Freeman, who was selected in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft, enjoyed a solid preseason with three touchdown rushes among his 15 carries. He averaged 5.6 yards per rush.
The 22-year-old Freeman will become the first rookie running back to start for the Broncos since 1995, when Pro Football Hall of Famer Terrell Davis rushed for 70 yards and a touchdown in his NFL debut.
“Royce Freeman is the starting running back for our football team. That being said, it’s going to be by packages, also,” coach Vance Joseph said. “Royce is our leading runner, but on third downs you’ll probably see (Devontae) Booker, and obviously having a package for Phillip (Lindsay) is going to be important to each gameplan we have each week.”
Joseph praised Freeman’s maturity as one of the reasons for his ascent.
“He can carry the load from a physical standpoint and a mental standpoint. He was really good in pass pro, so that’s your biggest worry about having a young halfback playing with a veteran quarterback–it’s the pass-pro issues. He’s shown the IQ and the maturity to be a great pass-pro guy, on third downs especially.”
Freeman said he isn’t letting the promotion get to his head.
“You can’t get too a head of yourself thinking about things like that,” Freeman sad. “Everybody is here at the NFL–the highest level–and you have to tell yourself that you belong. You have to go out there and you have to prove every day.”
The Broncos’ backfield has been in motion since last season’s leading rusher, C.J. Anderson, moved on to the Carolina Panthers. Anderson recorded a career-high 1,007 yards on 245 carries last season before signing a one-year, $1.7 million deal with the Panthers.
Freeman set multiple school records at Oregon, including career rushing yards (5,621), all-purpose yards (6,435), total touchdowns (64) and rushing touchdowns (60).
The 6-foot, 229-pound Freeman rushed for 1,475 yards and 16 touchdowns last season after an injury-plagued junior campaign. His career rushing yardage is the second-most in Pac-12 history behind former USC back Charles White (6,245).
Booker rushed 79 times for 299 yards and a touchdown last season while also reeling in 30 passes for 275 yards. The 26-year-old has 253 carries for 911 yards and five rushing scores since being selected with by the Broncos with a fourth-round pick of the 2016 NFL Draft.