Royce Freeman is getting no love this draft season. In DFFs February mock drafts (start 1 QB mocks) Freeman checks in as the 19th player off the board. Even before an excellent combine, I’m shocked that fantasy owners could honestly say there are 18 players they’d rather have in this case before Freeman. Freeman doesn’t have the explosive game-breaking ability of Ronald Jones III. Nor did he have a breakout in the College Football Playoffs like Sony Michel to help boost his draft and fantasy stock. While his 2017 season was nothing to be ashamed of it didn’t compare statistically to Rashaad Penny’s.
What Freeman does have is the collegiate production, physical profile and skill-set to excel in the NFL.
Historic College Production
Freeman broke out in his rookie season for 1,365 yards with 18 touchdowns. Showing his receiving chops, he added 16 receptions for an additional 158 yards. His sophomore season was simply sublime as he ran for 1800 yards and added another 348 receiving yards. After an injury-plagued and frustrating junior season, Freeman decided to forego the draft and returned to Oregon for his senior season. This appeared to the right decision as Freeman increased his rushing yardage from 945 yards to 1475 yards.
It would not be hyperbolic to state that Freeman is one of the best running backs in the history of college football. Courtesy of Sports Reference (a great website) we can see that Freeman finished his career as the 7th leading rusher in the history of college football.
Outside of Ron Dayne and Charles White, the other running backs above Freeman on the above list all had excellent pro football careers (It’s too soon to say Pumphrey can’t at least have an adequate pro career).
Far from being a one trick pony, Freeman is also an excellent receiver. Over his four college seasons, Freeman brought in 79 receptions for 814 yards and 4 touchdowns. In addition to finishing 7th all-time in college rushing production Freeman also finished 7th in total yards from scrimmage all-time as well. Freeman’s 60 rushing touchdowns come in at 10th in CFB history.
When I target running backs to add to my roster, I prefer ones that can be utilized on all three downs. The simple fact is that they will see the field more often than running backs confined to either two-down or passing down roles. Freeman displayed his ability to play all three downs throughout his college career, and I expect that to continue in the NFL.
After an excellent combine, where he put up stellar Speed and Agility Scores I can’t imagine Freeman will last until the 19th pick in rookie drafts going forward.
Entering the combine, there were rumblings that Freeman would test poorly and doubts about his athleticism. Boasting an 85th (107.8) percentile Speed Score and 82nd (11.06) percentile Agility Score should be enough to allay any fears that Freeman isn’t athletic enough for the NFL. Though Freeman’s Burst Score is only in the 40th percentile his requisite size, 6’0″ 229 lbs, and well above average BMI provide further proof that he possesses the physical profile to do damage in the NFL. With an above college Dominator Rating and a well above average yards per carry (6) Freeman’s performance metrics point to pro success as well.
Freeman is a large back, but he’s far from a plodder, per Pro Football Focus’s 2018 Draft Guide Freeman ranked 14th in the nation in 2017 with an elusive rating of 76.1(1). One criticism often cited is Freeman’s aversion to contact but with a “Not Tackled on First Contact” rate of 38.7%, 6th in the nation per Pro Football Focus, it’s probably an overblown concern.
Players that Royce Freeman has been comped to include Jonathan Stewart, Steven Jackson, and Jerome Bettis. Stewart isn’t the sexiest name, but he has rushed for 7,300 yards over 10 seasons while Bettis is a Hall of Famer. Steven Jackson is the most interesting comp and the absolute ceiling/hope for Freeman. Over 11 full seasons, excluding two games with New England in 2015, Jackson rushed for over 11,400 yards and averaged 41.9 receptions a season.
One area of concern is the amount of wear on Freeman accrued during his collegiate career. Freeman’s 947 carries checks in as the 25th most in CFB history.
While there are some misses on the above list, it’s also dotted with players such as Thurman Thomas, Herschel Walker, Ricky Williams, DeAngelo Williams and Tony Dorsett. Just below Freeman on the top 25 carries list is LaDainian Tomlinson, Michael Turner, and Marcus Allen. Though the concern over his workload is something to keep in mind, it doesn’t appear workload has much correlation to NFL success or failure.
Current NFL mock draft projections have Freeman going off the board anywhere from round 2 through round 4. The hope for any Freeman owners (what up devy league guys) or anyone that drafts him is that Freeman ends up on a roster in need of a starting running back. With improved pass blocking there’s no reason that Freeman can’t be a top 10 back in the right situation.
As stated earlier I prefer targeting backs able to play all three downs. Why? Three-down backs are as game flow dependent as two-down thumpers or 3rd down/receiving backs. Freeman showed throughout his college career that he could play on all three downs. His college production and physical metrics both point to success at the pro level. In my pre-NFL draft rankings Freeman slots in at #4, behind only Barkley, Guice, and Chubb.
Thank you for reading. You can find me on Twitter @DFF_Shane.
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1)PFF description Elusive Rating (RB)
As dependent on their blocking as they are, what are running backs actually creating
on their own? The PFF elusive rating sifts out their work beyond the help
they get. Using the number of missed tackles runners force on all touches (rushing
and receiving) and our Yards After Contact tallies, the elusive rating formula
spits out a score that helps rank the league’s best at making things happen when
it’s completely up to them.