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Player showdown: Devonta Freeman or Jordan Howard?

JACKSONVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 20: Devonta Freeman #24 of the Atlanta Falcons runs with the ball against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the game at EverBank Field on December 20, 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida. The Falcons defeated the Jaguars 23-17. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Ah, the turn. That magical time in a fantasy draft where you pick up not one, but two pillars of your fantasy team. The haters will say that selecting at the turn is problematic, seeing as there is a long layoff until your next pick. And of course, that is true and makes the selection all the more important, maybe even more important than if you were picking in the top three.

To that end, there are two running backs who are consistently available at this juncture of a draft. In fact, whether you’re looking at best-ball ADP or regular, old re-draft ADP, Atlanta‘s Devonta Freeman and Chicago‘s Jordan Howard are being picked 10th and 14th overall, respectively. And why not? Freeman silenced his critics, who thought his 2015 season was a fluke, by totaling 1,500 yards and double-digit touchdowns for a second time. Meanwhile, Howard was somewhat overlooked, thanks to another rookie running back in Dallas. All Howard did was run for over 1,300 yards, add 300 more receiving and have seven 100-yard rushing games. If it weren’t for Ezekiel Elliott, Howard would have been your running back Rookie of the Year.

But that was 2016. 2017 is here and deciding between these two players will be a common occurrence in fantasy drafts. Let’s see who we should lean towards.

The players

We’ll start with Freeman, the main cog in the Falcons’ rushing attack. After surprising many in 2015 by rushing for 1,056 yards and adding 578 more receiving (while totaling 14 touchdowns), Freeman did it again, running for 1,079 yards and adding 462 through the air while totaling 13 touchdowns. He also finished as PFF’s eighth-ranked running back. Freeman got there by being very efficient when the ball was in his hands, whether it was on the ground or through the air. Not only did 37.5 percent of his rushing yards come on runs of 15 yards or more, good for fourth among all running backs, but he averaged 1.59 yards per route run, good for fourth as well. If you remove predominantly receiving running backs (those who had more receiving yards than rushing, like James White and Duke Johnson), then Freeman finished behind only fantasy’s top back last year, David Johnson.

Meanwhile, Howard strung together one of the most impressive rookie seasons by a running back ever. Not only did he rush for 1,313 yards, but he did it with only four games of 20-plus carries. His incredible 5.21 yards per attempt ranks ninth all time among rookie backs (with at least 160 carries). He was nearly as efficient in some ways as Freeman, finishing just behind him in breakaway percentage (the percentage of yards on plays 15 yards or more). But Howard can also take a licking and keep on ticking. He finished sixth in yards after contact per attempt with 2.98.

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