The Atlanta Falcons are aware that they have one of the best aerial attacks in the NFL. If Matt Ryan stays standing upright, players like Julio Jones, Roddy White and Harry Douglas will take care of the rest. However, there are still questions surrounding the status of the ground game. After saying goodbye to Michael Turner and Jason Snelling over the past two seasons, the Falcons ground game has been inconsistent at best. However, with the preseason over, Devonta Freeman is emerging as the future.
Freeman did everything and more during the preseason for the Falcons. In the running back's first preseason game, he put up over 100 yards of total offense, getting 50 yards off 10 carries rushing and 57 yards off one catch receiving. In the finale against Jacksonville, he scored off a one-yard rush while totaling 42 yards off 12 carries. He is looking strong as a pass blocker while having quality hands out of the backfield. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has all the confidence in the world that Freeman is the real deal.
"Devonta is coming along fine," Koetter said, via the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "He runs hard, is eager, is willing, does not back down from anything. He can catch the ball, strong hands, fast. He's got all of the qualities."
Fantasy football owners watch out, Freeman could emerge as a real sleeper pick this season. With the improved offensive line, the Falcons will be able to have more success moving the ball than last year. Freeman's success could be determined by the status of Steven Jackson. The veteran has spent almost all of the preseason injured with a hamstring problem. He made his return this week and promises to be healthy at the start of the year, but there is no guarantee he stays that way. Jackson simply is not as durable as he once was.
If Jackson is healthy then he will get the start. He will also be productive. The Falcons signed him last season for a reason and they are confident that the low numbers of 2013 were merely a result of injuries. They expect him to return better than ever. However, if Jackson is not healthy, Freeman could get the nod over Jacquizz Rodgers. The veteran running back has certainly played well for the Falcons, but appears to have been leapfrogged by the rookie. Rodgers is a strong special teams player, but Freeman is the more versatile running back.