Running back Royce Freeman #21 of the Oregon Ducks runs the ball as safety Tyler Collet #30 of the Southern Utah Thunderbirds defends in the first quarter of the game at Autzen Stadium on Sept. 2, 2017 in Eugene, Oregon.
Royce Freeman had no idea the Broncos were interested in selecting him in the NFL draft. But the former Oregon star running back acknowledges he scoured various rosters leading up to the weekend in an effort to gauge which teams could be in the market for a running back.
The Broncos snagged Freeman in the third round and introduced him Saturday afternoon. Up next? Immediately challenging for the starting job after the Broncos released 1,000-yard rusher C.J. Anderson earlier this month.
“I am definitely coming in trying to compete,” Freeman said. “That is definitely a big factor … To contribute is definitely my No. 1 goal, however it may be.”
Broncos coach Vance Joseph described Denver’s position-group status as an open competition between Freeman, Devontae Booker and De’Angelo Henderson. The Broncos added depth Saturday by drafting Arkansas’ David Williams in the seventh round and signing former Colorado star Phillip Lindsay as an undrafted free agent. And the physicality required to play the position means the Broncos will need two or three reliable running backs.
But Freeman is the flashy pickup after a decorated career at Oregon. The school’s all-time leading rusher (5,621 career yards) with a 6-foot, 240-pound frame blends the size and power to churn forward in short-yardage and goal-line situations, as well as the speed to break long runs. Broncos general manager John Elway called Freeman a “big banger,” while offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave lauded his “eye-popping production.”
Yet outside concerns swirled about the multitude of carries — and hits — Freeman has already acquired. It reminds some of Montee Ball, whose Broncos career fizzled out after he put up massive numbers at Wisconsin.
Freeman and Elway stressed the big output highlights Freeman’s durability and how he learned how to take care of his body and handle a heavy workload. And Freeman calls returning to Oregon for his senior season “one of the best decisions in my life, to be honest.” He learned under new position coach Donte’ Pimpleton who taught him about playing with a “violent tenacity.”
“(He) always emphasized that we needed to go inflict pain on the defender, especially as a bigger back,” Freeman said. “They are going to try to come at you, come at you low and come at you different in different directions and all kinds of ways.
“I feel like if I take it to them and put that on film, the team prior to playing us watches the film is going to think twice once in the game.”
As Freeman made the media rounds inside the Broncos’ indoor practice facility Saturday, he stopped just under Terrell Davis’ Hall of Fame banner.
Achieving that level of success is a pipe dream now. But Freeman will begin his NFL career by immediately competing for Denver’s starting job.