The 2014 running back class is not as deep or as good as the 2014 wide receiver class, but don’t be in despair just yet. There are a few talented runners that not many people are discussing. One of the best runners is the not often used Devonta Freeman of Florida State. The young back was a part of a three-man committee so he did not see the normal wear and tear that most runners see in their college careers. He isn’t the biggest back at 5’ 8” 206 lbs., nor is he one of the fastest timing out at a 4.58 40 in Indianapolis. I watched four of his 2013 games: Duke, Auburn (national championship game), NC State, and Bethune-Cookman so I could better evaluate the skill set that he brings to the NFL.
I was very impressed with this young, decisive back. Unlike most back entering the draft, Freeman has never had a season with over 200 touches due to the time share in Florida State. This may cause a few red flags as some people may not believe he can handle the carriers due to limited opportunities, but I look at it as if he can take even more of a work load than most. His versatility makes him a great weapon as he can line up in the backfield as the fullback, the lead runner, or he can split out wide. When Freeman got called upon to lead block, he squared his shoulders, got good leverage, knocked his defender back, and opened up a seam to run thru. He runs passing routes well enough to draw coverage from slot corners.
In the passing game, Freeman is one of the 2014 class’ best weapons, second only to West Virginia’s Charles Sims. He steps up to attack the blitzers, squares his shoulders, and maintains contact throughout the block usually knocking them back. The young back keeps his head on a swivel and does a good job understanding where pressure will come from pre-snap. He does a good job selling a play fake which holds the defensive backs for a second to give receivers more time to establish separation. As a receiver, the runner adjusts well to the ball in the air, fully extends to make the catch, and usually making the reception in stride. Freeman has the quickness/burst to get into the flat in a hurry to make the most out of being in the open field. He is a hands catcher and runs crisp, precise routes. The back also does a good job of sensing when his quarterback is in trouble and usually comes back to bail him out either as a pass target or as a blocker down the field.
Freeman has quick, light feet and does a good job of slicing through the line of scrimmage, getting small in the hole, and not giving defenders much to hit. He has one of the best jump cuts in his class. The back might be the best north and south runner in his class as there is little wasted time for him to get into full acceleration. It’s his sudden burst of energy that rivals only Lache Seastrunk that makes him a dangerous play maker. His foot frequency is scary as he starts and stops on a dime, causing defenders to fly right past him. He runs through most arm tackles, so it is best to tackle him controlling his hips. When defenders hit him high, Freeman tends to bounce off and then re-establishes his feet with his outstanding balance.
The young back has good vision that he uses to set up his blocks and he will run behind them until they get engaged with a blocker, then move on to the next blocker, until he sees daylight. Freeman doesn’t need much of an opening to do damage. He seems to have a knack for making the first guy miss and keeps his feet chopping and fighting for extra yardage. The back always makes sure that he has two hands on the ball when he anticipates contact.
His quickness helps him set up defenders with a series of moves that keep him upright. He might use a shoulder shake, head slap, spin move, and stiff-arm all on the same defender just trying to get extra yardage. It’s the attention he puts in his second and third effort is what impresses me the most about him.
My biggest concern with Freeman is that he is not the stoutest back and that while he has quick feet, he doesn’t have the power or leg drive of a Carlos Hyde or Jeremy Hill. That suddenness served him well with a big, powerful college offensive line in front of him, but he might have to be more creative in the NFL. He will certainly be underrated in draft circles and might be a huge value in your rookie drafts. I have a feeling that Freeman will get drafted by a team that already has an established starter, but he will carve out a role as a returner or change of pace back right away. It might take an injury to strike for him to get an opportunity, but patience with a back this talented is necessary in dynasty.
For questions or comments, please contact me on Twitter @AndrewMiley or @Dynasty_Blitz.