Oregon RB Royce Freeman kicks off our list of the Top 50 prospects for the 2018 NFL draft. (USA Today Sports)
Oregon RB Royce Freeman kicks off our list of the Top 50 prospects for the 2018 NFL draft. (USA Today Sports)

Each day leading up to the 2018 NFL draft, I’ll break down one of my top 50 prospects. In some cases, we had to make tough omissions because of injuries, poor combine showings or incomplete information. For more complete scouting reports on all the prospects, check out the Pro Football Weekly 2018 Draft Guide, which is available for order now.

50. Oregon RB Royce Freeman
5-foot-11, 229 pounds

Key stat: Freeman averaged 5.9 yards per carry (947 career carries) and 10.3 yards per reception (79 catches) over his four years at Oregon. He ranks 10th in college football history with 60 rushing TDs.

The skinny: Following in the line of great Oregon backs in recent years, “Rolls Royce” Freeman stepped right in as a freshman following a terrific prep career in California. He started 11 games as a true freshman in 2014, earning Pac-12 Offensive Rookie of the Year and Freshman All-America honors after scoring 19 touchdowns and racking up 1,523 yards from scrimmage.

Freeman earned first-team All-Pac-12 mention as a sophomore (2,184 yards from scrimmage, 19 total touchdowns) but struggled with a knee injury and was limited to 11 games as the Ducks fell to 4-8. He rebounded as a senior in a 1,475-yard rushing season, earning second team All-Pac-12. Freeman skipped the Ducks’ Las Vegas Bowl loss to Boise State to prep for the NFL draft and bowed out of the Senior Bowl (after accepting an invitation) but had a good performance at the NFL scouting combine.

Upside: Great combination of size, burst and change of direction. Has patience to let blocks develop. Can fit through tight cracks and go. Runs downhill — always seems to be falling forward. Not a power runner, per se, but a tough load to bring down. Nose for the end zone — 64 career TDs in 51 games. Quiet, serious demeanor.

Thick, muscular frame and well-proportioned. Ran with consistent production, even in injury-slowed 2016 season and even with some poor blocking in front of him the past two seasons. Reliable — carried ball 15 or more times in 38 of 51 contests at Oregon and also had at least 81 rush yards in 38 of 51 games. Improved as receiver and pass blocker over his career.

Shows vision and can make first man miss. Watch how Freeman keeps his balance on this run against Washington State, making two men miss behind and at line of scrimmage with two quick cuts and then run to space:

Downside: Pass protection and receiving ability — used predominantly as screen and dumpoff option — still need refinement. Could stand to run bigger and barrel defenders better when given the chance. Runs like a 205-pound back at times, which could hurt his production in the NFL. Can get a bit small in the hole. Will go down on initial contact a bit too often. Straight-line speed is only average (even if it’s respectable for his size). Might not be a true extra-base hitter as a runner at the next level. Will jump cut unnecessarily at times.

Heavy workload in college — more than 1,000 career touches over four seasons. Has battled knee and shoulder injuries. No clear-cut special-teams value. Scouts want to know why he skipped bowl game (and Senior Bowl).

Best-suited destination: Freeman might fit best as a first- and second-down power back in a one-cut, zone-heavy scheme. He also has value in the pass game and can project to be an every-down back in time, especially for those teams running up-tempo, no-huddle offense. The teams that could seek a back with Freeman’s skill set include the Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers, Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears (where his former head coach, Mark Helfrich, now is offensive coordinator), Seattle Seahawks, Detroit Lions, Buffalo Bills, New Orleans Saints, Washington and Tennessee Titans, among others.

Quotable: “I don’t think I came here to prove anything. I came here to let myself know that I can do it. I put in all this work. I didn’t put in all this work for nothing.” — Freeman, at the NFL scouting combine

Player comp: Jonathan Stewart

Expected draft range: Second to third round

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