When Devonta Freeman missed 14 games in 2018 due to multiple injuries, Tevin Coleman had his chance to shine in fantasy football. He’d do exactly that finishing with 4.8 yards on 167 carries while leading the Atlanta Falcons in rushing. Coleman also set career highs in catches and touchdown receptions.
Reuniting with Kyle Shanahan for the upcoming season, coupled with incumbent starter Jerrick McKinnon’s health concerns, fantasy football owners may want to consider Coleman in 2019. After the Atlanta Falcons let Coleman walk in free agency, his former offensive coordinator came calling. In the last season Coleman played for Kyle Shanahan he accumulated 11 total touchdowns which are still a career-high.
With Jerick Mckinnon’s injury lingering, the former Indiana Hoosiers stand out is getting an opportunity as the team’s number one. As the NFL’s continues to be a passing league, three-down backs are hard to come by. Luckily for Coleman, the film exhibits a player who is a mismatch nightmare in the passing game.
In the slot
With uncertainty at the receiver position, Coleman may not have to be relegated as the number one running back to get on the field. One area Shanahan will use Coleman is from the slot position. Coleman had a career-high 31 receptions and 421 yards receiving as the Falcon’s third-down back. The 49ers head coach will use motion and spread alignments to earn Coleman one-on-ones with safeties and linebackers. A perfect example of this was his breakout game against the Denver Broncos in 2016. He dominated in the passing game racking up 132 yards and a touchdown. Coleman was used all over the field by Shanahan.
On this specific play, the Falcons are in an 11 personnel, and Coleman starts in the backfield pre-snap. The Denver Broncos are showing a single-high look, but when Coleman motions to the slot, the defense adjusts into a cover-2 look.
With the linebacker moving out with Coleman, quarterback Matt Ryan knows he has man-to-man underneath. The Falcons run four verticals, and Ryan forces the safety to respect Mohamed Sanu on the outside. This leaves the middle of the field open. Coleman burns linebacker Brandon Marshall with his release and Ryan finds him quickly with a dart for the touchdown.
On this next play, you will see a similar strategy of creating a mismatch between Coleman and a linebacker. Again, Coleman begins the play in the backfield and motions to the slot at the top of the screen. The Broncos hold in their cover-1 look letting the quarterback know he once again has one-on-one coverage.
The Falcons run a wheel and hitch concept perfect for cover-1 or cover-3 defenses. After the snap, Coleman wins with his release and breaks outside. Since they’re in man coverage, cornerback Aqib Talib comes up on the hitch route leaving the linebacker vulnerable to a deep route. Ryan reads it correctly and drops a dime to Coleman leading to another big play by the running back in the passing game.
Targets out of the backfield
When Coleman’s not in the slot, he can still be deadly out of the backfield. Whether with screens or check-downs in the flats, Shanahan uses different tactics and schemes to best suit Coleman’s abilities. Coleman is a tough runner in space, displaying elusiveness and the traits to finish off runs with power. His speed comes into play at the second level, and he has good vision to read blocks.
On this play, The Falcons are, again, in 11 personnel with Tevin Coleman in the backfield. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense is showing cover-0 and appear to be blitzing. The Falcons will be running a variation of the mesh wheel made famous by Chip Kelly. The difference here is both receivers will stop in the middle of the field instead of going entirely across.
Post-Snap, The Buccaneers send five players after the quarterback and quickly switch to cover-1 with the safety running to the deep center of the field. Ryan quickly goes to his hot read, which is Coleman on the wheel but throws it poorly. Coleman shows off his great hands by reaching back. He then exhibits his speed and athleticism in the open field leading to nice 47 yard gain for the offense.
Another Example against the Buccaneers has the Falcons in the traditional I formation. The Buccaneers are in more of a quarter coverage look (cover-4) where there are four deep defenders with no underneath responsibilities.
The Falcons run deep hitches out of play action with Coleman leaking out of the backfield on the quick out route. After the snap the play fake gets the linebackers coming forward and out of position to guard Coleman on the out route. The fake gives Ryan an easy read as he throws to Coleman, who once again displays his ability in space to make people miss and gain extra yardage.
Tevin Coleman is a mid-round steal
Tevin Coleman’s talent as a runner, pass-catcher, and the injury to Jerrick McKinnon should see his ADP rise as we get closer to the fantasy football regular season. Coleman’s reunion with Shanahan could prove to be a match made in heaven, and the 2016 tape shows this.
As he continues to be drafted between the fourth and seventh rounds, some fantasy football owner will gain a potential RB1 with a mid-round pick. And for 49ers fans in general, you should be very excited for what Tevin Coleman brings to your offense this season.
Marcus Johnson is a Film Room writer for Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter @TheMarcJohnNFL.