Matt Waldman shares a sample scouting report on Denver Broncos running back Royce Freeman from the 2018 Rookie Scouting Portfolio.
Royce Freeman, Oregon (5-11, 229)
Depth of Talent Score: 81.75 = Rotational Starter: Executes at a starter level in a role, playing to his strengths.
Freeman reminds me of Carlos Hyde with superior speed and quickness. A big back blessed with starter speed and star-caliber burst and change of direction, Freeman’s 20-
Shuttle and Three-Cone performances will make draft analysts sleeping on him take a second look at his tape.
And it is easy to sleep on Freeman. He’s an efficient, intelligent runner who figures out ways to access rushing lanes without the showy maneuvers that impress highlight viewers.
Freeman is adept at reading the line of scrimmage at the earliest stages of a run play and varying his stride length or changing his approach to set up his blocks. His skills in this area are often subtle enough that some viewers may attribute the success of the play solely to the blocking.
Freeman’s 4.16-second 20 Shuttle and 6.90-second Three Cone performances translate well to the field. His acceleration and stop-start speed would be notable for any back—and are quicker than any of the backs ranked ahead of him on this list. Now throw in the fact that Freeman is only slightly smaller than Barkley, and his athletic profile should have your attention.
Freeman consistently identifies the secondary option as a zone runner and will access it as necessary. Although his frame, acceleration, ability to run through reaches could make him an excellent fit in a gap-heavy scheme, he’s an adept zone runner.
He has flexible hips to bend around the pursuit of defenders and when he decides to drop the pads, he can push a pile or break through contact in the hole. Another reason he’s a good zone runner is his agility. He can deliver jump cut combinations layered together to set up downhill creases with outside-inside setups. Once he’s in the hole, he reads the action accurately enough to make a second move that bounces him to open field.
Although I only saw Freeman take plays outside by design or a quick and easy cutback that he identified at the exchange point, he has the speed and acceleration to bounce a lot more plays when it makes sense to do so.
I’ve seen him outrun a defensive end’s containment in the backfield as well as linebackers pursuing him to the flat working to the wide side of the field. If a defensive back gets caught in a static position at the beginning of Freeman’s bounce, Freeman can beat him, too.
Freeman’s athletic ability and refined decision-making makes him competent at outside zone despite his size. However, force him to widen his path and he’s much easier to take down. He also needs 1-2 prep-steps to gather his feet when he’s reached full speed working towards the sideline and has to get downhill.
Freeman is at his best when the majority of his runs allow him to square his pads and get downhill. Linebackers better have direct, downhill angles on Freeman or they won’t tackle him on their own. Most defensive backs better hope reinforcements are on the way if they can’t wrap him low.
Although he doesn’t find his target as much as I’d like to see, Freeman has an active stiff-arm that’s effective at working through all three classes of defenders for yards after contact. He can run through the grasp of defensive linemen and push linebackers for yards through contact.
Freeman should earn an early role as a short-yardage runner in the NFL. He consistently finds the backside crease in these situations and his skill with stride variation and footwork helps him work around blockers. He knows the differences required to set up his blockers in gap and zone blocking.
Freeman is also a capable receiver. He has the hand-eye coordination to catch the ball while running away from the formation. He tracks the ball over his shoulder and catches with his hands. He sets up screen passes well.
Freeman’s pass protection needs more work but he does a lot of good things. At this stage of his development, he reads the defense well and knows when to pass protect or when to leave the pocket and run a route.
Freeman squares opponents and uses his hands to deliver an uppercut punch. His feet are quick enough to slide with linebackers and safeties as they redirect their path after Freeman engages them.
However, he must not abandon a technically-sound approach when assigned to larger defenders. The larger the defender, the less confidence Freeman demonstrates with delivering an uppercut punch. He often leans into contact and he gets pushed into the pocket. A decent cut blocker, Freeman cuts across his opponent’s frame with good height.
His ball security is competent enough for playing time until proven that he must improve. His career fumble rate is 1 per 114 touches—committee tier. However, he upped that efficiency to a starter tier of 1 per 134 in 2017. He carries the ball with the arm that’s working away from heavy pursuit.
I can see Freeman as an effective starter or contributor in several offenses. He could replace C.J. Anderson in Denver and push Devontae Booker hard for the starting role. Although the New York Giants ground game isn’t an enviable spot at this time, Freeman has the skills to at least jump-start it in the right direction as the team improves its offensive line.
Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Arizona, and Indianapolis have different strategies for its ground games, but Freeman could fit them all as a committee back. He’s a scheme-versatile
bargain who could justify a team’s decision not to take a first-round back.
Pre-NFL Draft Fantasy Advice: Because there’s so much depth at the position stockpiled from recent drafts, it’s also possible that Freeman falls beyond the third round and begins his career as a backup. If this happens, fantasy owners will need to adjust expectations and it will make his ADP volatile.
I can see an NFL team falling in love with Freeman and taking him on the second day, proclaiming him an immediate contributor. I can also imagine him falling to Day Three with the expected ADP drop to follow, only to push a veteran starter aside in August.
He’s a damn good running back who’s a wise selection for fantasy owners with picks at the 1-2 turn who aren’t about getting too cute with picks that are typically popular at this point—upside athletes with glaring football weaknesses who make three memorable plays in three years and wind up on the cutting room floor.
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