Rookie Review: Royce Freeman

Photo by Kyle Emery/Icon Sportswire

Royce Freeman was drafted in the third round out of the University of Oregon. He left college as the Pac-12’s all-time leading rusher (5,621 yards) and touchdown scorer (64 touchdowns). He was a 5-star recruit out of high school. He started all 4 years he played at Oregon. He was named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and helped the Ducks win the Rose Bowl 2015. Everywhere Royce Freeman has gone, he’s seen success. In this review, I’m going to break down why I think Freeman’s success will carry over to the NFL and your fantasy team. Let’s go!

Royce Freeman (RB, Denver Broncos)

When the Denver Broncos drafted Freeman, they envisioned him as their workhorse for years to come. Last year, C.J. Anderson rushed for over 1,000 yards and finished as RB17 in standard scoring. Anderson is now gone and his potential replacement, Devontae Booker, has failed to capitalize on the opportunity to earn the starting job. That leaves Royce Freeman as the clear running back to own in Denver.

So, who does Freeman most resemble in the NFL? His measurables compare very well to Chicago Bears’ RB Jordan Howard. Here’s how their combine numbers stack up:

Name Height Weight 40 Yard Dash 20 Yard Shuttle Vertical Jump Broad Jump Bench Press
Royce Freeman 6’0″ 229 lbs 4.54 seconds 4.16 seconds 34 inches 118 inches 17 reps
Jordan Howard 6’0″ 230 lbs 4.59 seconds 4.34 seconds 34 inches 122 inches 16 reps

Does this automatically mean that Royce Freeman is going to put up Jordan Howard-like numbers? Not necessarily. It does, however, show that a person of Freeman’s build, speed, and strength can thrive in the NFL. Jordan Howard finished as the RB10 in 2016 and RB14 in 2017 in PPR scoring. If Freeman can even approach those sorts of numbers, he will be well worth his current ADP of 41.

Now that I’ve given you the numbers, let’s take a look at his tape:

In this tape, Freeman makes a cut through the hole, shakes off a few tacklers, and rumbles down the field. This run is impressive from the very beginning and is pretty typical of Royce in college. He starts running to his left before having to cut back to the right. Remember that this man is 229 lbs. His ability to maneuver behind the line is impressive given his weighty frame. After he gets through the line, he runs through two tacklers before shooting off to his left again. Although Freeman doesn’t have elite speed, he has enough speed to punish defenders when they overpursue him and that’s what happened here. The safety and corner both overpursued and Royce turned on his burners, gaining an additional 40 yards before being tackled.

Despite Freeman’s size, he is quite agile as a ball carrier. His speed score, which measures a player’s 40-time in relation to their weight, was in the 86th percentile. His agility score, which measures the player’s 3-cone drill and 20-yard short shuttle, was in the 83rd percentile. Take a look at Freeman’s agility in the next clip:

Royce is quickly surrounded by 3 defenders. Instead of lowering his shoulder, Freeman hopped to the left and then quickly hopped to the right. He eventually slithers his way to the end zone without much fuss. This run isn’t possible if Freeman relies on his large frame to bowl people over. Instead, Royce showed his quick reactions and ability to control his body to juke his way past the tacklers. Let’s look at another piece of tape where Freeman was quickly pinned in the backfield:

Freeman showed a bit of his power on this run. Right after receiving the ball, he was trapped by a defender. Freeman used his power to swing the defender right off of him. After losing the initial tackler, Royce jogs to his left, patiently waiting for a hole to open, before using a burst of speed to shoot down the field. He even shows a nice stiff-arm at the end of the run.

To go along with his size and speed, Royce has incredible vision on the field. Oregon ran outside zone a lot and that worked well for Freeman. He would often run alongside the back of his linemen, looking for the hole, and then explode through it. Take a look at this:

This clip illustrates two levels of patience. Freeman initially waits for his line to create a hole as he is running to the outside. After making it past the linemen, Freeman slowly glides to his left while the receiver works to embrace his defender downfield. Once that defender is neutralized, Royce bursts by him with ease. This is a level of field vision that can’t be taught. We’ve seen slower backs out of college have incredible success in the NFL because they have advanced field vision.

The main knock against Freeman is his lack of top-end speed. See below:

After a knee injury in college, Freeman was visibly slower than before the injury. His burst score was in the 39th percentile and his 40-time was in the 66th percentile. Freeman isn’t going to outrun many NFL defenders and likely won’t have many 50+ yard runs. Freeman is going to earn his value in the short and intermediate runs. Like Jordan Howard, who scored a similar 55th percentile 40-time, Freeman will work his way downfield using his size, agility, and vision. Howard has yet to let his lack of top-end speed stop him from producing and I’d expect the same from Royce Freeman.

A smaller knock against Freeman is his poor catching ability. I believe this is overblown and a grand generalization. It’s common to think that a large-framed running back would have poor hands, but that’s just not the case with Freeman. He had 79 catches for 814 yards during his career at Oregon. He averaged over 10 yards per catch. If the stats aren’t impressive, here is some tape:

And:

And here is some tape from the combine:

At the end of the day, Royce Freeman appears to be more than a capable back. In Denver, he has been given an incredible opportunity: the chance at being a bell-cow running back in the NFL. As the preseason has worn on, Booker has lost his grip on the starting job. Freeman already has 2 touchdowns to his name for the Broncos. I have a feeling that this is just a taste of what’s to come for Royce. At a position with so much uncertainty, Freeman appears to be as safe as they come at this point in the draft. Instead of risking a pick on Derrick Henry or Jay Ajayi, I’d grab Rolls-Royce Freeman and cruise into your fantasy championship.

Nick Light

Fan of the Denver Broncos and Iowa Hawkeyes. Horror movie aficionado. Writer of short fiction in his spare time.

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