The Atlanta Falcons report to training camp on July 26th and have their first practice the very next day. Two-time Pro Bowl running back, Devonta Freeman, is entering the final year of his rookie contract and is set to make just $1.79 million in 2017. It’s possible he signs a new deal within the coming days and there’s no doubt that he’s in line for a raise. A player’s “contract year” is a big narrative for fantasy purposes, but whether Freeman is signed by training camp or not, he’s in line for a 2017 season that could see him finish as a Top 5 running back.

Freeman’s breakout season came in 2015, but there was some concern if that would translate in 2016. Despite finishing as the #1 running back in 2015 with 1,000+ rushing yards to go with 73 catches for 578 yards and 14 total TD’s. Most of that production came in Weeks 1-7. From November through the end of the year he averaged just 55 rushing yards per game on the ground and 4 total touchdowns. He was saved by the 39 catches and 268 receiving yards over the last two months, but most of his production came in the beginning of the year.

For Freeman, there was some speculation that he could be in line for regression in 2016. Head coach Dan Quinn infamously said that Freeman could actually be better in 2016 by the team using him less. At the time that quote was a bit of an eyebrow raiser. The Falcons certainly did use Freeman less, but despite 37 less rushing attempts and 19 less catches, Freeman’s numbers didn’t drop off too much. He still had 13 total touchdowns and still collected over 1,500 all-purpose yards. His total touches on the ground and passing game dropped by 16.8%, but his all-purpose yardage dropped by only 5.7%. So Quinn wasn’t really wrong. If anything fantasy owners should be grateful there was a little less usage as Freeman was at lesser risk for injury.

Freeman may have finished just outside the Top 5 RB’s in PPR, but he was a very consistent running back last year. He struggled a little bit out of the gate, but he really found his form starting in Week 3. From Week 3-16 he averaged 17.3 FPPG in PPR leagues and even posted 28 points in a mostly useless Week 17 matchup.

Freeman’s consistency and ability to prove that 2015 wasn’t a fluke makes him a hot target in a lot of drafts. If you’re drafting towards the back end of your draft and miss out on the other running backs and the big name receivers, you can still grab Freeman and pair him with a receiver such as A.J. Green, T.Y. Hilton, or Michael Thomas. Taking Freeman at the rear turn gives you a lot of flexibility to still feel confident in your RB1 despite missing out on Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson, and Ezekiel Elliott.

Freeman can also say he’s one of the more durable players in the league. In just 3 seasons he’s missed only 1 game. Sure his rookie season he didn’t see nearly the workload he is now, but he plays one of the most injury prone positions in football and he has managed to stay healthy and relevant in Atlanta’s high octane offense. The committee backfield certainly allows for Freeman and teammate Tevin Coleman to remain well rested and healthy.

Lastly, perhaps the most promising prospect of Freeman’s 2017 season is the fact that Freeman will play 13 of his 16 games on an artificial turf surface. Over the past two years Freeman has averaged 3.62 yards per carry on real grass with just 3 total touchdowns. Over that same time frame Freeman has averaged 4.77 YPC on artificial turf with 24 total TD’s. Now to be fair, he plays half his games at home. The Georgia Dome was home to an artificial surface and the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium will feature turf as well. In 2017 the only games Freeman will play on real grass will be Week 1 in Chicago, Week 9 in Carolina (which is a 3rd straight road game for Atlanta by the way), and Week 15 in Tampa Bay. The receiving statistics don’t vary that much between turf/grass. Yes he still has more catches on turf than grass, but he’s still getting his targets through the air. The surface he’s playing on really only impacts his ground game. So if you draft him in season-long leagues watch out for those matchups and he may be a fade in DFS contests those weeks.

In closing it’s worth addressing the elephant in the room (get it? Cause he was at Alabama last year!): new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. There’s a lot of speculation about what he’ll bring to an already highly successful offensive scheme. After all Kyle Shanahan ran the most explosive offense in all of football last season. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right? Sarkisian is inheriting a lottery ticket with this offense. The Falcons run plays that cater to Freeman’s strength. He tends to find lanes running side-to-side with the O-Line’s zone blocking looking for a lane to cut back up the field. Freeman’s quickness and elusiveness work best this way. Sarkisian may implement a little more man blocking, which allows for more downhill/straight ahead running. This might be better suited for Tevin Coleman. Regardless Freeman will still be featured heavily in the passing game and there’s no doubt the Falcons will still run an up tempo offense and get plenty of offensive plays off with Devonta. The new coordinator shouldn’t scare fantasy owners away by any means. Freeman’s proven he’s a fantasy stud and is an ideal target if you’re drafting toward the end of the 1st round.