Alex Collins fantasy's star on rise, while Devonta Freeman's falls

By Matt Kelley (@Fantasy_Mansion)
Special to Yahoo Sports

“Mad Men’s” popularity culminated with the now-famous Carousel episode. A truly memorable moment in television history, it elegantly distilling the poignant power of nostalgia into a three-minute Don Draper monologue.

“Technology is a glittering lure, but there is a rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash, when they have a sentimental bond. The most important idea in advertising is ‘new’ – creates an itch – but on a rare occasion, there is a deeper bond… nostalgia. It’s delicate, but potent.”

-Don Draper

Shiny New Alex Collins

Alex Collins is the glittering new running back in Baltimore’s backfield carousel. Fantasy Football enthusiast’s fascination with Collins is well-founded. Collins was the next Mark Ingram in the SEC. At Arkansas, he exceeded 1,000 yards for three straight years, ultimately scoring rushing 20 touchdowns in his final season before declaring early for the NFL Draft.

Alex Collins Advanced Stats and Metrics Prospect Profile on PlayerProfiler.com.

Collins is a sub-athlete, evidenced by a 105.0 (3rd percentile) Burst Score on PlayerProfiler.com. But to quote Rasheed Wallace, “Ball don’t lie.” Collins has been an elusive and efficient game breaker on the field (when he is not fumbling) this season. Case in point, his 2017 Efficiency Metrics on PlayerProfiler.com.

Metric Value NFL Rank
 Yards Per Carry 6.0 #1
 Yards Created Per Carry 2.30 #5
 Breakaway Run Rate 12.5% #1
 Juke Rate 39.0% #5

Collins has also been dominating Javorius Allen in every efficiency metric, leading John Harbaugh to insinuate that Collins’ share of the Ravens’ running back opportunities will ramp up moving forward.

The fantasy community’s zeal to acquire the NFL’s newest primary running back was palpable reading Andy Behren’s latest waiver wire feature. Yet, gamers have seen this episode before. The glittering lure of the latest waiver wire is often fleeting as Kerwynn Williams, Tarik Cohen, Latavius Murray, and Derrick Henry fade into the murky waters of depth chart banishment or committee backfields. 

[Week 9 rankings: Overall | PPR | QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs | FLEX | DST | Ks]

Championship Nostalgia

All the while, the affinity for former fantasy league-winner Devonta Freeman endures. Slotting Freeman into the RB1 slot on fantasy roster twinges the heart. Freeman’s name is supercharged with nostalgia, more potent than the novel allure of the ephemeral waiver wire back.

Starting Freeman each week is a visceral experience. The act takes gamers to a place where they ache to return, a portal back to the 2015 fantasy championship. And yet, Freeman has not posted a fantasy RB1 week since September 24.

Situational Conspiracy

The situational forces from positive game flow to supporting cast efficiency to a high opportunity share that tilted in Freeman’s favor in 2015 and 2016 are now throttling Freeman’s weekly fantasy production potential. The Falcons were No. 2 in the NFL in Game Script, the average point differential at any point in any given game, in 2016. This season, Atlanta’s games are typically competitive, dwindling the team’s Game Script to +0.10 (No. 16 in the NFL). Consequently, Freeman weekly touches are down year-over-year, and he has now logged 12 or less carries in three-straight games.

Devonta Freeman’s gradual touch decline in 2017

Talent is not the problem. Freeman is a savant back with incredible instincts. At 206 pounds, he is simply not built to be an every-down player. Including college, Freeman has just 11 career games with more than 20 carries.

After riding on a wave of fantasy points generated by a historically efficient offense last season, the entire Falcons team was due for a regression in 2017. Atlanta’s 2016 red zone efficiency was particularly unsustainable. Scoring touchdowns is not a measurable ability, as red zone efficiency does not carry over season-to-season. After scoring 13 times last season, Freeman has failed to score a touchdown since October 1.

Touch Squeeze

A touch squeeze is exacerbating Freeman’s touchdown draught. His RB Opportunity Share checked in under 60-percent in three of the last four weeks. Beyond reduced red zone usage, Freeman’s target share is down significantly in 2017. He is on pace to catch 20 fewer passes this season.

Blame random chance. Blame Matt Ryan. Blame Steve Sarkisian. But most of all, blame Tevin Coleman. Coleman is delivering splash plays and touchdowns at a higher rate than Freeman this season. Here’s a comparison between the two in efficiency metrics.

Player Yard Per Carry Yards Per Touch Production Premium
 Devonta Freeman 4.5 5.0 +7.2
 Tevin Coleman 5.4 6.7 +21.8

To literally add insult to injury, now Freeman is now playing through a strained shoulder. Like a warning flair in the sky, the shoulder injury is a reminder to Atlanta coaches that Freeman is not a prototypical featured NFL running back.

Bench Devonta Freeman

Few would consider trading Freeman for a shimmering new Alex Collins. Nostalgia is too potent. Freeman is a valuable contributor when healthy, but gamers should resist the urge to step back into that time machine. This is 2017. Bench Freeman against Carolina’s staunch rush defense this week.