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Devontae Booker has an opportunity to become the lead back this year

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The “veteran” of an extremely young running back group has a wide open door for the starting spot.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Today we continue our Denver Broncos 90-man roster breakdown with running back, Devontae Booker.

It’s crazy to think that a 3rd year player is now the “veteran” of the running back group, but that’s exactly the role Devontae Booker will play now that C.J. Anderson is no longer on the team. With the de facto starter being released, the door for Booker swings wide open. All he has to do is walk through it over the next few months.

Name: Devontae Booker
Position: Running Back
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 219
Age: 25
Experience: 3rd Year
College: Utah

Booker’s rookie year was a much better one than last year. In 2016 he logged over double the yards, four of his five touchdowns (plus one receiving) and 45% of the offensive snaps.

Last year, he only logged 25% of the possible offensive snaps as he struggled with injury and was in a crowded, albeit ineffective, backfield.

Overall, he 253 carries for 911 yards and five touchdowns, and has 61 catches for 540 yards and one score.

The Good

Booker at times gets a bad rap, and I have even seen “bust” thrown around occasionally, but if you look at the times where he was involved in the offense heavily, and the offense showed any semblance of cohesion, he was able to make some plays. His versatility is what makes him valuable, in my opinion.

According to Pro Football Focus, he graded out as a top-20 back in the passing game, while C.J Anderson posted a negative grade in this area, checking in at 47th.

To me, Booker is solid all around back skill-set wise and has all the tools to be able to come in and take the reins as the “starter” if he’s able to stay healthy and continue to grow. He has shown good tackle breaking ability at times, and shows good agility in space.

Denver often would split him out wide and go empty, which allowed him to win 1-v-1 matchups on the outside. One that really stuck out to me was a connection between he and Lynch against the Raiders on a fade route that was called down at the 1-yard line after review. Lynch would throw an interception two plays later. Additionally, the above play where Booker infamously hurdles the defender for the touchdown was called back due to holding.

Thus, the stat sheet doesn’t always tell the full story.

Lastly, the product Denver put on the field the last two years offensively make it near impossible to properly evaluate skill players’ talent effectively.

The Bad

Like most young backs, Booker has struggled with ball security from literally his first snap. He fumbled four times in 2016 and twice in 2017. For someone with as few overall touches as he has, that’s too much and he’ll need to clean that up if he wants to begin taking the bulk of the snaps.

The other big struggle Booker has, which was called out in an excellent Field Gulls piece, is with his vision and decision-making, specifically on outside zone runs. He consistently missed cutback lanes or made poor choices of which gap to hit.

I noticed he actually showed a lot more success on gap or man concepts as opposed to zone. He was much more decisive and explosive in that style so we’ll see what Bill Musgrave and the coaches lean more on in the running game.

Either way, he has to improve in this area as even primarily man or gap blocking teams will want to be able to run outside zone at times, and right now Booker is a liability there.

Quotable

“We’ve got four or five backs competing to be the guy, so he’s got to come out and work and earn the right to be the guy,” Vance Joseph said after practice. “Obviously he understands that with C.J. gone, it’s a wide open race. He’s excited about that and he should take a step forward. He’s a good football player, but we want more from him.”

2018 Status

I’m a big fan of Booker, and while I like the Royce Freeman pick, I think Booker having a leg up in experience and his receiving ability will allow him to take on the lion’s share of the snaps this coming year. He has a big opportunity in front of him, and I hope for his sake and the offense’s that he takes advantage of it.