As great as John Elway was, the legendary quarterback didn’t win a Super Bowl until the end of his Hall of Fame career when Terrell Davis joined him in the Denver Broncos backfield.
After cutting starter CJ Anderson earlier this month to free up some salary cap space, Elway said he was in the market for another “bell cow” running back.
Royce Freeman rang that bell.
Oregon’s all-time leading rusher was selected by the Broncos in the third round of the NFL draft on Friday night.
“I had no idea it would be the Broncos,” Freeman said during a teleconference with reporters moments after being taken off the board with the 71st overall pick. “With things like this, you just don’t know where you’re going to end up or where you’re going to go. I definitely am appreciative to be a part of this winning culture.”
Freeman, a 6-foot, 229-pound senior finished his collegiate career with 5,621 rushing yards and 64 total touchdowns (60 rushing).
“He’s a guy we needed,” said Elway, the Broncos president of football operations/general manager. “We needed a thumper, and he’s that kind of runner. So he’s great in short yardage and will hopefully break a run or two.”
The other running backs on Denver’s roster are former Utah standout Devontae Booker and De’Angelo Henderson, the team’s sixth-round pick in 2017.
“I feel like I have a chance to go in there and compete with other running backs that are there,” Freeman said. “There are pretty good running backs who are there already.”
Freeman became the first Oregon player taken in the NFL draft in two years.
“I can’t even (explain),” Freeman said of his emotions. “Just watching the TV and not knowing how it was going to play out. With my family, they were very supportive and always positive throughout the draft.
“When I received the call, my phone was on loud, I saw the area code and I was excited. I was turnt up.”
Freeman’s classmate, Tyrell Crosby, will have to wait until Saturday to experience the thrill of getting drafted. Oregon’s standout left tackle, who had been projected as a second- or third-round pick, was not selected on Friday.
A number of draft experts list Crosby as the “best available player” entering the fourth round.
Freeman was named Oregon’s most valuable player as a senior when he ran for 1,475 yards and 16 touchdowns, ranking 10th in the nation with an average of 122.9 yards per game. He had at least 100 yards in nine of 12 games while earning second-team all-Pac-12 honors before sitting out the Las Vegas Bowl.
“We’re lucky,” Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. “He’s a good back, he’s a big back, he’s carried the ball over 945 times in the Pac-12 and he’s been very productive. We’re excited about him. …
“I think when you’re drafting in the first, second and third round you’re drafting potential starters and guys that can help your team right away.”
Anderson was the Broncos’ leading rusher last season with 1,007 yards and three touchdowns. He also had 28 catches for 224 yards with a touchdown.
“I want to be the one to deliver that blow,” Freeman said of his bruising style. “I think as a running back, that is definitely important.”
In addition to Crosby, other Oregon prospects hoping for a late-round call include running back Kani Benoit, long snapper Tanner Carew and cornerback Arrion Springs.