Freeman won't be able to replace Coleman's speed component, but as he puts an injury-plagued season behind him, the former is slated to retain a substantial share of the Falcons' backfield reps. Among Freeman's competition is 2018 fourth-rounder Ito Smith, who managed 467 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns as Coleman's complement as a rookie. Beyond Smith, Brian Hill and Kenjon Barner round out the depth chart. As long as he avoids the injury bug in 2019, Freeman may draw a large workload like he did from 2015 through 2017, when he averaged 283.7 touches for 1,452.3 yards from scrimmage and 11.7 touchdowns per campaign.
Limited to two games this past season, Freeman seemed to be making progress late in the year and might've had a shot to play if the Falcons had reached the playoffs. Alas, they fell out of the hunt around Week 14/15, removing any chance for the running back to return from injured reserve after he had groin surgery in mid-October. With Tevin Coleman expected to find a new home in free agency, Freeman is locked in for the lead role under new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who held the same position in Atlanta during Freeman's 2014 rookie campaign. Freeman will turn 27 in March and should be back to full strength for the start of the Falcons' offseason program in mid-April. He has four seasons remaining on a five-year, $41.25 million extension, though the structure of the deal could make him vulnerable next offseason if he disappoints in 2019.
Coach Dan Quinn confirmed Wednesday that Freeman (groin) wouldn't be activated from injured reserve ahead of either of the Falcons' final two games of 2018, Will McFadden of the team's official site reports.
With the 5-9 Falcons officially eliminated from playoff contention, there wouldn't be much upside to bringing Freeman back after an extended absence following surgery to address a core-muscle injury. Freeman, who had also been dealing with a foot injury prior to being shut down, will likely be back to full strength for OTAs and should have a clear path to the lead-back role in 2019 with impending free agent Tevin Coleman unlikely to be retained. Coleman should at least dominate the backfield snaps for the Falcons' last two games after the team elected to place his top complement, rookie Ito Smith (knee), on IR earlier this week.
Freeman (groin) isn't ready to practice and isn't expected to return this season, Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com reports.
There was some talk about Freeman wanting to return for the final two weeks, but it never felt realistic once the Falcons were eliminated from playoff contention. With Ito Smith (knee) set to join Freeman on injured reserve, Tevin Coleman could be busy over the final two weeks of the season, presumably auditioning for the lead role in a different backfield for 2019. Coleman is in the final season of his rookie contract, while Freeman's five-year, $41.25 million extension runs through 2022. The Falcons are left with Brian Hill as their No. 2 running back for Week 16 at Carolina.
Coach Dan Quinn said he gets the sense Freeman (groin) wants to return for Week 16 if he is deemed healthy enough to do so, Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com reports.
Freeman has been back in Atlanta with his teammates since the first week of December, but it's hard to see how he could be cleared for Week 16 given that he still hasn't participated in practice. While a Week 17 appearance sounds somewhat more reasonable, there isn't much to be gained from subjecting a rusty veteran running back to live hits in a meaningless game. Freeman probably won't be tasked with a large workload if he does make it back this season.
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