FNQB: Evaluating Josh Freeman’s early 2010 success
Josh Freeman has already come a long way from his up-and-down 2009 season. This past week, he flashed onto all the highlight reels with late bullets down the sideline to Mike Williams and Michael Spurlock to set up a field goal in the 24-21 win over the Bengals. Are these plays just another flash, or will we see some sustained success out of Freeman this year?
Across most metrics, Freeman has vastly improved his game this year. After reaching seven yards per attempt in only half of his games in 2009, Freeman is averaging 7.1 YPA this year while completing just under 60% of his passes. His worst game came against Pittsburgh, but he still managed to complete 64.5% of throws. Freeman now lies at 13th among NFL passers in YPA and has most improved in the interception department. After throwing 20 interceptions in 2009 in less than 300 attempts, Freeman has so far only thrown three in 116 attempts.
Freeman has excelled in the Bucs new offensive system. Offensive coordinator Greg Olson implemented a version of the west coast offense that implemented a few more downfield throws and vertical routes. Freeman’s big arm and speed have been paramount to his success. Through the first four games, Freeman has managed to rush for 114 yards on only 12 attempts. He also has used his legs to extend plays and find his receivers, particularly Kellen Winslow. In terms of efficiency, Football Outsiders’ DVOA statistic shows that Freeman has been 9.8% above average in the passing game. If you need a further seal of approval, Greg said in his Week 3 Tale of the Tape that Freeman has continued to impress, even though he has gotten away with a few mistakes.
The competition has not been soft, either. Freeman hasn’t come up against a defense like the New York Jets he faced in 2009 when he went 14/33 for 93 yards, but all of the Bucs’ opponents rank highly in interceptions and opponent YPA except for the Browns.
Still, the Bucs are playing it safe with Freeman. He has thrown roughly 29 times per game, which ranks in the bottom third, and is rarely asked to pass when the Bucs are ahead. Unfortunately, the supporting cast leaves a lot to be desired. Carnell Willliams has been an ineffective rusher, but increased carries for Ernest Graham and the explosive LaGarrette Blount are on their way.
The Bucs wide receivers have been flashy, but not the most reliable options on the field. Despite rookie Mike Williams’ spectacular grabs, he still only catches 58% of balls thrown to him and only gains about 7.2 yards per target. Michael Spurlock, Sammie Stroughter and Arrelious Benn have all made some plays but will need some time to develop with Freeman. Freeman’s best assets in the passing game by far have been Kellen Winslow and Ernest Graham. Winslow has gained over eight yards per target while Graham has been instrumental in the passing game, catching ten balls for nearly 100 yards while scoring a touchdown. Both players are critical tools in the west coast system, and Freeman should excel if Williams can be refined into a reliable playmaker.
Freeman is a big reason for the Bucs 3-1 record and will also be a determining factor in their 2010 success given the state of the running game. Luckily for him, he won’t be facing too many tough challenges until a Week 12 game in Baltimore. I think the early signs indicate that Freeman will continue to improve with his team over the year, although a few bumps in the road would not be surprising. While I can’t say ‘Pro Bowl’ yet, it may come sooner than I and many others thought before.