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Saints signing of Devonta Freeman adds needed competition to running back room

It may not seem like much, but the Saints had to inject life somehow

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Saints are adding familiar faces around Jameis Winston as the 2021 season creeps closer. On Saturday, former Falcons running back Devonta Freeman inked a one-year deal with New Orleans, giving the Saints another dual-threat running back and one of Winston’s former college teammates to work with.

The deal may not seem like much at first blush, but it does help the running back position for the Saints. Freeman is well-removed from the 2015 and 2016 seasons where he posted 1,634 and 1,541 yards from scrimmage, respectively, but he will take some passing reps away from Alvin Kamara, which is very welcome on an offense that is absolutely devoid of passing threats.

Freeman played for the Giants last year, where he was hampered by several consecutive injuries, including a sprain ankle and a tweaked hamstring. He’ll have to show that he’s healthy to make it out of training camp on the Saints.

Washington Football Team v New York Giants Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

One of the biggest issues the Falcons dealt with Freeman was a high usage for minimal return. In 2019, he had a whopping 184 carries for 656 yards. The Saints can curb that usage and use him predominately out of the passing game, where he has historically been strong.

The best thing this signing does is adds a little pressure on Latavius Murray. While Murray is still the spell running back right now — and it’s unlikely Freeman changes that — Freeman’s abilities in the passing game will at least allow him to challenge Murray’s reps, especially when the Saints go small.

Under Sean Payton, we can expect to see a lot of Kamara splitting out while Freeman lines up in the backfield, which won’t totally tip the Saints’ hand on what they want to do. While it’s unlikely we’ll see Freeman splitting out and moving around the formation, he can at least get Kamara off the field when the star needs a breather.

The most burning question around Freeman heading into this season is his health. If he’s healed, he could be an effective spot-fill running back for Winston is lower-leverage situations. Freeman brings a diversity to his skillset that Murray hasn’t in the past. However, it’s entirely possible that this ends up being another Ty Montgomery situation, where he’s used only as needed.

Montgomery being on the roster further splits those reps and will make it that much harder for Freeman to see the field. Freeman isn’t far removed from some good seasons with the Falcons, and he’s still on the right side of 30. If anyone can find a place for him in regular rotation in the Saints offense, it’s Payton. With Michael Thomas hurt and Emmanuel Sanders departed for greener pastures in Buffalo, the Saints will take all the pass catching hands they can get right now.

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