NFC South Q&A: Will any division RB duo surpass Freeman and Coleman in 2017?

Falcons running backs Devonta Freeman (24) and Tevin Coleman combined for almost 1,600 yards rushing in 2016. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman said the duo of Tevin Coleman and himself constitute the best one-two tandem in the league after combining for almost 1,600 yards rushing in 2016. But the division now boasts some new talented backs, including one-time NFL MVP Adrian Peterson now in New Orleans and rookie Christian McCaffrey in Carolina. Which one-two combo will gain the most rushing yards by season's end?

David Newton, Carolina Panthers reporter: It’s hard to pick against Freeman and Coleman, who helped the Falcons finish fifth in the NFL with 120.5 yards rushing a game last season. But I will. While the Panthers are more committed than ever to running the ball, they are striving to lessen Cam Newton's load as a rusher. He always will be a threat to run, however, and teams will have to respect that. With McCaffrey and Jonathan Stewart, Carolina could resurrect the "Double Trouble" days of Stewart and DeAngelo Williams. Remember, in 2009 they became the first set of NFL backs on the same team to rush for more than 1,100 yards apiece. The Panthers weren’t that far behind the Falcons a year ago, ranking 10th in the league with 113.4 rushing yards a game. Their rushers accomplished this behind an offensive line that was decimated with injuries. With improvements to the line and the addition of McCaffrey, this Carolina unit has a good chance to return to its 2015 form, when it finished second in the NFL with 142.6 yards a game. If you noticed, I didn’t mention New Orleans at all in this response. I just can’t see the Saints becoming a running team with Drew Brees at quarterback. Plus, they’ll be playing catch up a lot.

Jenna Laine, Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter: As far as the division goes, it's probably correct from a pure rushing standpoint to think the Falcons will lead the way, although I wouldn’t sleep on Mark Ingram and Peterson. Doug Martin's three-game suspension to start the season will hurt his and Jacquizz Rodgers' chances in Tampa. In Carolina, I’d expect they’ll use McCaffrey as more than just a traditional back -- he should catch a lot of passes because he works so well in space. Although McCaffrey and Stewart may produce more total yards from scrimmage, I think Freeman and Coleman have the best shot at topping the division in terms of pure rushing yards.

Mike Triplett, New Orleans Saints reporter: The better barometer would probably be total yards from scrimmage, since the Saints and Falcons are both so good at using their running backs in the passing game, while Carolina appears set to copy that model this season. Either way, though, I’ll give the slight edge to Freeman and Coleman. We have seen how dynamic that duo has been during the last two years -- they are one of the biggest reasons Atlanta made it to the Super Bowl. And they’re still just 25 and 24 years old, which is a frightening thought for the rest of the division.