Royce Freeman

Latest On Texans’ Running Backs Room

The Texans finished the 2021 NFL season ranked dead-last in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and rushing yards per carry. Houston has made some moves to address the position and the room will look fairly different at camp this summer. 

Last year saw four Texans’ running backs start games. Three of those running backs are no longer on the roster. Mark Ingram returned to New Orleans midway through last season, Phillip Lindsay signed this offseason with the Colts, and David Johnson hit the free agent market and has yet to sign with a new team. While losing three players who started games may sound significant, the three backs combined last year to rush for only 652 yards and 2 touchdowns while averaging only 3.12 yards per carry.

Houston returns their leading rusher last year, Rex Burkhead. Burkhead, who turns 32 next month, racked up the highest rushing total of his career last year in his ninth season, totaling 427 yards on the ground. Burkhead has been a third-down type of running back throughout his career, recording more receiving yards than rushing in tw0 of his nine years. The Texans also return Royce Freeman, who was claimed off waivers in early-November last year.

To address the struggling run-game, Houston made two big moves. The first move they made was to sign free agent running back Marlon Mack in the weeks leading up to the Draft. Mack spent five seasons in Indianapolis, starting as a backup to Frank Gore. Once Gore left in free agency, Mack took the starting job and, despite missing six games in the next two years, was 92 yards away from two-consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons. In 2020, a torn Achilles in Week 1 ended Mack’s season and opened the door for then-rookie Jonathan Taylor to take the reins. Taylor quickly took over, finishing second in Offensive Player of the Year voting last year. In his final year with the Colts, Mack took a backseat to Taylor and Nyheim Hines as he was only active in six games.

The second move Houston made was drafting Florida running back Dameon Pierce in the fourth-round of the Draft. Pierce had the best year of his career in his senior season while splitting carries with Malik Davis and Nay’quan Wright. Pierce only rushed for 574 yards in his final season as a Gator, but his physical playing-style led to him leading the team with 16 touchdowns from scrimmage, 13 of those being on the ground.

So who is taking the lead for Houston next season? According to Aaron Wilson of Pro Football Network, the Texans will have a committee-approach at running back this year. They have built a room that holds quite a few skill sets necessary for a successful position group. Mack is expected to take the lead back role, as he’s the only one with experience and success in that role. Although Mack runs with the same physical, attacking style as Pierce, Pierce’s presence should allow Mack a bit of a reprieve in those short-yardage and goal-line situations. Burkhead should be able to return to his role as a receiving, third-down back. Freeman has experience spelling starters as a reliable backup, and can continue to do so in any role asked of him. Houston also brought in former-Jaguar Dare Ogunbowale who has plenty of experience as a backup, as well. They also roster Darius Anderson, who will likely serve as a camp body this summer.

With Mack, Pierce, and Burkhead, Houston has specialists for three different situations. If they need or want more bodies on the 53-man roster, Freeman, Ogunbowale, and the young Anderson can compete for that fourth slot. The improvements needed for the run-game need to come from several areas: offensive line make-up, success in the passing-game to take pressure off, down-field blocking from receivers and tight ends, etc. The first-step, though, is to have players who can run, and Houston has drastically renovated their running backs room in an attempt to get out of the basement of rushing offenses.

 

Texans To Re-Sign Royce Freeman

The Texans are re-signing Royce Freeman (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport). It’ll be a one-year deal for the veteran running back, who returns for his fifth pro season. 

[RELATED: Texans Sign D. Ogunbowale]

Freeman got into seven games for Houston last year, notching 92 yards off of 35 totes. He also added seven grabs for 62 yards, showing a little bit of the pass-catching skills he exhibited in 2019.

Freeman totaled 297 career carries for 1,187 yards and eight touchdowns with the Broncos. On the whole, the Oregon product has struggled with consistency, but he’s still only 26 and can offer solid support for the Texans’ RB group.

As of this writing, the Texans have four RBs under contract in Freeman, Rex Burkhead, Darius Anderson, Scottie Phillips, and Dare Ogunbowale. Ogunbowale, formerly of the Jaguars, agreed to join Houston last night on a two-year, $3.3MM deal.

Browns Tried To Claim RB Royce Freeman

Ahead of a key AFC matchup, the Browns have run into extensive trouble at running back. They attempted to aid a shorthanded group by putting in a waiver claim for Royce Freeman, Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets. But the Texans’ waiver priority prevented such a move.

In reuniting the Freeman-Phillip Lindsay tandem from Denver, Houston (1-8) stopped Cleveland (5-4) from bolstering a backfield missing not just its top two cogs but down backups as well. Going into Sunday’s game against the Patriots, the Browns have only D’Ernest Johnson on their active roster.

Nick Chubb tested positive for COVID-19 this week. So did fellow backs Demetric Felton and John Kelly. These three are part of a five-man Browns contingent on the team’s coronavirus list. Chubb is vaccinated, so he still has a chance to play Sunday. While he would need only to test negative twice in a two-day period, players who have tested positive during the week have almost unanimously not played in their respective team’s upcoming game.

Kareem Hunt remains on IR, and Kevin Stefanski said this will not be the week he returns from IR. Hunt could be down until December, per ESPN.com’s Kimberley Martin (on Twitter), adding the fifth-year running back likely will not be 100% again this season due to the knee and wrist injuries he was battling before the October calf issue sent him to IR. The Browns have not started Hunt’s 21-day IR-return clock.

The Browns now have Brian Hill and Dexter Williams on their practice squad. One of the two will be in line to serve as Johnson’s primary backup against New England. In Johnson’s lone other start, against the Broncos, he totaled 146 rushing yards on 22 carries.

As for Freeman, the Panthers gave him 21 totes this season before cutting him once Christian McCaffrey returned. Freeman has 77 rushing yards and no touchdowns; the former third-round pick has not scored a TD since 2019. Nevertheless, the Oregon alum has been a popular player on the wire. The Ravens and Raiders tried to claim Freeman in August, following his Broncos departure, and the Browns came up short during Freeman’s second waiver go-round.

Minor NFL Transactions: 11/9/21

Today’s minor moves:

Arizona Cardinals

Atlanta Falcons

Buffalo Bills

Carolina Panthers

Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns

Dallas Cowboys

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Kansas City Chiefs

Los Angeles Rams

Minnesota Vikings

New England Patriots

New Orleans Saints

New York Giants

New York Jets

Philadelphia Eagles

Tennessee Titans

Washington Football Team

Panthers Waive Royce Freeman, Place Cameron Erving On IR

Rough day for the Panthers. In addition to Matt Paradis, the Panthers have placed starting left tackle Cameron Erving on the injured reserve list. Meanwhile, they’ve also waived veteran running back Royce Freeman.

[RELATED: Panthers Place Paradis On IR]

Erving previously missed time with a neck injury. This time around, it’s his calf. There’s no word yet on the severity or his timetable, but he’ll miss the next three games at minimum. Rookie Brady Christensen saw a couple starts earlier this year, so he could factor into the game plan more going forward.

The Panthers’ left tackle post has been a revolving door for nearly a decade. The hope was that Erving would bring stability after winning the job and becoming Carolina’s ninth LT in as many years. Unfortunately, injuries have been a recurring problem. Due to multiple knee injuries, he played in just six games (five starts) for the Cowboys last year.

Freeman totaled 297 career carries for 1,187 yards and eight touchdowns with the Broncos. The Panthers claimed him in September and used him in eight games. he totaled just 77 yards off of 21 carries. The Ravens and Raiders entered claims for him a few months ago, so they could be among those with interest this time.

Ravens, Raiders Wanted Royce Freeman

With J.K. Dobbins out for the season, the Ravens tried to claim Royce Freeman (Twitter link via Adam Schefter of ESPN.com). Ditto for the Raiders, Yates hears, but the Panthers ultimately nabbed Freeman on Thursday thanks to their higher waiver priority. 

For the Ravens, it’s a sign that they’re not entirely confident in their current options. For now, their RB group consists of Gus Edwards with support from third-year scat-back Justice Hill and 2020 UDFA Ty’Son Williams. It’s possible that Williams would have been let go if Freeman was claimed, despite his strong summer. Edwards profiles as the team’s RB1 for now and his 5.2 career ypc shows that he can do damage. Still, he’s never carried an RB1 workload before.

The Raiders — the Ravens’ Week 1 opponent — would have slotted Freeman behind Josh Jacobs and newcomer Kenyan Drake. That role was ticketed for Jalen Richard, but he’ll start the year on IR thanks to a foot injury.

Instead of Baltimore or Vegas, Freeman will head to Carolina. He’ll slot behind Christian McCaffrey and rookie Chuba Hubbard as he takes Trenton Cannon‘s place on the team. Freeman wasn’t much of a factor last year, but he has 297 career carries to his credit for 1,187 yards and eight touchdowns.

Panthers Claim RB Royce Freeman

Royce Freeman did not make it out of the top 10 on the waiver wire, going to the team that picked just ahead of the Broncos in this past draft. The Panthers claimed Freeman on Thursday, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets.

The ex-Bronco is joining Christian McCaffrey and rookie Chuba Hubbard at running back on Carolina’s active roster. The Panthers are cutting veteran back Trenton Cannon to clear a roster spot for Freeman, David Newton of ESPN.com notes.

Denver waived Freeman on Wednesday, making room for rookie UDFA running back Nate McCrary. The Broncos added Mike Boone and second-round pick Javonte Williams this offseason. With Melvin Gordon‘s guarantees remaining intact after DUI charges were dismissed, Freeman faced an uphill climb to carve out a role in Denver this year.

The former third-round pick will provide the Panthers with considerable experience behind McCaffrey. A four-year Oregon contributor, Freeman totaled 297 career carries for 1,187 yards and eight touchdowns with the Broncos. The 225-pound back mostly worked as the ball-carrying B-side to Phillip Lindsay in Denver but was not much of a factor last year, with Gordon in town.

Mike Davis‘ departure for Atlanta left an experience void behind McCaffrey, and considering the dual-threat standout missed most of last season, adding depth could be critical for Carolina — especially as the schedule expands to 17 games. One year remains on Freeman’s rookie contract.

Also a 2018 draftee, Cannon spent last season with the Panthers and contributed mostly as a kick returner. Cannon spent his first two seasons with the Jets. The Virginia State alum would be eligible for Carolina’s practice squad, should he pass through waivers.

Broncos To Waive RB Royce Freeman

After making multiple waiver additions Wednesday, the Broncos cleared space for the new arrivals by cutting Royce Freeman, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets.

Freeman was set to go into his fourth season with the Broncos, but the team made multiple offseason moves to affect the former third-round pick’s standing. Denver signing Mike Boone and drafting Javonte Williams in Round 2 threatened Freeman’s roster spot, but after Boone suffered a quadriceps injury during training camp, the veteran runner made the team’s initial 53-man roster. But he is now headed for the waiver wire.

The Broncos claimed running back Nate McCrary off waivers from the Ravens on Wednesday and also added cornerback Mike Ford via the wire. McCrary is a rookie UDFA out of Division II Saginaw Valley State. He will be in line to play behind Williams and Melvin Gordon, which was to be Freeman’s role with Boone sidelined. The Lions waived Ford on Monday, doing so after he played three seasons with the team.

Acquired during John Elway‘s GM run, Freeman saw his playing time steadily decrease in Denver. The ex-Oregon Duck lost out to Phillip Lindsay as the Broncos’ primary back early, and after playing the B-side to Lindsay from 2018-19, Freeman was Denver’s third-stringer last season — after the team signed Gordon in free agency.

The between-the-tackles runner did average 4.9 yards per carry in 2020, but that came on just 35 totes. Freeman, 25, totaled just more than 1,000 yards over his first two seasons, rushing for eight touchdowns in that span.

AFC West Notes: Raiders, Jefferson, Broncos, Massie

During an appearance on HBO’s The Shop: Uninterrupted, Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady discussed his reactions to a potential 2020 free agent suitor pulling out of the sweepstakes to stick with their incumbent signal-caller.

“There was a story, in free agency, one of the teams, they were interested and all of sudden they weren’t interested at the very end,” Brady said. “I was sitting there thinking, you’re stick with that [expletive]? Are you serious?

“When I look back I’m like, there’s no [expletive] way I would’ve went to that team. But they said they didn’t want me. I know what that means, I know what that feels like.”

There’s been plenty of speculation about the mystery team and quarterback that Brady was referring to, and Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com cites multiple league sources who believe the future Hall of Famer was referring to the Raiders and Derek Carr. Las Vegas had been mentioned as a potential Brady suitor during the 2020 offseason, but the organization dropped out of the sweepstakes after balking at Brady’s long list of requests. As Florio notes, Brady had his chance at payback last season, when he tossed four touchdowns in a 45-20 Tampa Bay victory over Las Vegas.

Unless Brady unexpectedly reveals who he was talking about, we’ll never truly know if it was the Raiders. Plenty of other teams and quarterbacks have been mentioned, including the Bears/Mitch Trubisky and the Titans/Ryan Tannehill. The 49ers and former teammate Jimmy Garoppolo have been a popular suggestion, but considering Brady’s lifelong affinity for San Francisco (and his declaration that he was never going to sign with that team in the first place), we can probably cross them off the list.

Here’s more out of the AFC West…

  • Quinton Jefferson has played all over the defensive line during his five-year career, but despite the Raiders depth at defensive tackle, the team is still planning to play their free agent acquisition at his natural position. The 28-year-old will be teaming up with the Raiders main offseason acquisition, defensive tackle Yannick Ngakoue, and Jefferson is excited to form a two-headed monster with his good friend and former college teammate. “Yannick is one of the best pass rushers in the NFL right now and he brings that intensity,” Jefferson told The Athletic’s Vic Tafur. “He is going to bring some pressure and help relieve Maxx (Crosby), free Maxx up so that other teams can’t key on one guy. And then hopefully I can bring some interior pressure as well, so we should have a good mix out there. I am excited to see how that all comes together.”
  • Ryan O’Halloran of the Denver Post explores several Broncos players who find themselves on the roster bubble prior to training camp and the preseason. Atop his list is defensive tackle McTelvin Agim, a 2020 third-round pick who was limited to only 110 defensive snaps as a rookie. O’Halloran notes that it’s troubling that the young defensive lineman wasn’t working with the starters during minicamp despite the absences of Mike Purcell and Shelby Harris. Offensive tackle Calvin Anderson, running back Royce Freeman, safety Trey Marshall, and linebacker Derrek Tuszka also earned spots on the list.
  • The Broncos brought in both Bobby Massie and Cameron Fleming to compete for the starting right tackle spot, and ESPN’s Jeff Legwold believes Massie will get the first shot at the gig. Massie certainly has the advantage when it comes to experience; the 31-year-old has started 110 of his 118 career games, including each of his eight games in 2020. Meanwhile, Fleming has mostly served as backup throughout his career (91 games, 42 starts), although he did start a career-high 16 games for the Giants last season.

Royce Freeman On Broncos’ Roster Bubble?

The Broncos waived DaeSean Hamilton last month, and it appears another high profile member of their 2018 draft class could be out the door before finishing his rookie deal as well.

Royce Freeman is on Denver’s roster bubble and could find himself let go at final cuts, Ryan O’Halloran of the Denver Post writes. The 71st pick of the 2018 draft, Freeman’s career arc so far is a good reminder of the easy come, easy go nature of the NFL. The Oregon product received a ton of buzz during his rookie training camp, and he was named the team’s starting running back before the 2018 season.

He ended up playing in 14 games and starting eight that year, finishing with 130 carries for 521 yards and five touchdowns. He again played a sizable role in 2019, rushing 132 times for 496 yards and adding 43 receptions for another 256 yards.

He quickly fell into Vic Fangio’s doghouse though, and didn’t play a ton last year behind Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay. Even though Lindsay is gone now, O’Halloran notes they just drafted Javonte Williams in the second round and signed Mike Boone in free agency.

Boone got $1.6MM guaranteed from Denver, so he likely isn’t going anywhere. O’Halloran writes Freeman will need to use the preseason to convince new GM George Paton to keep him as a fourth running back, or else he’ll be looking for a new team. Freeman turned 25 in February.