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Devonta Freeman Is Back! Fantasy Outlook in N.Y.

We are only two weeks into the 2020 NFL season and we've already seen some of the biggest studs in the game go down to injury. Michael Thomas went down with an injured ankle in Week 1 and in Week 2, the consensus top-two picks in fantasy drafts, Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley both went down. While McCaffrey is likely to be out for just a few weeks, Barkley will miss the entire season with a torn ACL which makes replacing Barkley more critical.

Former Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman received several offers from NFL teams throughout free agency, but he opted to remain a free agent while waiting for the right opportunity to come along. As soon as Saquon Barkley tore his ACL, that opportunity called, and on September 22, 2020, Freeman signed a contract with the New York Giants. Freeman will now compete with Dion Lewis and Wayne Gallman for snaps out of the Giants backfield.

Devonta Freeman was once considered a top-15 pick in fantasy leagues and had some very dominant years. However, over the last few seasons, Freeman struggled to run behind the Falcons' poor offensive line and dealt with some injuries which slowed him. Freeman will definitely have an opportunity to carry the ball for the Giants in 2020, but it will be interesting to see if he can be productive like he was in 2016. Now, we will take a dive into the Giants backfield to see how Freeman's situation looks.

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Are the Giants the Right Fit?

Jason Garrett is the offensive coordinator for the New York Giants and while he's had a history of favoring the run while coaching in Dallas, keep in mind that he had Ezekiel Elliott at running back. The Giants improved their offensive line in the 2020 offseason, adding Andrew Thomas through the draft and even though Nate Solder opted out of the season, the unit is improved overall. The Giants offensive line has looked a little shaky through the first two weeks of the season, but keep in mind that they had two brutal matchups against the Steelers Defense and the 49ers Defense to start the season, both of which have tremendous defensive lines which made things difficult for the Giants rushing attack.

Daniel Jones does like to check the ball down to running backs which should help Freeman's fantasy football outlook. Through the first two games of the season, Jones threw the ball 81 times which is the fifth-most in the NFL. Out of those 81 attempts, 16 of them went to Giants running backs.

 

The Old Devonta Freeman

Now, let's dig into some stats over Freeman's first six years in the NFL to see how he performed. In 2015 and 2016, Freeman remained healthy, playing in 15 and 16 games, respectively. In each of those seasons, Freeman carried the rock over 225 times and exceeded 1,000 yards on the ground. Freeman also found the endzone 27 times during that same span. Freeman has also averaged at least 4.0 yards-per-carry in each season he's played with the exception of 2019 when he only gained 3.6 yards-per-carry. While Freeman's yards-per-carry was low in 2019, his yards-after-contact was 2.43, which was decent. For context, Melvin Gordon carried the ball 2.46 yards-after-contact in 2019.

Devonta Freeman has been a serviceable pass catcher during his career, logging over 50 catches three times in his career, with his career-high of 73 catches coming back in 2015. Both the Falcons Defense and offensive line struggled in 2019 and as a result, Freeman saw 70 targets in the passing game because the Falcons were often playing from behind. The Giants may be in a similar situation in 2020 which means Freeman should be very active in the passing game.

 

2020 Fantasy Value

Devonta Freeman has been an RB1 in the recent past and has demonstrated the ability to carry a full-workload. Dion Lewis and Wayne Gallman have been given a chance to get it done in the past, and they simply haven't been able to get it done. This means Freeman should see a majority of the running back work for the Giants which makes him very appealing.

While Freeman will likely see both rushing and pass-target volume in the Giants offense, the question becomes, who do you play him over? Fantasy drafts are already in the books and our rosters are likely set for the most part. If you drafted Saquon Barkley or Christian McCaffrey and you don't have depth at the position, then the decision whether to play Freeman will likely be easy if you're desperate at the position.

After taking an initial glance at the running back landscape, it goes without saying that Devonta Freeman belongs nowhere near the top-15 at the position. When you start looking at the back-end RB2s and the high-end RB3s, Freeman starts to fit in with those players. Now, let's take a look at some players who may have value similar to Freeman's.

David Johnson (currently RB-21) had a big Week 1 but Week 2 didn't go well against a very good Ravens Defense. If Freeman is used heavily in the Giants passing game, he may rival David Johnson for production, but that would be his ceiling, a back-end RB2. Devin Singletary was likely drafted as an RB2, but through two weeks he isn't producing like it because he's splitting time with Zack Moss. If Freeman sees over 50% of the Giants snaps in Week 3 and receives 15 touches, he will likely pop ahead of running backs such as Devin Singletary in rankings. If you were expecting any production from Jordan Howard in 2020, you are likely disappointed through the first two weeks of the season. Freeman could take Jordan Howard's place on your roster as your RB2 or Flex if you expected Howard to have a significant role in the Dolphins offense.

Todd Gurley has carried the ball 35 times for the Falcons so far in 2020, but he simply isn't getting any work in the passing game, receiving just five targets through the first two games. I hesitate to say this due to the potency of the Falcons offense, but if Freeman shows well in early action for the Giants, he might start to creep into the Todd Gurley, RB2-territory. If you drafted Ronald Jones II and you don't have a contingency plan behind him, Freeman could be a nice backup plan should Leonard Fournette hang on to the job in Tampa Bay.

 

Conclusion

In summary, Devonta Freeman is a three-down back and is extremely capable as a receiver. The Giants Defense looks to be struggling early on and if the Giants continue to trail in games, Freeman may see a ton of check-downs in the passing game. While Freeman has been in the league since 2014, he's still just 28-years old and he did miss almost the entire 2018 season which means he didn't experience the wear and tear that goes with an NFL season that year.

While Freeman does look to have some serious potential, we need to be careful out of the gate because he did just sign with the Giants on Tuesday, and it's asking a lot to have him ready to play on Sunday. Assuming he's active, Freeman should only be placed in your Week 3 lineup if you're truly desperate at the position. Moving forward, however, I am comfortable using Freeman as a back-end RB2 or Flex.



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