Over the course of the next month, positional battles throughout the league will be won and lost and the average draft position (ADP) of many players will rise and fall. Today, we’ll take a look at one of those battles and the effect it will have on two players in particular: Denver Broncos backfield Devontae Booker and Royce Freeman.
A Rolls-Royce in Denver?
After releasing C.J. Anderson and his team-leading 273 touches, the Denver Broncos selected Oregon’s Royce Freeman with the 71st overall pick in this year’s draft. Freeman arrives in Denver as the Oregon Ducks’ all-time leader in rushing with 5,621 yards, good for seventh-most all-time in the NCAA. A four-year starter, Freeman amassed 1,026 touches throughout his tenure in Eugene while displaying true workhorse ability with an average of 256 touches over the past four seasons. That’s 6.27 yards per touch (YPT), quite a robust number even by college football standards.
Yet, despite Freeman being one of the more accomplished players in this year’s draft class, seven running backs had their names called before the Broncos decided to bring him to the Mile High City. And although his ADP has risen eight rounds since this year’s draft, Freeman’s path to opportunity is anything but clear. That’s largely due in part to another back on the Denver depth chart, 2016 fourth-rounder Devontae Booker.
Booker Begs the Question
Since his 2016 debut, Booker has so far had an okay, if not mediocre, start to his career in Denver. After the aforementioned Anderson broke his leg in week 7 of the 2016 season, Booker stepped into a workhorse role and proceeded to underwhelm. From week 7 onward, the former Ute went on to average 17 touches per game but turned them into a disappointing 3.83 YPT in those contests. For a bit of perspective, that means Booker would have needed to touch the ball an average of 27 times per game in order to gain 100 yards from scrimmage (YFS) in the games he started that season. Those aren’t the type of numbers you want to rely on in real life or in fantasy.
Last season, Booker was relegated back to number two duties, as Anderson returned to full health and rushed for over 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. However, each year presents a new opportunity, and reports out of Denver now indicate that Booker is the early favorite to start the season as Denver’s lead back.
— MileHighReport (@MileHighReport) July 23, 2018
So, then the question remains: who exactly is the RB to own in Denver?
In looking at Booker’s ADP compared to Freeman’s, it’s clear that fantasy players are banking on the Oregon product to take hold of this backfield. But at this point, it’s difficult to expect anything more than a straight-up timeshare. And that’s before even mentioning 2017 pick De’Angelo Henderson or UDFA Phillip Lindsay.
Drafters may recall that it was Henderson, not Booker, who many expected to win the number two role heading into the 2017 season. But the Coastal Carolina product did nothing but disappoint in very limited action during his rookie campaign. However, Henderson appears to be making a strong case to find the field more in 2018. He’s made enough of a good impression that offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave sung his praises when discussing the backfield committee:
— Broncos Wire (@TheBroncosWire) August 2, 2018
Freeman should start, although Bill Musgrave told us yesterday after practice that Henderson has been the best so far.
— Woody Paige (@woodypaige) August 3, 2018
Lindsay, on the other hand, is an undrafted product out of Buffalo who has also been making a name for himself so far this summer:
Von Miller on Phillip Lindsay: “We’re definitely gonna have some things planned for Phillip. Guys like that in the league, you just can’t cover them.”
— Ryan Koenigsberg (@RyanKoenigsberg) July 28, 2018
When all is said and done, this is a competition that will most likely come down to Royce Freeman vs. Devontae Booker. So what exactly should we expect? While Freeman has clearly proven that he can carry a heavy workload, Booker cannot be forgotten due to his talent and familiarity with the Broncos’ system.
This situation is shaping up to be a near-even split, and while Freeman may end up seeing more carries, Booker may be the better bet for receptions out of the backfield. However, in drafting Freeman you’re paying a premium for someone who very well could be splitting time, while Booker can be had a solid six rounds later. Unless Freeman falls into your lap at a significant discount from his 5th round ADP, take Booker in the 11th if you want a piece of the Broncos’ backfield.