No. 8| Devonta Freeman | 5'9", 203 | Junior | Running Back
Background via Florida State
Enrolled early in January 2011...considered one of the most versatile runners in the country, effectively running between the tackles and capable of using his 4.5 40-yard dash speed to turn the corner...a four-star prospect by both Rivals.com and Scout.com...ranked the No. 10 running back and the No. 108 overall player in the nation by Rivals.com and the No. 9 running back by Scout.com...No. 15 running back by ESPN...rated as the No. 5 running back and the No. 52 overall player in the nation by 247Sports...helped lead Miami Central to the 2010 Class 6A state title and was named the MVP after gaining 308 yards on 36 carries - falling just 20 yards shy of a state championship game record...as a senior ran for Miami-Dade County-leading 2,208 yards and 26 touchdowns...recorded 663 rushing yards and six touchdowns in the final two games of the state playoffs...rushed for 545 yards and two touchdowns as a junior back-up to Kentucky signee Brandon Gainer...first Team All-Dade byThe Miami Herald...member of the Times-Union's Florida Super 75 where he was rated as the No. 4 running back...No. 24 on the SuperPrep Elite Top 50 and No. 4 on the SuperPrep Florida 110...born March 15, 1992.
Devonta Freeman was pressed into early action his freshman year. Jermaine Thomas suffered a knee injury the year before and was never the same player. Chris Thompson broke his back early in the year against Wake Forest. Fellow freshman running back James Wilder JR was still learning the nuances of blocking schemes. Freeman became the 'Noles only option.
Freeman turned in a solid season despite being a true freshman with a patchwork offensive line. In his sophomore season, it was clear Chris Thompson was the number 1 running back. Freeman would play mop-up the first 3 games.
For the next three games, Freeman didn't take a snap. Instead of focusing on football, he was dealing with tragedy. A family member, someone he thought of as a brother, was murdered. Understandably, football and everything required to be prepared on game day, took a back seat. Such a loss is not something a person simply 'gets over' and moves on from overnight (read this if you haven't).
It wasn't until garbage time against Boston College that Freeman worked his way back onto the field. Making most of his reps, he ran for 70 yards on just 8 carries.
His return to action would turn out to be timely for the 'Noles. The next game, Chris Thompson would tear his ACL against Miami. Mop-up duty was over. Freeman, along with a much improved Wilder, were co-starters. In his return to meaningful minutes, Freeman helped put Miami away with 70 yards (gif below) on 10 carries and 2 TDs.
Freeman proved that not only did he belong back on the field but that he was an important part of the offense. He finished 2nd in rushing with 660 yards on 111 carries and 8 touchdowns.
Freeman is a low center of gravity, thick running back. He is listed at 203 but looks like he is over 210. He doesn't have breakaway speed. In the gif above, Thompson would have likely split the defenders and scored. Though he lacks that next gear, he does have decent balance and vision. He is capable of running through arm tackles (gif below) and is just shifty enough to make the first defender miss in space.
There has been a lot of discussion of what FSU's offense will look like. Will FSU work in more inside zone/downhill running? With two powerful backs, that's the hope. As jmnpb996 discussed in the Wilder preview, FSU worked in more power, trap, and inside zone with the absence of Thompson.
While Freeman's abilities may limit him in outside zone running, he has proven to be decent between the tackles. He rarely dances after getting the hand off. He's quick to the line of scrimmage (with inside zone, RBs have to attack the LOS while picking the right lane) and accelerates fast through the hole. He could benefit significantly from more downhill running. Like Wilder, he'll still likely get reps in the pony formation, with either Mario Pender or Ryan Green.
Freeman is not shy of contact. In fact, he seems to do better with defenders in close proximity. At times, when running in the open, he lets his pads level get in front of him and it disrupts his balance. He needs to ensure that he isn't lowering his pad level too much before contact is eminent.
While not special catching and running, he has the skills to be a reliable check down. He also did well with a couple screens in the Orange Bowl game. With the departure of Thompson and a new QB, look for him to be worked into the screen game a lot more.
Much like the Wilder preview, the theme here is consistency. His best game was against Maryland as the feature back (Wilder was likely nursing a hurt shoulder suffered against Duke on a diving catch). Against a solid Terp defense, Freeman rushed for 148 yards on just 16 carries. But after that, there was a serious drop off. He totaled 126 yards on 35 carries in his final three games. He also had a bad game against VT (entire offense outside of Greene had a bad game against VT).
How many carries Freeman gets this year will depend on a couple of things. First, what the other running backs are capable of, especially Wilder (more on this before the season starts). Second, his touches will depend on Fisher's frequency of running back rotation. A semi-educated guess for his junior season would be between 700 and 900 rushing yards. That yardage total is based on more total carries with a slightly lower yards per carry.
While Freeman is not an elite back, there is room to improve. He'll likely never have breakaway speed. However, he does have other attributes that, if correctly improved to suit his strengths, could make him a special running back.