Who Should Start at Running Back for the Denver Broncos in 2018?

Simply put, the offense of the Denver Broncos last season was abysmal at best. This was mainly due to the quarterback carousel that plagued the entire team. Still, they managed to squeeze out the team’s first 1,000 yard rusher since 2013 in CJ Anderson. However, Anderson was later cut in the off-season due to cap issues, which left a wide open competition for the starting job in 2018. Let’s take a look at the potential options for the Broncos this year.

Devontae Booker:

The man who will likely get the starting nod (at least for the pre-season) will be the 3rd-year back out of Utah. Booker was an elite talent in college, but stumbled out of the gates in the NFL, fumbling his very first carry. Since then, Booker has shown flashes of stardom, but has not exactly lived up to the hype that first surrounded him. However, the releasing of CJ Anderson could speak for the level of confidence that John Elway and the coaching staff has in Booker moving forward. He has real potential to break out in 2018 and become the starter for good, but could also become just another good college player that didn’t translate well into the pros. Booker’s ceiling next year really could be a dynamic, “do it all” kind of back, rushing for over 1,000 yards while also making noise in the passing game. Worst case scenario for Booker, however, would be him just never really getting his footing, and losing the job to one of the younger guys on the roster. At 26 years old, this could already be the make or break season for Devontae Booker, given the level of talent that’s behind him on the depth chart.

Royce Freeman:

Being called the “Kareem Hunt of this years draft”, Freeman has been highly touted throughout his entire career, and deservedly so. Freeman rushed for over 5,600 yards and 60 rushing touchdowns in his 4 years at Oregon, also adding over 800 receiving yards to go along with 4 touchdowns. There was never any question about the level of talent Freeman brings to the table, as he burst onto the scene in his freshman year in college, running for 1,300 yards and 18 touchdowns. The Broncos selected Freeman in the third round of this year’s draft (71st overall). Talent wise, Freeman could be argued to be just one or two notches below phenom, and 2nd overall pick, Saquon Barkley. The only downside of Freeman is the workload that he received in college, racking up almost 950 carries. Although just about every NFL scout likes Freeman, some think that the sheer amount of carries he received in college could shorten his NFL career in the long run. As for next season though, look for Royce Freeman’s name to be called upon a lot, whether he gets the starting job or not.

De’Angelo Henderson:

The dark horse for the starting spot in 2018, De’Angelo “Hop” Henderson was selected in the 6th round of the 2017 draft, but didn’t see much regular season time last year. The Coastal Carolina alum was a quiet star in college, rushing for over 1,500 yards and 20 touchdowns in just his second year. Although he only ran the ball 7 times for 13 yards this past year for the Broncos, he impressed many last pre-season, putting out highlight after highlight and really making a name for himself in the organization. Henderson will have more of a hill to climb to become the starter compared to Booker or Freeman, but if he continues to make the big plays he made in pre-season, Vance Joseph will have no choice but to grant him more snaps for this coming year.

So who’s going to start?

It’s hard to say who will end up as the main back for the 2018 season, but look for Booker to get around 60 to 70% of the snaps in Week 1, and Freeman to get most of the work after that, with Henderson occasionally coming in for a play or two. Another honorable mention would be the undrafted Colorado running back, Phillip Lindsay. The Broncos are mainly looking at him to make an impact in the return game, however, so there likely won’t be many carries for him in 2018. Obviously this is all speculation at this point, but it will be interesting to see how this running back battle unfolds throughout the season, as it’s one of the closest position battles in the NFL this year.