ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- What preseason games screamed, the depth chart confirmed.
The Broncos will start Royce Freeman at running back in the season opener, a source told Denver7. The rookie moved ahead of Devontae Booker with a strong exhibition performance. He finished with three touchdowns, including two of more than 20 yards. Booker continued to show the inability to break tackles or make a defender miss at the line of scrimmage, a criticism that has dogged him since his rookie season.
I have been writing that Freeman was expected to be the top guy for more than a week. Monday, it became official.
“First of all, his maturity. He can carry the load from a physical standpoint and a mental standpoint," coach Vance Joseph said. "He was really good in pass pro, so that’s your biggest worry about having a young halfback playing with a veteran quarterback—it’s the pass-pro issues. He’s shown the IQ and the maturity to be a great pass-pro guy, on third downs especially.”
He will become the Broncos first rookie runningback to start the opener since Terrell Davis in 1995. In his debut against Buffalo, Davis rushed 20 times for 70 yards and one touchdown.
"It's an honor to be mentioned with him," Freeman said. "You have to tell yourself that you belong."
Freeman rushed 84 yards on 15 carries, a 5.6 average. Booker has compiled 3.6 yards per attempt in the first two years of his career. The Broncos are leaning heavily on the 2018 draft to execute a U-turn and camouflage more 2017 mistakes than Revlon. As Denver looks to ramp up an offense that averaged 18.1 points per game last season, rookies Courtland Sutton, DaeSean Hamilton, Freeman will boast prominent roles.
Joseph insisted over the past week that the starting running back is a matter of semantics. He expects Freeman and Booker to play. However, Freeman's ascension is notable. He was drafted with the idea that he could replace 1,000-yard rusher C.J. Anderson. He has done nothing to quell the optimism since the Broncos selected him the third round out of Oregon, where he left school as one of the most accomplished offensive players.
Broncos name captains
A new team featured new captains: (Offense) Case Keenum, Matt Paradis; (Defense) Von Miller, Todd Davis; (Special Teams) Brandon McManus, Andy Janovich.