2019 ADP FACEOFF: Chase the Bounceback, or Chase the Future?
By: Nate Georgy @KingN8G
Devonta Freeman (ATL) ADP 3.09 vs Leonard Fournette (JAX) ADP 3.05 (according to Fantasy Football Calculator)
Devonta Freeman vs Leonard Fournette sounds like something you would have loved to debate two seasons ago, heck even last season. For a lot of people they may be avoiding these backs due to being burned in the past, mainly because of their inability to stay on the field. Both running backs are being selected in the middle of the third round, so lets break down each important fantasy aspect and make a decision on which RB you should select.
First off, looking at last year it was basically a lost season for Freeman, appearing in just two games and receiving just 14 total carries. Freeman racked up an extensive injury list last season with a knee bruise, a foot contusion, and a groin injury, but appears to be fully healthy entering the 2019 season.
Fournette also had his fair share of injuries last season, appearing in just eight games and putting up pedestrian fantasy numbers with a mere 3.3 yards per carry average.
Let’s go further back and take a look at the careers for both Freeman and Fournette:
|Devonta Freeman||Leonard Fournette|
|2018||Lost season (Only received 14 carries in 2 games)||8 Games, 15.1 FPPG, 6 TDs|
|2017||14 Games, 14.4 FPPG, 8 TDs|
|13 Games, 17.7 FPPG, 10 TDs|
|2016||16 Games, 17.9 FPPG, 13 TDs|
|*Not in league|
|2015||15 Games, 21.4 FPPG, 14 TDs|
|*Not in league|
*2014 Devonta Freeman was a rookie and received little on field opportunity
It is easy to believe that Freeman’s best years are behind him at age 27. He is very unlikely to ever repeat his 2015 production, but that does not mean he can not have a rebound season this year. On the other hand Leonard Fournette’s best years should still be ahead of him being just 24.
Now, let’s move onto this upcoming season and break down the situation for both RBs, as well as what to expect from both of them.
The most important factor to weigh for all RBs, even more important than talent, is volume. Volume is the most important aspect to fantasy football, the more opportunity you have, the more chances you have to accumulate fantasy points, makes sense. The first part of determining volume is projecting the offensive pace for the team, how many plays can we expect them to run?
The Atlanta Falcons are welcoming back Dirk Koetter to be their offensive coordinator alongside head coach Dan Quinn this season. Koetter was previously with the team before 2015; while in Tampa Bay, Koetter had a high offensive pace running over 1,000 plays in three consecutive seasons. This puts Freeman in a good spot, being on a team that is expected to be near the top of the league in plays ran.
Since Doug Marrone has been the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, they have also had a good offensive pace, running over 1000 plays in 2016 and 2017. However last season they took a dip and became more pass heavy, and ran less plays than usual at 950. In comes new Offensive Coordinator John Defilippo who was fired last season in Minnesota after 13 games, potentially because of his unwillingness to run the ball in Minnesota. It will be interesting to see how Marrone and Defilippo co-exist. I firmly believe personnel in Minnesota dictated the way plays were called. In Jacksonville Defilippo does not have a Kirk Cousins at QB to throw to high powered receivers like Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, so they will stay true to their roster and be a run heavy offense in 2019, while running a respectable offensive pace, creating a lot of volume for Fournette.
Depth Chart/Expected Usage
In Freeman’s three full years (2015-17) he always had a thorn in his side when it came to usage on the ground, that was Tevin Coleman. Coleman is out of town and the only competition for carries is Ito Smith and rookie Qadree Ollison. Smith flashed last season in Freeman’s absence, however it is expected that Freeman will take back his previous workload in his return, the only question is how much the Falcons will still give to Smith with Ollison now in the mix? Freeman and Smith could potentially coexist much like Freeman did with Coleman, then again, the Falcons could decide to give Freeman the vast majority of carries on the ground. Either way, expect over 200 carries for Freeman and for him to take the majority of touches on the ground.
Carry distribution is a much easier situation to predict in Jacksonville. Fournette will see the vast majority of carries as long as he is on the field, Jacksonville and the coaching staff has shown they are willing to give Fournette just about every single tote on the ground, expect the same this season.
The play of the team’s offensive line is usually a direct indicator on how efficient a RB can be. The Falcons made some major upgrades to their o-line this off-season, spending two first round picks on offensive linemen. This is a very talented group in Atlanta with potential to be a top half of the league line. This bodes well for Freeman who should not be held back by his line and if they can hit their ceiling as a unit, it could make Freeman a big play waiting to happen.
The Jaguars made a big move on draft day, trading up in the early 2nd round to draft first round talent Jawaan Taylor. Taylor should help bolster an offensive line looking to find it’s identity once again this season, with a couple of other returning pieces from injury. This line should create enough opportunity for Fournette to get it done on the ground.
In today’s NFL if you’re going to be considered a great RB, you have to be able to catch the ball out of the backfield and be a dual threat RB. Luckily for Atlanta, they have that in Freeman. His stats tell you enough when it comes to his receiving ability, and he is a more suitable pass catcher than Smith, which should keep Freeman on the field for passing situations.
Besides health, Fournette’s biggest caveat as a pro has been his lack of productivity in the passing game as the Jaguars have used him sparingly in that fashion. Much like other great runners, Fournette has made catching the ball a point of emphasis and has really worked to get better in that aspect. The early reports are that Fournette looked more comfortable catching passes in mini-camp, given the team’s depth chart behind him at RB, Fournette will more than likely have to be the passing down back as T.J. Yeldon is now in Buffalo.
Being in a high powered, high-scoring offense is always great for RBs in fantasy, it creates more scoring opportunities, and opposing defenses are less likely to key in on stopping the run. Freeman checks the box here playing for an offense that has been one of the league’s best for the last few seasons. Led by former MVP Matt Ryan the Falcons offense finished top 10 in both yards and scoring last season. Ryan has an array of targets led by WR Julio Jones one of the most dangerous weapons in the league, almost always demanding safety help on his side of the field, Calvin Ridley entering his second year in the league after an impressive rookie season, and Mohammad Sanu has an impressive track record in Atlanta as well. These receivers help free up running lanes for Freeman and make him tough to game plan for when you’re dealing with those other weapons.
Fournette on the other hand plays in a very pedestrian offense. Last season the Jaguars offense finished 31st in PPG and 27th in yards gained, something that does not help the case for Fournette. There is slight reason for optimism in Jacksonville with a new arrival at QB in Super Bowl MVP, Nick Foles. However, Foles receiving weapons are slightly below average at best, which makes it real easy for defenses to key in on Fournette and attempt to slow him down, another reason it is crucial for him to continue developing as a pass catcher.
Strength of Schedule
According to FantasyPros strength of schedule report for RBs, the Falcons have one of the tougher schedules for fantasy RBs ranking down at 25th while the Jaguars have one of the easier schedules at 7th. Fournette gets the edge here when it comes to opponents.
Both Freeman and Fournette have extensive injury histories. For Freeman’s sake, they are usually small(ish) injuries that can be managed week to week. Before missing just about all of last season Freeman appeared in 45 out of 48 possible games from 2015-2017. Fournette on the other hand, has appeared in 21 out of a possible 32 games so far in his young career. I give Freeman the edge here because Fournette’s injury history dates back to even before his pro days.
One of the most important parts in drafting players is determining where a players floor and ceiling lies. The ideal scenario is a player with a high floor and high ceiling, someone who is safe to produce solid numbers week to week, year to year, while also having the ability to blow up and finish number one at the position.
Freeman’s floor is relatively high compared to other RBs being drafted around him, but where he separates is his ceiling. If the Falcons offense takes off like it very well could and Freeman receives the majority of the work on the ground, we could see a top eight finish at the position for Freeman. If all goes wrong for Freeman and the offense is middle of the pack and he is close to splitting work with Smith, he should still provide low end RB2 value.
Fournette provides a high floor from week to week because of sheer volume, he will always be on the field and receive the bulk of the carries, and should at worst case stumble into a couple receptions a week. His ceiling is capped until his offense can take the next step. His TD opportunities will be limited in comparison to other RBs which makes him a very TD dependent RB without the receiving work.
In a full or half point per reception league, I would rather have Leonard Fournette this season than Devonta Freeman. This is a very close call but I like Fournette’s safe floor in the third round and I am optimistic he can get better as a pass catcher this season. Now this is something that is very team based as well, if, in my draft I selected two safe players in rounds one and two then I am willing to draft Freeman instead and shoot for the ceiling with him. I do think that people are too distraught by Freeman’s lost season last year and are not willing to take him this year, which I understand. I agree that both should be about third round picks and I am willing to draft either one at their ADP.
About the Author- Nate Georgy is a die hard NFL and Patriots fan from the New England area. He has been watching football and playing fantasy since he was 12 years old. Nate loves the analytical side of Fantasy Football and loves evaluating and breaking down player film/talent. You can follow him on Twitter @KingN8G