The Denver Broncos’ analytics team may have had a hand in the Royce Freeman selection. Here’s how his impact could be more significant than you think…
The Denver Broncos’ analytics team could be expanding beyond Mitch Tanney according to Nicki Jhabvala, and upon further review, it’s possible the selection of RB Royce Freeman had something to do with analytics.
John Elway personally told Freeman he wanted him to be the team’s ‘bell cow’ back, which is as good of an indicator as any that the team has high hopes for him, but his impact on the field could be more significant than originally thought.
On the surface, Freeman filled a void left with the release of C.J. Anderson. When you crunch some numbers, it’s clear his inclusion in this year’s draft class is about fixing an area of the Broncos’ offense that struggled badly last year: First down production.
The Broncos ranked in the bottom six of the NFL last year in rushing on first down plays with 734 yards.
In a 1st and 10 situation, the Broncos attempted to run the ball 205 times, averaging 3.6 yards per carry. The Buffalo Bills, who were the 16th ranked team in this category, averaged 4.1 yards per carry on 1st and 10.
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This was a clear area of weakness for the Broncos that often resulted in predictable play selections for the offense. Because they were unable to effectively run the ball on first down, they often had longer second- and third-down situations that resulted in low success rates.
Enter Freeman, the team’s third-round pick out of Oregon, who was the most productive running back in college football last season (draft eligible) on a per-carry basis running the ball on first down.
Freeman led all draft-eligible players with 7.08 yards per carry on first down plays, ranking just ahead of San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny at 7.01 yards per carry.
Freeman also ranked first among draft qualifiers with 35 first down rushes on 1st and 10.
The only player in the country who was better at that last year was Wisconsin freshman Jonathan Taylor.
Freeman’s ability to create short-yardage situations consistently on first down plays could be one of the most important things the Broncos added to their offense in 2018.
If his abilities can translate straight from college to the pros, this offense is going to be drastically improved.