The Denver Broncos need to improve their rushing attack, and Royce Freeman is making a push to be the guy leading the way.
C.J. Anderson topped 1,000 yards on the ground last year, and the Denver Broncos actually had a respectable rushing attack (12th in the league). But Anderson’s 4.1 yards per carry matched the team’s average (18th in the league), and just before April’s draft he was released and the Broncos used a third-round pick (No. 71 overall) on Royce Freeman.
As things are right now, Devontae Booker is Denver’s No. 1 running back. But a wrist injury he reported to camp with derailed him early last year, effectively ended any idea he would push Anderson for playing time, and he had just 79 carries in 13 games. No. 3 running back De’Angelo Henderson, a sixth-round pick in 2017, had seven carries over five games as rookie.
John Elway has drafted five running backs since taking over Broncos’ football operations in 2011. None of the previous four has even put up a 900-yard rushing season. But the door is open for Freeman to become the lead back, and he appears to be stepping through it.
According to Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com, Broncos’ head coach Vance Joseph said Freeman can “absolutely” put himself in the conversation for the lead job. Freeman, for what it’s worth, thinks he’s qualified for the role.
I think I showed durability and the ability to be there game in, game out,” “I think I showed at Oregon I can deliver the blow as a runner. I’m excited to compete, and we have a good environment in the running back room. I think we do want to see each other do well.
Freeman is used to being a lead back. As a four-year starter at Oregon, he had over 240 carries, 1,300 rushing yards and at least 16 rushing touchdowns three times. He also averaged 5.9 yards per carry and totaled 79 receptions for 814 yards and four touchdowns during his college career.
The Broncos have not had a running back top 250 carries in a season since Reuben Droughns in 2004 (275). Anderson approached that threshold last year, with 245 carries, and with the prospect of a more productive offense this year a primary back (if there is one, and whoever it is) shouldn’t have much trouble usurping 250 carries.
The looming training camp battle between Booker and Freeman will be one fantasy football owners should watch, with RB2 value in 12-team leagues in line for the winner. Freeman’s average draft position in 12-team standard scoring leagues (RB 27-pick 5.07, via Fantasy Football Calculator) is already well above Booker’s (RB47-pick 11.03), and that gap may start to widen on the heels of Monday’s buzz.