Welcome to the NFL slow-season, that part of the year where arrests, injuries and faux controversies dominate the headlines. Year after year this is my least-favorite time to follow the league, so I thought that perhaps a good way to break up the monotony would be to start a new series to remind you that the Broncos are never too far away.
For my inaugural GIF Horse, I thought I would examine the Denver draftee that has me most excited for the 2018 season: Rolls Royce Freeman.
The first thing that stands out about the 230 lb back is just how agile he is for his size. When looking back over his sophomore tape you routinely find number 21 stringing moves together that make would-be tacklers look foolish. Freeman displayed a special kind of phone booth agility that really got me excited. There are times on tape where Royce uses a shudder or head pump to force a defender to declare, only to leave him dusted. It’s just plain fun.
Even better? Freeman consistently displays the kind of mature vision that the Bronco’s rushing attack requires. The following play should be a tackle for loss or no gain, but the young back sees that the double team forces the backside tackle and backer out of position for a clean tackle, cuts back to exploit it, and runs through contact to sprints for daylight.
You’ll notice I’ve said nothing of his last two seasons yet, and for good reason. As Pro Football Focus has repeatedly stated: Freeman’s 2015 grade of 92.4 was the highest single-season grade of any back in this draft class. I could re-watch that Washington tape to my favorite K-pop all day.
2016 wasn’t nearly as kind to Royce, though there are multiple factors at play. The Oregon offense declined around him and he suffered a knee injury that he tried to play through. The end result was his only sub-1000 yard season and a 5.6 yard per carry average, his Oregon career low. Still, there were flashes of promise:
Freeman’s 2017 was better, but he still looked a step slower than his 2015 tape. There are plays that leave you really thinking he needs a bit of steam to get going. Part of this could be his recovery from the 2016 knee injury, but there is a legitimate concern that the Broncos bought a used Royce. I sure hope not, but he already has 1026 touches on the odometer and I couldn’t watch his senior tape without that question lingering in my mind.
One play that perfectly illustrates this is the 2017 Washington game. Freeman finishes with a very respectable 122 yards on 24 carries, but there’s a play that really caught my eye.
Now, it’s not the end of the world if Royce Freeman can’t get back to his 2015 form. If Elway’s number one goal was simply finding a younger, cheaper back to replace C.J. Anderson, the 22 year old Duck should do a great job. The rookie will make almost $4 million less a year and Anderson’s 2017 hardly lit the league on fire.
While Freeman doesn’t naturally run big, his sheer size creates a dimension that defenders have to account for. For instance, his 2016 Arizona tape is littered with plays where second and third level defenders merely bounce off Freeman. He’s simply big and fast, which is one reason why FootballOutsider’s BackCAST ranked him second to only Saquon Barkley.
Additionally: that vision that made Royce such a special sophomore is still evident across every game he played. It’s a true gift of his and one that will make him a perfect fit for the Musgrave offense. He could be a positive addition to the passing game as an outlet receiver for Case Keenum.
In summary: I have to think Freeman will be a strong addition to the Broncos stable. Perhaps he’s stuck in a rotation with Devontae Booker, but the upside is tremendous. He will need to improve his blocking (what college backs doesn’t?) but should become an immediate contributor this year.
Still Grazing? How about a quick three-and-out:
Some other fun facts I found about Royce while studying up for this piece.
- Per PFF: • Broke 51 tackles on 243 carries in 2017, gained an average of 3.4 yards after contact and notched 823 yards after the first hit. • Caught 80 of the 89 passes thrown his way over his college career, breaking 23 tackles after the catch on those 80 catches.
- Per NBC: Freeman’s favorite cartoon growing up was Scooby Doo. His favorite sports team was the Philadelphia Eagles and Donovan McNabb, specifically. He’s also a Dwyane Wade fan.
- Freeman finished his collegiate career 10th in college football history with 60 rushing Touchdowns.