Top NFL Draft Prospects: Oregon's Royce Freeman a prize in loaded RB class

In preparation for the 2017 football season, will profile the top NFL Draft-eligible prospects with a different player profile each day. The series will culminate with the preseason top-20 prospects in August.

Royce Freeman RB / Oregon Ducks
Height: 5-11 Weight: 230 40-yard dash: 4.49 High school: Imperial H.S. (Imperial, Calif.)

The 2017 crop of running back prospects has the potential to be remarkable with talents like Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffrey expected to be in next year's class.

Royce Freeman is a draft-eligible running back not mentioned nearly enough in that conversation, but he absolutely belongs and with a strong junior season, he will cement his status in that top tier. After posting 1,365 rushing yards as a true freshman, Freeman rushed for 1,836 yards on 283 carries last season, averaging 6.5 yards per rush. In his two seasons in Eugene, he has combined for 35 rushing touchdowns and 42 receptions.

Freeman is above average in two critical areas of playing the position: vision and balance. He is able to decipher all the moving parts in front of him and find space to work, setting up moves and following blockers. Freeman isn't an explosive athlete, but he runs with a flexible lower body and torso to make hard stops and subtle moves in tight spaces, collecting himself to redirect with ease. He is a patient runner and absorbs contact while keeping his feet due to his thick build and natural power. Freeman runs with a workhorse mentality and is physical as a blocker, showing the base strength to hold his ground vs. defensive linemen.

Freeman's build, balance and vision project very well to the NFL game. USATSI

While he runs low, Freeman doesn't always stay behind his pads and needs to be more of a hammer, especially in short-yardage situations. A one-speed athlete, his run style clearly lacks burst, which allows fundamentally-sound defenders to square him up. Freeman has a number of NFL qualities, but he will face somewhat of a learning curve transitioning from Oregon's spread scheme.

Oregon hasn't had the best track record of producing NFL-style running backs, except for Jonathan Stewart who was a first round pick in 2008 and has averaged 4.5 rushing yards over his seven-year pro career. A balanced and powerful runner, Freeman is in the Stewart mold and there is no question he benefits from Oregon's spread scheme, which helps create run gaps for him to exploit. But he also creates on his own due to his vision to consume and break down what he sees.

Freeman might be labeled as just another Oregon running back with gaudy stats due to scheme, but his build, balance and vision project very well to the NFL game and he should be mentioned as one of the prize backs in the 2017 class.

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