The Denver Broncos are coming off of a 5-11 season in 2017. There wasn’t much for head coach Vance Joseph and company to be excited about last year. Former quarterback Trevor Siemian struggled to command the offense and the defense missed the presence of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. Siemian’s lack of production at quarterback was the team’s downfall, but perhaps even more concerning was the play of running backs C.J. Anderson, Jamaal Charles, and Devontae Booker. Anderson carried the load as he racked up 1007 yards, but only found the end zone three times. Charles and Booker never found their footing and only managed to gain 595 between the two of them. Fans would be in for a long season as the ground game was never established and Siemian’s play was sporadic.
Following the conclusion of the 2017 season, general manager John Elway went to work attempting to fortify the backfield. He drafted Oregon’s Royce Freeman and Arkansas’ David Williams. When Freeman arrived in Eugene in 2014, he was the Ducks’ highest recruit and immediately competed with Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner for the role of starting running back. Freeman quickly established himself as a power back and split time with Marshall and Tyner during his first season at Oregon. He soon showed Ducks’ fans what they could expect from him over the next four years. He concluded his freshman year with 1,365 yards on the ground to go along with 18 rushing touchdowns. Not only was Freeman prolific as a runner, but as a receiver as well. He hauled in 16 receptions for 154 yards and a touchdown. Over the next three seasons, Freeman was arguably Oregon’s most consistent player and left the Ducks as the Pac-12 career leader in rushing touchdowns with 60.
Heading into the NFL Draft, Elway knew he had to bolster the Broncos’ backfield. He selected Freeman with the seventh pick in the third round. Freeman has all of the tools that made former Denver backs Terrell Davis and Mike Anderson successful during their days in the Mile High City. Both Davis and Anderson were hard-nosed runners who weren’t afraid of contact. If Freeman’s time at Oregon is any indication, he fits the mold of a tough back who can take a hit. In 2017, that was a key component that was missing from the backfield. When Anderson or another back took a hit, they were unable to break the tackle and gain positive yardage. If the Broncos are to compete in 2018, they need a runner like Freeman to absorb contact and facilitate a consistent rushing attack. If Freeman is able to enjoy success as he did while at Oregon, it will go a long way in helping the Broncos be competitive in 2018.
The Broncos have strayed away from establishing a dominant rushing attack in the last few seasons. When Peyton Manning joined the Broncos in 2012, the offense had become one that was tailored to Manning. With the exception of his last season in 2015, Manning had the freedom to run an offense that suited him. This resulted in minimal use of those in the backfield. While running backs were still critical to Denver’s success during the Manning era, moving the ball through the air was a common theme during his four seasons with the team. Following his retirement in 2016, the Broncos were left searching not only for answers at quarterback, but at running back as well. When Trevor Siemian was announced as Manning’s heir apparent, there was a sense of uncertainty, yet relief in Denver. Fans figured that a player who had spent time learning from one of the greatest to don a jersey was prepared to lead the team. Unfortunately, Siemian struggled and found himself as a member of the Minnesota Vikings in 2018 after only three seasons in orange and blue.
Royce Freeman is looking to rejuvenate a rushing attack that went dormant in 2017. Not only will Freeman look to kick start the running game, but help a new-look offense be more productive as well. With new quarterback Case Keenum looking to provide an upgrade behind center, Freeman will look to do the same behind Keenum. The Broncos are only three years removed from a victory in Super Bowl 50, but haven’t enjoyed much success since Manning rode off into the sunset following that victory. He was a leader not only on the field, but in the locker room as well. Elway hopes that Keenum and Freeman can emerge as leaders in 2018. In order for the Broncos to succeed next season, Freeman will have to embrace whichever role Joseph decides to give him. Furthermore, the revamped offensive line will have to improve dramatically if Freeman is to make any sizable impact on offense. If Freeman can be the player he was at Oregon, the Broncos’ playoff drought will come to an end in 2018.