3 points this season.
Don’t overreact too much to that total. Again, Freeman was by far the better back Sunday, but it’s now pretty clear that Atlanta wants to use this two-back system, and that’s going to eat into Freeman’s value big time.
Behind 338 touches in 2015, he finished third among running backs and top five overall with 1,634 yards from scrimmage. Freeman also scored 14 total touchdowns on his way to averaging about 16 fantasy points per week.
It was going to be tough for him to find the end zone that often once again in 2016. He had a pair of three-touchdown games last season which really helped propel him to 14 total scores, but the yardage was certainly attainable again.
That was, until the Falcons decided to utilize Coleman and the two-back system. It’s only two games, so it’s still a very small sample size, but Freeman is on pace to have 82 fewer touches than he did last year. Meanwhile, Coleman already has more than a quarter of the touches he had a season ago.
As disappointing as this is, Freeman is still worth starting. He could go off any given week, and due to the fact he was a very early pick, owners can’t really afford to sit him this early in the year and risk him having a big day. However, his expectations are much lower; owners cannot really anticipate him accumulating RB1 numbers if the two-running back system continues.
Meanwhile, Coleman has become worth considering as a FLEX play in standard leagues. He is averaging 94.0 yards from scrimmage and scored versus Oakland. As of right now, he is the preferred option in the passing game and is receiving equal amount of red zone opportunities.
Next week against New Orleans, the matchup is really juicy for both of them. The Saints were second-to-last in rushing defense and last in yards allowed per rush in 2015. New Orleans did much better this past Sunday versus the New York Giants, but in Week 1, the Saints allowed 6.4 yards per carry.
That makes both Falcons running backs starter worthy in Week 3. If owners have both backs, stick with Freeman at least one more week, but Coleman should have your attention. And even if Freeman does end up being the better fantasy back, if this new running philosophy continues in Atlanta, Freeman can no longer be considered a RB1.