NFL Draft pundits around the league hailed the Denver Broncos first three picks with very high grades and praise. Their first pick in the third round would be for former Oregon running back Royce Freeman. Head coach Vance Joseph felt he would be a player who will immediately compete for the starting job over Devontae Booker.
“Absolutely,” Joseph said last week when asked if Freeman would compete for the starting job. “It’s going to be open obviously with [Devontae Booker] and De’Angelo [Henderson]. You’ve got to have two or three backs anyways, so it’s always going to be open competition. It takes two or three guys to have a solid backfield.”
With his 5’11” and 230 pound frame, Freeman has the size to be the lead back on early downs. He’s fast too, having put out a 4.54 40-yard dash time. He’ll be the perfect complement to Booker’s more finesse style of running. The Broncos needed a back who will get those hard-earned yards, especially near the red zone.
Royce Freeman racked up the yards after contact in 2017 pic.twitter.com/uL6Bv7vPzE— PFF College (@PFF_College) April 4, 2018
“Obviously with Freeman, he’s a big back with speed,” Joseph said of Freeman. “When we get down there in the red zone and we want to run the football, he’s a nice option. When you’re third-and-one, fourth-and-one, he’s a great option.”
The biggest concern coming out of college would be Freeman’s workload. People will fret about “tread on the tires” for running backs and often it is warranted. Freeman carried the ball 947 times during his college career. Compare to that to some other of the top running backs coming out of college: Todd Gurley had 510 carries, Ezekiel Elliot had 592 carries, and this years’ second-overall pick Saquon Barkley finished with 671 total carries.
For John Elway, however, he felt it showed Freeman could be that durable rock at the position and last through a full 16-game regular season schedule and beyond.
“What it shows to us is he’s durable,” John Elway said of Freeman last week. “He played a lot, so therefore he can take that. At the end of his career who knows how much that will shorten it, but it wasn’t a concern when we took him that there was too much tread.”
What the high load comes down to is taking care of your body. The good news for Freeman is that he’ll likely be in a running back by committee in Denver, which means his body will have more time to recover and stay fresh than he ever had in college.
“It’s definitely a process, but you have to just take it slow,” Freeman said of taking care of his body. “You make sure that you do all you can do to take care of yourself. Go in for treatment and make sure you’re taking care of your body first because it is your vessel and your tool that you have in this game. That’s helped me get have the production that I have so far in my career.”
If he were drafted in the first-round, we would definitely have to be concerned about the amount of work Freeman had in college. However, he wasn’t drafted with the intent of being a 25 carry a game running back. He and Booker together may be aiming for 25-30 carries a game, but by splitting that workload both players will be able to remain fresh in games and healthier during the season.
As great as C.J. Anderson was for the Broncos and his time in Denver was a good one, the backfield might actually be a bit better with Freeman than with Anderson just purely based on how well Freeman’s skillset should match with Booker’s. It should be fun to see how these two develop in training camp this Summer.