Matt Waldman’s RSP NFL Lens shares a pair of Devonta Freeman runs with that showcase the conviction and processing speed of the Falcon’s running back.
Last week, I wrote about Drew Brees as one of those players I’d love to get “stuck with” if my initial request for a quarterback wasn’t fulfilled. The player I gave as an A-1 example for this “stuck with” scenario was Devonta Freeman.
The only back in the league who consistently hits a crease and finishes a player with greater conviction when fully healthy is Leonard Fournette. Fournette is a straight-up big back. Freeman is a scatback with the heart, technique, and conceptual understanding of a big back.
The two runs below illustrate a player who sees the situation early and makes his decision—usually the correct decision—with zero hesitation. When it comes to attacking creases and finishing runs against oncoming defenders, this behavior is essential.
Watch Freeman attack the oncoming T.J. Ward—rarely a slouch in the tackling arena—with his pads. I’ve shown this play in a previous RSP NFL Lens when talking about pad level but there’s more to mine from it. There’s no move or change of pace when he sees Ward coming downhill; Freeman drops the pads and accelerates through.
Only the contact slows Freeman. This is the conviction that you hear about but rarely see consistently—even in the NFL.
The same is true when Freeman spots a cutback. Watch how fast Freeman identifies the impending penetration from Thomas Davis at the right shoulder of the center and then the speed and intensity of the cutback and attack of the open hole.
This cutback begins as he plants his left leg during the exchange with Matt Ryan and dips to Ryan’s side. When he reaches the crease the pads and low, the elbows are in, and back his rounded as he minimizes angles for defenders to grab. This is getting small through the crease.
The second cut between Mohamed Sanu and the Panthers’ defensive back is an excellent display of conviction. Freeman cuts with the decisiveness to run through anything in his path.
The lack of hesitation allows him to avoid Sanu completely. It may seem coincidental or accidental that Freeman misses Sanu or that Sanu gets out of the way, but there’s a deeper level of cause and effect happening here.
When you watch running backs this year, note the plays where the runner collides with his wide receiver. Usually, you’ll see the runner make a move, second-guess that move, and then make a second move that leads to a collision with his teammate or an opponent that he’s trying to avoid.
It happens more often than a runner who makes one decision without hesitation and sticks with it. This is conviction and it’s one of the things that makes Freeman one of the most underrated runners in the NFL.
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