Rolls Royce: The Road to a Breakout Fantasy Season - Footballguys

A detailed look at Royce Freeman's fantasy prospects for 2018.

REASONS ROYCE FREEMAN COULD SURPRISE IN HIS ROOKIE YEAR

  1. The lack of strong competition clears a path for Freeman.
  2. He is a better fit for what the Broncos want to do.
  3. The team will have better game scripts that will set up the running game for success.

SUMMARY

Freeman presents great value at his current average draft position (ADP), but his price is sure to rise as the summer wears on. It's likely Freeman -- a 3rd-rounder from Oregon -- will beat out a struggling Devontae Booker in the impending camp battle. Freeman is clearly the better choice for Denver’s blocking scheme and style of play. Improvement on both sides of the ball will lead to better game scripts, and make Freeman a potential No. 2 fantasy back with upside.


DENVER TOOK A DIVE

Looking at the current state of the Broncos, it’s hard to believe the team won a Super Bowl only two seasons ago. While some of the same talent remains, multiple factors contributed to the team's fall from grace. The stifling defense that typified the Broncos under Gary Kubiak and Wade Phillips has regressed under new head coach Vance Joseph and coordinator Joe Woods. Scheme may play a part, but of greater concern are free agent losses and aging of core players. The offensive line struggled to find continuity and has been in the bottom third of the league since that Super Bowl season. And perhaps of greatest concern, poor quarterbacking has prevailed since Peyton Manning's retirement. While running back C.J. Anderson made the most of his touches (1,231 yards and four touchdowns) given the situation, Devontae Booker disappointed (574 yards and one touchdown on 109 touches). Deft drafting and aggressive free agency offer hope for improvement. With early picks, John Elway brought in Bradley Chubb to boost the pass rush and Isaac Yiadom to replace Aqib Talib. Quarterback Case Keenum was the biggest free agent signing, agreeing to a 2-year, $36 million contract that includes $25 million guaranteed. Keenum had a stellar season in Minnesota and should be more serviceable than Trevor Siemian and Brock Osweiler, as long as Keenum's growth last year wasn't a byproduct of the system. Last, but certainly not least, the Broncos brought in Freeman with an early third-round selection. His college production was stellar; Freeman is one of only four players in Bowl Subdivision history to rush for over 5,000 yards and amass 800+ receiving yards. Could “Rolls Royce” (as teammates have nicknamed him) have a shot at being the most valuable rookie runner? Will Devontae Booker stand in the way? Is Freeman a better stylistic fit for this offense? Will the team be too weak on offense for it to matter?

THE COMPETITION IS WEAK

The primary competition for the job left when C.J. Anderson departed in free agency. Devontae Booker has been mostly ineffective in two seasons, struggling with injuries and lacking vision or the ability to break tackles. Head Coach Vance Joseph elaborated on the situation, “We’ve got four or five backs competing to be the guy, so he’s got to come out and work and earn the right to be the guy. Obviously, he understands that with C.J. gone, it’s a wide-open race.” The Broncos also have De’Angelo Henderson, David Williams, and Phillip Lindsey, but all three are more suited for limited roles. Freeman showed in college an ability to handle a heavy workload. Booker will need to shed his tentative style in the preseason to keep Freeman off the field in September.

FREEMAN IS A BETTER FIT

Stylistically, Freeman is a better fit for Bill Musgrave's offense than Booker. Denver’s blocking scheme requires a patient runner, who can identify cutback lanes and also block well. Freeman's college tape shows a runner with excellent patience, power, and side-to-side agility. He's not a long-speed burner by any means, but raw speed isn't a prerequisite for NFL success. Freeman has an elite jump-cut ability, an ideal trait for Musgrave's run-blocking scheme. Booker, on the other hand, hasn't consistently done any of the things that Denver’s offense requires. After the coaches implemented power-gap schemes to suit Booker's needs last year, he still struggled. As a result, Denver has re-committed to zone concepts this year.

Rotoworld's Josh Norris was recently a guest on Matt Waldman’s RSP Cast #12 and noted that post-draft press conferences are among the few times when personnel executives are honest about their intentions and processes. Following this year's draft, John Elway called Freeman a “big banger” and expressed his confidence he can handle a heavy workload. The opportunity is clear, all Freeman needs to do is live up to his college film. Just because Freeman is a bruising, powerful runner doesn't mean he's limited to first and second downs. He's a capable receiver. Assuming rational coaching, the team will make use of this aspect of his talent as well.

GAME SCRIPTS SHOULD BE BETTER

With last year’s failures still looming large, some remain skeptical Denver can turn things around. As previously noted, poor quarterbacking has hamstrung the offense. Case Keenum is not a world beater, but he played well last year for the Vikings and will be more effective than Brock Osweiler or Trevor Siemian. He makes better decisions with the football and limits turnovers. His adjusted interception rate of 2.0% last year was lower than Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and many others who have a reputation of being among the most accurate and responsible quarterbacks. Although it's worth noting Keenum's play in prior stops with Houston and the Rams was less impressive. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are savvy veterans Keenum can trust to make the right reads and adjustments on the ball. If younger teammates Jake Butt, Courtland Sutton, and DaeSean Hamilton can contribute even slightly this year, the offense will be much improved. Butt, the favorite to start at tight end, missed his rookie season recovering from a torn ACL but is now 100% healthy. The Denver pass rush is going to improve markedly with Bradley Chubb’s addition. Defensive line pressure can cover a multitude of problems in the back seven. Even in a competitive division, a competent passing attack and rejuvenated defense bode well for Freeman's opportunities.

2018 PROJECTIONS

Projector
Games
Rushes
RuYards
Yds/Ru
RuTDs
Recs
ReYards
Yds/Re
ReTDs
FumLost
FanPts
David Dodds
15.3
173
695
4.0
5.0
32.0
250
7.81
1
2.1
162.5
Bob Henry
16.0
215
910
4.2
5.0
21.0
160
7.61
1
0.0
164.0
Jason Wood
16.0
215
900
4.2
5.0
30.0
235
7.83
1
2.0
179.5
Maurile Tremblay
16.0
168
698
4.2
4.2
25.4
196
7.71
7
2.1
144.2

FINAL THOUGHTS

Devontae Booker is on thin ice after two disappointing seasons. The team wanted to bring in a runner who can thrive in a zone-blocking scheme and can make the correct decision about which lanes to take to maximize the gain. Freeman was the product of that mandate and should be expected to win the job in training camp. The offense and defense have taken the necessary steps to improve, making this a competitive team that can keep the score close enough so as not to abandon the run. Given these predictions, Freeman presents value at current ADP.


THOUGHTS FROM THE FOOTBALLGUYS MESSAGE BOARD

FF Ninja states that Freeman is worthy of consideration:

"...for redraft, Freeman is a nice choice. The Broncos are talking up Booker, but I don't expect him to make it out of preseason with the job. I think Freeman will be taking at least half the carries in week one. It'll be interesting to see if 2017 Case Keenum was a mirage. If he turns back into the Keenum that the quarterback-desperate Texans let walk, then it could be tough sledding for Freeman or whoever finds themselves in the backfield.”

Big Tex believes there will be a clear winner in the backfield camp competition:

"The Broncos have a league-high 314 handoffs up for grabs after parting ways with C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles. New quarterback Case Keenum and tackle Jared Veldheer upgrade the offense, while Freeman’s main competition for carries is Devontae Booker and his career 3.6 yards per carry. Booker is just a small bump in the road.”

Snorkelson is a proponent of Freeman:

“I’ve been pumping Freeman even pre-draft. He’s big, fast enough, absorbs contact well, and keeps churning. The only real knock on him is he had a lot of use in college and racked up a bunch of stats. He has good vision and paces his runs well to keep blockers in position. I don’t expect Le'Veon Bell numbers, but he displays a similar patience. Not sure he’s as quick to accelerate. He may not make much on his own in terms of elusiveness, but I think he makes tacklers glance and manages an extra 1-2 yards on runs, which will help keep him on the field.”

OTHER VIEWPOINTS

David McCaffrey of FantasyPros sees Freeman as a rookie ready to make an impact:

“A third-round pick with a strong resume landing on a team with a somewhat unproven incumbent starter? I’m not saying Freeman is Kareem Hunt 2.0, but he could similarly surprise people. Don’t let him sneak up on you. At his current ADP, he could be a potential league winner.”

Josh Laub of RotoUnderworld thinks Freeman will win the job because Devontae Booker is terrible:

“Have you seen him (Booker) run the football? He’s played 29 games in two seasons for the Denver Broncos. Somehow, he has been given 253 carries and he has not even cracked 1,000 yards. He’s averaged 3.6 yards per carry and he has scored six touchdowns. There is no way Denver wins the division, let alone make another run at the Super Bowl with Devontae Booker getting the majority of snaps and touches out of the backfield this season.”

Dave Richard of CBS Sports advocates taking a shot on Freeman:

“Fantasy football often comes down to opportunities over talent. This is one such case. Freeman wasn't close to being the best running back in the draft but he's not bad and should bring the boom to the Denver run game. He's absolutely the kind of running back you want to target past 75th overall. Probably a bit more desirable in non-PPR than PPR, so target him there.”