Matt Waldman shares his RSP NFL Draft Scouting Report on RB Devonta Freeman, a player who outperformed Matt’s evaluation and discusses the root issue with his miss—a case of Imposter Syndrome.
Evaluating players and projecting their future development is a humbling job. While I have successes that I’m proud of when reviewing my work with the four positions that I study, I think most people would say that my best work has come with running backs.
When I’ve missed on a running back, the miss offers a significant lesson. This is true of Devonta Freeman, a player I valued as an NFL contributor but did not project as a significant every-down starter or strong lead back in an offense.
I missed on Freeman because I didn’t think he had the balance or second-level vision and creativity of a top-end starter. This assessment was flat-out wrong.
I had begun using the Depth of Talent evaluation methodology and while I had updated scoring values for certain aspects of the evaluation, this wouldn’t have impacted Freeman’s report.
The reason I missed identifying these traits accurately for Freeman has been the most common root cause where I miss on identifying traits— a lack of strong sample size.
I should have watched 2-3 times the touches that I did with Freeman. Considering that Freeman played for a major college program, I shouldn’t have had a problem finding more opportunities even if his first two seasons only resulted in 135 and 121 touches, respectively.
One thing I wish I could say about this situation is that I got absorbed in the games of James Wilder, Jr., Chris Thompson, and Karlos Williams—all players who were on the depth chart at the same time as Freeman. However, I also had smaller sample sizes on each of these players than I desired.
What I learned from missing on Freeman is that I need to watch a larger sample size whenever I have the resources to do so. This is especially true of a player who may be slotted into a role that doesn’t provide the fullest picture of his potential.
I took a step towards learning that lesson when I watched enough Marvin Jones tape to realize he was not solely a possession receiver despite the nationwide characterization that he was one-dimensional.
When I reflect on why I didn’t watch enough of Freeman, the root issue is that I had a case of Imposter Syndrome. I entered this profession with zero experience in organized football and my peers either had training or experience at a high level as scouts.
Although I knew I wasn’t bullshitting my way into this profession—my process development expertise, base football knowledge, and work ethic were resources where I had an advantage—the lack of training by the football establishment was the reason I had an underlying fear that my audience would consider me a fraud.
I had this case of Imposter Syndrome for a long time. Even when NFL players, scouts, and consultants with the league validated my work, I still didn’t like being called a ‘scout’ and more importantly, I wouldn’t let go of the need to write up what I was seeing play-by-play with every player.
These play-by-play “transcriptions” were tremendously helpful to me for the first 4-6 years that I did them because it trained me to examine multiple details on every play, view the game with a magnifying glass, and to take my time with my studies. I also used it as a marketing angle—I show my readers all of my work in granular detail.
Few people ever read the granular detail and I never took the time to edit those play-by-play notes. However, that play-by-play process began to have diminishing returns when I reached the point of seeing a lot more detail than I did when I began this work. Watching games took longer and it began to interfere with the number of games I could watch on a player.
At first, I thought that the level of detail I had could compensate for the lack of sample size. Sometimes it does, but it didn’t compensate in enough cases to rely on it.
I was stubborn about letting go of these play-by-play notes because I was still living in the past—I was holding onto the memory of my early years with the publication when my customer base was skeptical of my work because of my lack of traditional pedigree and they often told me that they gave it a chance because of the detail of my process.
I eventually shed my Imposter Syndrome but it took a combination of Freeman’s success and not feeling satisfied with my sample size for my Dak Prescott evaluation two years later. It was these two players and some feedback from people I trust who helped me realize that it was time to abandon the play-by-play note-taking process.
So, here’s my scouting report on Freeman. Even the lack of detail compared to what I often provide these days is a telling sign that I was missing something.
11. Devonta Freeman, Florida State (5-8, 206)
Freeman has good short-area quickness with some shake to move defenders off angles while running at his top speed. He can change direction and get his pads downhill to run through contact while protecting the football.
Freeman is capable of stop-start moves and jump cuts. He can read the second level of a defense and “run with his eyes.” He has the maturity to get downhill and he sees penetration into the backfield well enough to do what’s necessary to avoid contact and still stay the course.
A scatback with a low center of gravity, Freeman is strong enough to run through wraps and keep his legs moving through a pile. He has the balance to spin-off trash and continue forward.
He begins plays with patience to press and cut on zone plays as well as setting up gap plays with a similar mentality. His vision is solid in terms of seeing the second level of the defense, but sometimes he’ll cut back into traffic and doesn’t show the peripheral vision you want to see when making decisions.
He finishes with his pads low and drives through contact whenever possible. However, he’s not going to earn yards after contact. When he’s hit broadside, he’s on the ground. He doesn’t run through many wraps and he doesn’t see trash to avoid it.
He carries the ball under the outside arm regardless of the side of the field he’s on. He can catch the ball with his hands and he does a fine job of delivering fakes with his upper or lower body.
Freeman can punch and use hand placement. He is a good edge blocker and a courageous blocker up the middle against much bigger men. He needs to work on sliding across the line a little quicker on assignments as well as getting height on cut blocks consistently.
He also has to get better at layered blitzes off the same side so he at least gets one block rather than missing two because he can’t decide whom to attack. He also drops his head as he delivers a punch.
Freeman has upside in the right kind of offense as a contributor or committee back. However, I don’t see him as a full-time starter by design.
Pre-NFL Draft Fantasy Advice: There is some PPR upside here, but only in deeper leagues and once we know where he lands. There will be plenty who take him earlier than he warrants—I could understand making him a fourth or fifth-round pick in an April draft—but not any earlier. At this point, I’d rather take wide receivers and quarterbacks.
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