Upgrade Your Fandom

Join the Ultimate Denver Broncos Community!

Broncos Film Room: Evaluating the running backs in Denver's first preseason game

Andre Simone Avatar
August 17, 2018

Without pads and limited hitting, the running back position is among the hardest to asses in training camp, making the preseason that much more valuable in evaluating the position. 

It’s no surprise that in the Denver Broncos history some of the more memorable preseason breakout performances have come from backs, with Terrell Davis’ now legendary game in Japan and Clinton Portis’ 73 total-yard first showing in Orange and Blue as prime examples. 

Just for fun, here’s that epic tackle that propelled Davis to become the starter and legend that he turned into.

2018 is a unique year for the Broncos backfield, with nothing but unproven young runners who could all take the starting job, making it a wide open race.

Because of all that, we had to go back to the tape to break down the Broncos five running backs against the Minnesota Vikings.

Royce Freeman

Freeman looked decisive in his running, the first thing that really stood out with him. He just lowered his shoulder to run people over and gain extra yardage, showing off his strength as an inside runner who could be a valuable power back in short yardage situations.

He also stood out for his patience and vision running out of pro sets, a very encouraging sign as that was a big question for No. 37 coming into the pros.

In his few opportunities, Freeman showed he’s a reliable runner who can be counted on to churn out extra yards; he’ll follow the holes and be consistent. You can’t ask for much more out of a rookie.

Beyond being a reliable inside runner, it was crucial for Freeman to show a little juice and break off a big play, which is exactly what he did on his touchdown run. 

The quickness and vision he showed in cutting back the run and making a defender miss is exactly what we need to see out of Royce for him to achieve his full potential.

More impressive was the move he made on safety Anthony Harris in space, shaking him out of his feet, planting his foot and leaving him in the dust. 

That’s the type of play Freeman has to make against NFL talents, and even though it was off of a read option, which is his bread and butter, it was telling that he was able to see the cutback lane and make a defender miss.

He might not be a burner, but if he can show off that type of quickness combined with his power, he’ll be a good back in this league. 

Based off of the game Saturday, Freeman looked like the favorite to be the starter with the most complete skill set as a runner.

Now, it wasn’t all perfect from Freeman who dropped a pass on 3rd-and-6 and had a shaky pass-protection set. 

Case Keenum actually praised him for the play, saying, “Royce did a really good job of peeling backside for a blitzing safety. When backs know what’s going on, plus they can run the ball, it really helps.”

His awareness was good on that blitz pickup—see for yourself—though, the block he made wasn’t anything special as the safety gained ground on him and made contact with Keenum, altering his footwork.

Phill Lindsay

Lindsay made his mark with his impact in the receiving game, as he led the Broncos both in receptions and receiving yards while scoring a touchdown on top of it all. 

It was easy to see how the former CU star can be a weapon catching the ball out of the backfield, which—added to his athleticism in space—can make him a pretty dynamic playmaker.

First, Lindsay got outside on a screen and totally shook his defender out of his shoes for an easy 16-yard completion. 

His touchdown play was also easy as pie, as he simply took advantage of the one-on-one matchup he had, and left defensive back Jack Tocho zero chance to make a play with a quick move to get inside, leading to an easy score.

As a runner, Lindsay only had a couple of opportunities, and it would’ve been nice to see him take his first run outside, where it looked like the edge was sealed and he had a chance to break off a nice gain. Instead, he stayed inside which didn’t result in much.

He also had a missed opportunity on a screen that was set up perfectly, but Paxton Lynch had the pass tipped at the line, preventing the potential big play.

No. 2 certainly has an element to his game that the other RBs on the depth chart don’t, as he’s a dynamic athlete in space who can be a real asset in the receiving game. 

The best of the rest

Listed as the starter on the depth chart, Devontae Booker had only two runs but didn’t look decisive, fast or super in tune with reading his lanes.

He looked better on his second run, getting downhill for four yards, but still not a great showing with very limited touches.

In the following preseason matchups, we’ll be looking forward to seeing Booker utilized more as a receiver, which is where a lot of his value lies. 

De’Angelo Henderson did a nice on his first run, kicking it outside and showing some nice power in finishing it off.

He had an opportunity on 3rd-and-1 but was a bit slow-footed on the play, getting tackled for no gain—in large part because center Sam Jones got blown up.

It was interesting to see Henderson used in short yardage, as he’s not the tallest, but he’s built like a fire hydrant and could be a nice little weapon in the Broncos run game on such situations. 

On another run, he just tried to do too much, dancing in the backfield and trying to cut back the run instead of outrunning the defensive tackle to the edge and taking it outside. 

The biggest takeaway from Henderson’s performance was that his running style is a bit too similar to the other backs on the team not named Lindsay.

Rookie David Williams was who we thought he was; a big downhill one-cut runner. He didn’t look like a very shifty or sudden athlete and overall didn’t do much in the game. He had a negative run in which you could see he’s a bit slow right now.

In conclusion

It’s obviously a fluid situation, but the first preseason game had two clear winners in Freeman and Lindsay while the others didn’t really show much.

What stands out about the two rookies from the Pac-12 is that Freeman and Lindsay understand who they are and aren’t trying to be anything else, this should help both of them succeed. The other backs need to pick it up and find what they can bring to the running game that makes them unique.

Right now, it’s pretty clear that Denver doesn’t have a true three-down back, something Booker has the potential to be but needs to become consistent to unlock his potential. 

Considering the Broncos’ goal of becoming a run-first offense, this position battle is really important for the team, and someone will have to break out no matter what.

Their first taste of real game action was pretty interesting. 


Share your thoughts

Join the conversation

The Comment section is only for diehard members

Open comments +

Scroll to next article

Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?