Fantasy Football

2016 Fantasy Football: This Year’s Devonta Freeman

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devonta freeman

Photo Credit: Pete Sheffield

Devonta Freeman was a highly debated player in fantasy drafts before the 2015 season. Workload concerns and limited preseason action certainly played a large factor.

1,634 total yards and 14 TDs later, he is being selected in the second round of most fantasy drafts in 2016 regardless of format. He represented the largest draft day value, not just at the running back position, but the entire league.

The best fantasy players out there don’t get excited over what they get in the first four rounds of the draft. They are always looking for the edge – they are looking for this year’s Devonta Freeman in the middle rounds. That’s what wins leagues!

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So, who is this year’s Freeman? I’m going to make the case for a second year running back with a good opportunity to shine.

This Year’s Devonta Freeman: Jeremy Langford

Tale of the Tape

 Devonta FreemanJeremy Langford
SchoolFlorida StateMichigan State
Height5 ft 8 in6 ft 0 in
Weight206 lbs208 lbs
40-Yard Dash4.58 sec4.42

Similarities

Running Style

The style of running is pretty similar for the two backs. Both are downhill runners that can get to the edge and lay down a nasty stiff arm when necessary. Each has an obvious sudden burst when picking out holes, which is really fun to watch as the average fan. From a ‘handling carries’ standpoint, I’m comfortable in saying that each of these guys can handle first and second down work for their teams.

Where the difference comes in for most analysts would be the pass-catching ability. Freeman was a PPR machine with a 75% catch rate in his rookie season and an improved 81% rate last season. Langford had a small case of the butter fingers last year with a subpar 52% catch rate. However, he obviously has the skill, as seen by the video below.

So am I quick to forget a few drops? It’s his rookie season, people, he is going to struggle in some categories. He made the tough catches and dropped the easy ones. I would much rather have it that way than the other way around and I believe he should be given a clean slate in that department. By the way, there was a running back who had a 55% catch rate in his first season with New England a few years ago. That player? Danny Woodhead. Give Langford a little more time to grow as a player before coming to quick conclusions.

Rookie Season Work

Both players got their time to shine towards the end of their rookie seasons due to veteran running backs contracting the injury bug. Freeman saw some extra playing time when Stephen Jackson (Remember him? Gosh I feel old.) finally called it quits. Langford got some starts under his belt after Forte took a nasty blow to his knee one week. Neither did well from an overall statistical standpoint, but it’s a nice bonus that both of them got to see what it was like to play meaningful downs in the NFL before their breakout seasons (well, potential breakout season for Langford, let’s not get ahead of ourselves).

Training Camp Battle

Freeman was losing buzz by the day during the 2015 preseason as word continued to come out about a running back by committee approach. Tevin Coleman was expected to make an immediate impact as a rookie in the Atlanta backfield until an injury held him out of the first couple of games. Freeman took the starting gig and ran far away with it.

Langford faces similar issues here in 2016. Bears camp is putting out some noise on using Ka’Deem Carey as a goal line back and even Jacquizz Rodgers in third down passing situations. Rookie Jordan Howard is getting a little attention, but the coaches have already talked about him not getting up to speed just yet. As news like this continues to filter out though, Langford keeps slipping in drafts.

For those who are concerned about the likes of Carey and Rodgers eating into the workload, let’s not forget about each of their histories. Carey was drafted in 2014 and got beat out by Langford midseason last year. His ‘goal line’ work comes because he is a ‘run straight and through you’ kinda guy. He will never be mistaken for someone who can carry a normal workload. Rodgers was brought up through Atlanta’s system and never really showed much promise. I like Langford’s chances of not only beating these guys out for the bulk of carries, but weeding them out completely if he were to play well.

Differences

Draft Day Value

As of right now, Langford is being selected at the end of the 5th round of most drafts, which is a little high for my taste. Freeman was a 7th round or later draftee in 2015 drafts, so the value isn’t as good for Langford this season. However, he is trending downward in these drafts in the last two weeks. More often than not in that time frame, Langford is falling to the late 6th, early 7th round slots. This is a spot where I feel much more comfortable taking a gamble on a potential RB2 stalwart.

Offensive Line Ranking

Here’s my top concern when trying to go all-in on Langford this season – the offensive line.

Freeman does look phenomenal when he runs, but he also had one of the most underrated lines in the league. The line wasn’t underrated by everyone though – Pro Football Focus (PFF) had them as the #4 overall unit in football. There were plenty of times when Freeman would get to the second level of a defense untouched.

I don’t believe Chicago’s big men up front will give Langford any opportunities like that. PFF has them rated as the #26 offensive line unit in the league going into 2016. Furthermore, I have seen time and time again where these below average teams think that the skill players or quarterback are at fault for lack of offensive production and bench them.

In reality though, these guys are getting punished for the inadequacy of their offensive line. I really hope Langford succeeds in spite of this, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could be fighting off defenders before he gets to the line of scrimmage all year.

Conclusion

Honestly, I didn’t know what to think about Langford in the Chicago backfield before writing this article. I have successfully talked myself into drafting Langford, especially in most drafts where I’m going wide receiver heavy in the early rounds. He’s not going to cost much compared to other starting running backs. Besides, I’m not at all concerned about the running backs behind him outplaying him.

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Another reason why I’m making the turnaround on him is the general consensus of the fantasy community. Type in “Jeremy Langford fantasy” into the Google search engine and see what comes up. Article after article about ‘fantasy bust’ or ‘do not draft’ lists. I don’t see that as foreshadowing – I see it as an opportunity to ‘zig’ where others ‘zag’. By having an informed opinion that is different from my peers, I put myself in a good position in the draft room.

Yes he has bust potential, but it’s pretty common for 7th round fantasy draft picks to bust. You want the upside in those middle rounds; worry about avoiding busts in the early rounds. I’m not asking him to pull a 2015 Freeman – no running back will do that this year. I’m simply asking him to be an RB2 in both PPR and standard formats. That’s not asking much out of a talented young running back on an average team, right? And, hey, maybe, just maybe, he picks up where Matt Forte left off as the Windy City workhorse and we talk about him being a borderline RB1 for 2017 drafts.

About Tyler Thompson

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