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2019 Broncos roster review: Running back Royce Freeman

Second-year Denver Broncos running back Royce Freeman should have a bigger role in 2019.

Kansas City Chiefs v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

The Denver Broncos selected running back Royce Freeman in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft out of Oregon. After having a prolific career for the Ducks, many expected Freeman to be the Broncos starter and have a Pro Bowl caliber rookie season for them. However, he was outshined by teammate and fellow rookie Phillip Lindsay and was slowed down by injuries throughout the year as well. Now with a complete overhaul on the offensive side of the ball, I think we will see Freeman have a bigger impact on the offense in 2019.

Royce Freeman Profile

Height: 6-0

Weight: 229 pounds

Age: 23

Experience: 2nd season

All things considered, it was a disappointing overall season for Freeman who had high expectations placed on him entering his rookie year. He dealt with injuries, a poor coaching staff, and the emergence of fellow rookie Phillip Lindsay. Now he will look for a bounce-back season in 2019.

This past season for the Broncos, Freeman totaled 130 attempts in 14 total games(8 starts) for 521 yards(4.0 yards per carry) and 5 rushing touchdowns. He also added 14 receptions for 72 yards to his stat line. So again, not what many(myself included) expected from Freeman during his rookie year.

Freeman told reporters earlier this year that he has high expectations for himself and that he battled through injuries in 2018 but still has “so much to offer still”.

“I always have high expectations for myself. I battled through injury. I came back and definitely feel like I have so much to offer still. I’m always pushing myself and always setting the bar high.”

If you remember, Freeman suffered a naggy high ankle sprain last season that kept him out of two games and likely limited him throughout the remainder of the season. Freeman told reporters it was something he dealt with throughout the year but that the downtime during the offseason will certainly help him return to 100%.

“Battling through it throughout the year, I think it was mostly something you had to nurture and take care of. Making sure I was in the treatment room taking care of that. Making sure that I was putting in the time as well as learning the playbook week to week and battling through that. The offseason [will] definitely help out a lot.”

Freeman didn’t look like the same back after suffering that injury. Before, he looked explosive and powerful and was having a productive rookie year. After the injury, however, it appeared that he lost that burst and that it was clearly hampering him some. So having a healthy Freeman back in the fold in 2019 should be beneficial for the Broncos offense.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Denver Broncos Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

As for his expectations for the 2019 season, Freeman told reporters that he is going to continue to put in the work day in and day out and that everything will take care of itself because of that. A mindset I can get behind.

“Expectation wise, I think honestly getting better every day and pushing myself to that limit. I don’t have statistical goals or things like that. I feel like if I take care of everything on a daily basis and work hard day in and day out—practice, games—it will all take care of itself.”

Personally, I feel like we will see Freeman be used more and more effectively in 2019. This isn’t a knock on Phillip Lindsay, but I think we will see their talents used more effectively in Rich Scangarello’s offense.

Freeman fits perfectly as your one-cut, downhill runner in his zone-running scheme. He is built to be your bell cow and someone who can flourish in short-yardage and in goal-line situations. This is how I think he will be used, and will potentially earn more rushing attempts than Lindsay in some games. Meanwhile, I think we will see Lindsay’s rushing attempts limited because of his size and play style while getting him more involved in the passing game and/or getting him into space more. This is something the prior coaching staff struggled with last season and something I expect to be managed much better this upcoming season.

Also, keep in mind how important the run game will be to this team this season. They do not want the entire offense to be on Joe Flacco’s shoulders. The run game will be leaned on and a focal point of this offense in my opinion and there will be plenty of touches for both players. I just think they will manage it much better and this likely means more touches for Freeman.

The good

With Phillip Lindsay sidelined due to an injury, Royce Freeman has been handling the number one duties at running back during the spring practices. This is a plus because it gives him a bit of an advantage on learning the offense as well as being used in other roles that he really wasn’t used in last year.

Reports coming out of Broncos practices are saying that Freeman looks “swift as a receiver” and is catching passes in stride. This is a plus and a bit eyebrow-raising after Freeman was not really used in that role last season.

This is a plus for him because many assume that Phillip Lindsay and even Devontae Booker are better receivers and have been used in that role more during their career. So if Freeman can eat into their touches in the passing game, it could earn him more touches and maybe even a larger role in the offense.

Freeman is also the only real power back they have on offense. Lindsay plays bigger than he is, but he’s still 190(or less) and Booker while being a bigger back, isn’t a powerful back so that leaves Freeman. He proved he can do well in this scenario’s as well and add in the offensive line should improve under Mike Munchak so he should do even better in these roles this upcoming season.

Finally, I think Rich Scangarello and the zone-blocking system will benefit Freeman a bunch. He has good vision and is your prototypical one-cut runner. Many backs with similar traits and build have flourished in this same exact system for years. So again, I think we see a bit of a bounce-back year for Freeman.

The bad

While this entire article has been pumping up the Royce Freeman stock, we should pump the brakes just a bit. Phillip Lindsay is still on this roster and still greatly outperformed Freeman last season. Yes, he is dealing with a wrist injury, but that should have zero impact on his burst and explosiveness that made him a bit of a phenom last season. Add in Lindsay being used in the passing game more and he could easily pass Freeman on the pecking order once again.

I think they will start out as an even compliment, but if Lindsay continues doing what he does, it will be hard not to get him the ball. This means that Freeman needs to impress early and often as well as staying healthy. He can’t afford to have another nagging injury that could derail is ascending stock once again.

I still think Freeman has a bounce back year, but Lindsay could easily once again limit his touch count this upcoming season. Don’t overlook Booker and his receiving skills cutting into his workload as well.


Royce Freeman on he and running back Phillip Lindsay entering their second seasons together.

“Last year was definitely a great 1-2 punch. I think that we complement each other really well. He goes out there and does his thing. I feel like I can go out and do the same. I think we both have the mindset that no matter who is in the game, we’re both able to accomplish what the offense needs and trade off.”

Royce Freeman on balancing being happy for Lindsay with personally not having as much success as a rookie.

“I think that’s the type of person that I am. I always want to see my brothers succeed, and he earned it. He went out there and he played so fierce and competitively. But also the competitive nature in both of us and pushing each other, I think that’s what is actually important. Because when I was down, I was helping him out and telling him what I saw on the field or in these areas. He did the same for me. I think that’s the competitive nature as well as the helpful mindset we have in the running backs room.”

Royce Freeman Highlights

Royce Freeman’s roster status with the Broncos

Freeman is obviously a lock to make the team, but his usage is the big question here. Will he be the main ball carrier while Lindsay spells in as a runner and receiver? Or will he play second fiddle to Lindsay once again in 2019? That’s the big question here that will remain unanswered until the start of the regular season.

I personally believe the change in offense likely benefits him the most of the three backs and the focus on the run game should play into his hands as well. He’s a one-cut downhill runner who can handle a heavy workload. This would allow you to use Lindsay in multiple different roles and even put him on the field at the same time as Freeman. It also lets you limit Lindsay’s touches which is something I believe will be a priority this year.

Now, I could be off and Lindsay’s talent makes your scrap the “limit the touches” narrative and Freeman is used as the short-yardage/goal line/compliment back instead. Either way, the Broncos have two talented young backs to lean on this upcoming season and will need both to produce to have a successful 2019 season.