You would have to go all the way back to the Tim Tebow era to find the last time the Broncos ended the season in the NFL’s top ten in either rushing yards or yards per rushing attempt. Ever since then, the Broncos have been searching for a reliable running game, but they now find themselves with a room full of young, talented running backs, all competing for playing time and a roster spot.
Devontae Booker: The 2016 fourth-rounder is the longest-tenured player in the Broncos’ running back room, but that’s just about the only advantage he has. Booker was widely considered to be one of the top running backs in the 2016 draft, but fell due to injury concerns. He’s spent the past two seasons splitting carries with former Bronco C.J. Anderson, without much to show outside of a few flashes. In 2017, he had just three games where he eclipsed 40 yards and was never able to reach 50. His best game of the season came in week eight against the Chiefs, when he came up with a 40-yard performance on six carries and his lone score of the season. Booker’s two preseason outings have perfectly exemplified his career to this point; six carries for just 24 yards with a long of six. Booker isn’t a bad running back, but he certainly isn’t good either. He’s a capable, rotational back that will grind out between three and four yards per carry, and not much more. It seems too early to give up on his potential, but if both David Williams and De’Angelo Henderson play lights out, it’s not impossible that he could be a cut candidate. PROJECTION: Bench/Rotation
Royce Freeman: Freeman, is expected to do most of the lifting for the Broncos’ run game in 2018 in tandem with Booker. The two share many similarities. Both were Pac-12 standouts who received Heisman consideration, and both were seen as very talented prospects who fell to the middle rounds due to injury concerns. One thing they don’t share however, is explosiveness. Through two preseason games, Freeman has outgained Booker by 34 yards, and has two touchdowns to Booker’s goose egg, despite only having four more carries than the former Ute. At the University of Oregon, Freeman put up some gaudy numbers. His 5,621 career rushing yards is the most in Pac-12 history and the sixth-most in collegiate history. He also holds the Pac-12 records for total touchdowns and rushing touchdowns. Those numbers hint at his undeniable talent… and the heavy tread that’s already on his tires. After the draft, NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks listed “Rolls” Royce as his favorite pick by the Broncos, and the running back most likely to be this year’s Alvin Kamara or Kareem Hunt. PROJECTION: Starter
De’Angelo Henderson: It’s strange to say, but Henderson is the second-most experienced rusher in the Broncos’ locker room. No one would’ve seen that coming before last preseason, when he was an unknown sixth-round pick out of Coastal Carolina. Henderson quickly made his mark in the 2017 preseason opener against the Bears with a 41-yard touchdown run on one of his first carries. Henderson looked like a pinball, bouncing his way between defenders down the field. In college, his stunning lateral quickness and his bounciness earned himself the nickname ‘Hop’. If it weren’t for his two fumbles against the Packers in last years’ preseason, he would’ve definitely seen more regular-season looks. He stands a mere 5’7″ and 208 lbs which likely means he could never be a workhorse back. Ultimately, Henderson should make the final roster and see playing time this season. PROJECTION: Bench/Rotation
Philip Lindsay: The homegrown product has easily been the Broncos’ most pleasant preseason surprise. Lindsay runs with a great burst and a quick change of direction. Out of all the Broncos’ runners, Lindsay has shown the versatility by making an impact in every way. He’s proven to be the best receiver among the group in preseason (3 rec, 40 yds, 1 TD), and in camp. He’s been so good, in fact, that linebacker Brandon Marshall said he saw Lindsay as the starting third-down back. He was also the team’s most productive rusher against the Bears. When the Broncos signed Lindsay as an undrafted college free agent, some thought it a long shot that he would make the roster. Now, Lindsay’s battle isn’t for a roster spot, but for playing time, and snaps. PROJECTION: Third-down back/Rotation
David Williams: Unfortunately, the Broncos’ last pick in the 2018 draft may end up being the odd man out. His eight carries for 17 yards is only made worse when you take out his two longest carries, which leaves him with a paltry seven yards on six attempts. Although his production is by no means ideal, Williams’ battle to make the roster has less to do with him and more with the running back talent surrounding him. Teams tend to carry 3-4 running backs on their roster, and Williams is clearly the fifth man. If he makes a bigger splash in the final two games, he could carve himself out a spot on the practice squad, otherwise, Williams seems like a likely cut candidate. PROJECTION: Cut/Practice squad
Due to an overabundance of youth and inexperience, the Broncos’ running back position is full of question marks, but clearly has some promise and talent as well. If the unit can play up to its level, then the Broncos should post one of their most potent running attacks in years.