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Film Study: What can Devonta Freeman bring to the New York Giants?

Veteran running back adds experience, varied skill set

Atlanta Falcons v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

The New York Giants are expected to sign former Atlanta Falcons’ running back Devonta Freeman to a one-year, $3 million deal following the torn ACL from star running back Saquon Barkley. Freeman was drafted in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft, and he was once a premier running back in the NFL under the tutelage of then offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who is now the head coach of his first opponent as a Giant - the 49ers.

Freeman has rushed for 3,972 yards on 951 attempts (4.2 YPC) with 257 receptions on 323 targets for 2015 yards. As far as pay dirt goes, Freeman has 32 touchdowns on the ground and 11 through the air. He’s had two 11 rushing touchdown seasons, but 2019 wasn’t all that great for the former star running back.

The former Florida State Seminole struggled all season, playing in 14 games with little success. He had 656 yards on 184 attempts, and 410 yards on 59 catches, while only finding the endzone twice on the ground, and four times through the air. The struggles were compounded by a mediocre team and young offensive line that had two rookies starting.

Freeman has a long history of injuries as well; he missed all but two games in 2018 with a foot bruise and a sports hernia that required season ending surgery. He’s also had three documented concussions, a PCL & MCL sprain, and a few other injuries.

Although it seems like Freeman has lost a bit of explosiveness, that does not mean he’s not a valuable asset. Freeman has excellent vision running through the tackles, and his shorter stature gives him a better center of gravity to break through arm tackles, and it also disguises him as he hits holes coming downhill.

Let’s go to the film.

(All plays are 2019 Devonta Freeman)

From a split back formation, Freeman takes the handoff, shows patience, and then navigates through tight gaps to find a crease in the defense and bounce outside. Freeman waits for his blocks to develop, almost commits off the right tackles backside, but decides to hit in between the guard and tackle who are blocking down. He then showcases his physicality, breaks an arm tackle, and picks up a few yards.

This is a run from under center in 21 personnel. Freeman uses great vision to see the A-Gap open up, and then he cuts into the A-Gap off the butt of his fullback. The Falcons provide a good hole for Freeman who does a good job locating the correct running lane, lowering his shoulder, and getting a big chunk of yardage to help seal the victory.

Freeman does a great job running out of the shotgun and he showcases it on the play above. It’s a shotgun, split-zone, inside run and Freeman is able to jump-cut through a hole off the backside of the center. It’s a great reactionary run where Freeman is very decisive.

To the field, the Falcons line up in a weak off-set I formation and run a halfback pitch; the blocking does a solid job opening up holes as the play side offensive line stretches horizontally, and the back side guard did a good job cutting Vita Vea (50) at the line of scrimmage to not allow a pursuit defender. Freeman’s patience to wait for the defenders in front of him to over pursue into his blockers is excellent as well; he waits till the last second before cutting north to south. By that point, the three defenders in front of him overpursue and can’t make a realistic tackle attempt.

Now we can see his excellent vision from a normal I formation inside zone run to the field side B-Gap. He subtly cuts a bit inside away from the reaching Luke Kuechly (59) who is being blocked by the lead fullback. Once Freeman crosses the fullback’s block, he sees Russell Gage (83) gain outside leverage on his blocking assignment, so Freeman bounces outside and cuts back inside of Julio Jones’ (11) block for a touchdown.

Here’s another shotgun stretch zone run where Freeman shows excellent ability to adjust to what he sees near the line of scrimmage. He sees the end man on the line of scrimmage crashing the B-Gap, so he shows solid stop/start ability to jump cut outside and away from one defender, and then another defender appears and he jump cuts back inside. Then he re-accelerates, lowers his shoulder, and finishes the run with toughness and physicality.

There’s a reason why Freeman saw so many targets in Atlanta, despite the team using a two-back system, and that’s because Freeman is a good receiving back. Above, we see Freeman to the boundary separate, and surprise, a linebacker who attempts to cover his wheel route. Freeman has good positioning for the pass Matt Ryan throws; Freeman adjusts to the back shoulder throw, leaps, and makes a tough catch along the sidelines.

Good natural hands above on the angle route (a route I wish Giants would use more often). The defender executes poorly on the coverage, but Freeman still gets in and out of his break to make a good strong hands catch over the middle of the field. Freeman is an excellent check down option in the short passing game, and can frequently be found in the flats. I hope Jason Garrett finds ways to use him like the two clips above as well.

Final thoughts

The two-time Pro-Bowl running back will be valuable to this 2020 New York Giants football team. He’ll be slowly incorporated into Garrett’s system while Wayne Gallman and Dion Lewis are used in a three-headed backfield. If Gallman doesn’t show much in the next three weeks against the 49ers, Rams, and Cowboys, then I can see Freeman becoming the majority leader in touches. As of now, I expect Lewis to be used on passing downs while Freeman and Gallman work earlier downs, and will also be used a bit in passing situations.

I like the signing. It’s a one-year rental that’s not expensive for a veteran running back who is good between the tackles and in space, while having some upside as a receiver, too. He’s declined athletically, but he’s a much different player than Lewis, and he’s much more experienced than Gallman. Freeman also took less money to play with the Giants, so he’s definitely excited about this opportunity. One thing is for certain, though ... the Giants have to figure out how to win in the rushing attack with this offensive line. If they don’t, this signing will not be maximized and winning games will be very hard to come by for this rookie head coach, and this second-year quarterback.