NFL Draft buzz is at an all time high as we are now officially less than one month away from the big event. By far the biggest drafting event in professional sports, months of speculation become reality when college football’s biggest stars will take the stage at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas and find out where the next chapter of their football lives will take place.
The Pac-12 will be well represented, with stars such as Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Vita Vea all projected to be taken in the first round. But with their futures already having received extensive speculation, I will be turning my attention to a player who hasn’t received quite as much attention, but has the potential to make as much of an impact at the next level as any of the aforementioned players: Oregon Ducks running back Royce Freeman.
Workhorse. Wrecking Ball. Bell Cow. These are just a few of the terms used to describe Freeman, who finished his college career with 6,435 all purpose yards and 64 total touchdowns. In their 69-10 trouncing of arch-rival Oregon State, Freeman set the Pac-12 rushing touchdown record with his 60th score. He averaged a stellar 5.9 yards per carry in his four years at Eugene and apart from an injury-shortened 2016, never ran for fewer than 1300 yards in any campaign.
In any other draft, Freeman could be considered one of the top at his position, but this year it’s a little different. Not only is this draft flush with quality quarterback prospects, but it is one of the deepest drafts for running backs in recent years. Backs like Saquon Barkley, Derrius Guice, Sony Michel, Nick Chubb and Ronald Jones II could all hear their names called before Freeman. However, the quality of the competition doesn’t take away from Freeman’s ability as a runner and there are a few NFL teams that would be a good fit for the former Duck.
The Colts have been searching for a primary running back since Joseph Addai left town. Donald Brown, Vick Ballard, Trent Richardson and Frank Gore have all had their crack at the starting job, to varying degrees of success. Freeman could step in and be the feature back the Colts have been looking for. His powerful, downhill running style would be a nice complement to shifty second-year runner Marlon Mack. Given development, the two could become a potent one-two combination. Another benefit of targeting a player like Freeman later in the draft gives the Colts the chance to focus on a different position of need with the 6th overall pick, such as defensive end or offensive lineman. Win-win scenario.
The Lions are another team with a need for a running back, but have the ability to select one later in the draft. Theo Riddick is more of a pass-catcher, LeGarrette Blount is 31 and potentially on the decline and Ameer Abdullah isn’t the runner we thought he was going to be coming out of Nebraska. If given the chance, Freeman could be a first and second down runner, with Riddick coming in on third down as a receiving option. Part of Detroit’s problem is their running back corp, but part of that blame also falls on the offensive line. While their pass-protection skills are solid, the Lions run-blocking was the worst in the league, backs running behind that line ranked dead last at 3.35 yards per carry, according to ProFootball Focus. Selecting a runner like Freeman, as well as some upgrades to the line could do wonders for Detroit’s rushing attack.
When your number one running back leaves in free agency, a hole tends to form in your backfield. That’s what happened when Carlos Hyde left the Niners to head up the backfield committee for the Cleveland Browns. His departure leaves a giant hole for San Francisco’s running back corps. Matt Breida was a solid backup to Hyde and could get first crack at the starting gig depending on how San Fran decides to address the position. However, the 49ers might consider adding Freeman to any potential stable of running backs. San Francisco has enough needs along the rest of the roster that running back is a need that doesn’t have to be addressed in the first two rounds.
This could be where Freeman (or any running back for that matter) could be needed the most. To say that Seattle’s running backs were atrocious sounds far too kind. Their leading rusher was Mike Davis, who had 240 yards. Every single running back on the roster combined for one rushing touchdown. One.
Their splashy free-agent addition from last season, Eddie Lacy, ran for a paltry 179 yards and isn’t expected to return next season. Ditto for Thomas Rawls, who was expected to lead the backfield coming into the season. While the offensive line is in shambles and the defense has been completely gutted, if Pete Carroll is serious about getting the Hawks back to the top of the NFC West, they need to return to the run-first ways they employed when Beast Mode was in his prime. Adding a runner like Royce Freeman would be a good first step in their climb back to contention.
Any of these destinations would be a great fit for Freeman and come April 26th, we will find out if any of these teams agree as well.