Devonta Freeman’s breakout campaign was no doubt one of the biggest surprises of the 2015 season. The Atlanta Falcons running back went from a relative afterthought in his rookie season to one of the NFL’s true featured backs. He’s currently seventh in the league with 907 rushing yards and, in total, has 1,450 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns. Those figures are even more impressive when one considers that Freeman shared time with rookie back Tevin Coleman in his first two games and also missed a good portion of two others.
Much of Freeman’s production came during a torrid six-game stretch in which he emphatically announced his presence to the league. In that span, between Weeks 3-8, Freeman racked up 130 carries and gained 666 yards. He also tacked on 33 receptions for 290 yards. Add in the fact that Freeman got nine of his 12 total scores in that span and it’s easy to see why he was deemed a must-start commodity for fantasy purposes.
That said, Freeman’s latest five-game sample size doesn’t paint anywhere near as rosy a picture. In his last five, the Florida State product has 66 carries for 198 yards, good for just three yards per carry. He’s hit paydirt just twice in that span. Freeman’s remained an adept receiver, with 28 catches for 190 yards. Still, it’s hard to argue that, just like his Falcons, Freeman isn’t slumping down the stretch. In fact, he he’s posted double-digit fantasy points just one in his past four games.
The old mantra about starting your studs is definitely prevalent when discussing Freeman. He’s keyed so many fantasy victories, and a fair amount of Atlanta victories, this season. But, tough though it may be, this is definitely a week when sitting Freeman has to be considered. Especially given that, for most owners, this is championship week and the matchup awaiting the second-year running back.
Opposing Freeman is the Carolina Panthers and their sixth-ranked run defense. As division rivals, these teams have met once before and the results were none too pretty. Carolina shut the Falcons out and, as the doughnut on the scoreboard would suggest, it was a rough fantasy day for virtually all members of Atlanta’s offensive attack. Freeman, in particular, struggled with just 62 yards from scrimmage and a lost fumble en route to a four-point day.
One might suspect that, at 14-0 and with a bye secured, the Panthers would consider resting key starters like Luke Kuechly and Kawann Short, but Panthers’ coach Ron Rivera reportedly plans on sticking with his starters. With the Cardinals not yet ousted from the possibility of a no. 1 seed, a shot at perfection within reach and a division foe opposing them, Rivera’s claims don’t seem like mere lip service.
And, if that’s indeed the case, it’s not hard to picture Freeman struggling in his second go-round with Carolina. These are two teams, and one player in Freeman, trending in opposite directions. While it may be tough to sit a guy who, if you’re playing in a championship game, played a huge role in getting you to there, it’d be wise to go the way of Riverboat Ron Rivera and gamble. It could pay off in the form of a league championship and the pride/handsome payday that comes with it.