The Denver Broncos have a history of unearthing 1,000-yard backs in the later rounds of the NFL Draft.
Team president and general manager John Elway thinks he added another back to that list with the selection of Oregon’s Royce Freeman in the third round Friday night.
The Broncos did have a 1,000-yard rusher last season in C.J. Anderson, who was released two weeks ago in a cost-cutting move after a number of attempts to trade the veteran fell through.
Freeman, a 5-foot-11, 229-pounder, was ranked the No. 9 running back by NFLDraftScout senior analyst Rob Rang and provides Denver exactly what it needs, Elway told the team’s official website Friday night.
“He’s a great addition to the backfield,” said Elway, who tabbed Freeman with the No. 71 overall selecton. “Bellcow type. First and second down. He’s a guy we needed. We needed a thumper.”
Freeman was a touchdown machine for the Ducks, establishing a Pac-12 Conference record with 60 rushing scores over his four seasons while becoming the school’s careeer leading rusher with 5,621 yards.
“He’s a big back with speed,” Broncos head coach Vance Joseph said. “When we get down there in the red zone and we want to run the football, he’s a nice option. When you’re third-and-one, fourth-and-one, he’s a great option.”
Freeman amassed 3,201 rushing yards and 35 touchdowns in his first two years at Oregon, but his numbers dipped to 945 yards and nine scores during an injury-marred junior campaign.
Last season, Freeman bounced back with a vengeance by rushing for 1,475 yards and 16 touchdowns despite electing to sit out the Las Vegas Bowl to avoid potential injury.
Denver still has Devontae Booker, a fourth-round selection in the 2016 draft, and 2017 sixth-round pick D’Angelo Henderson as backfield options.
“You’ve got to have two or three backs anyways, so it’s always going to be open competition,” said Joseph. “It takes two or three guys to have a solid backfield.”
Freeman was not much of a threat out of the backfield last season for the Ducks, but he did have 79 receptions over his four years and averaged 10.3 yards per catch.
“I want to be out there on first down and second down and third down,” Freeman said. “That’s part of my asset as the running back.”