Royce Freeman Will Return For Senior Season At Oregon In 2017

Oregon Duck fans, let out a sigh of relief. Star running back Royce Freeman is returning to the school for his senior season in Eugene. The school announced his decision on their Twitter page to the delight of the many fans of the green and gold.

Following a disappointing 4-8 season, it would appear Freeman wants to help get Oregon back on track in the Pac-12 next year. This is also a major vote of confidence for new head coach Willie Taggart as Freeman is willing to play for a brand new coach in his senior season. Perhaps that will inspire some confidence in the rest of the team.

New Oregon football coach Willie Taggart acknowledges the crowd at an Oregon basketball game.
Royce Freeman wants to play for new head coach Willie Taggart, which might inspire his teammates to respect the new head man as well. [Image by Chris Pietsch/AP Images]

Freeman’s importance to the Ducks’ success can’t be understated. In his college career, he has rushed for 4,146 yards while averaging nearly six yards per carry. However, his output this season was cut in half compared to his stellar 2015 campaign that saw him earn 1,836 yards on the ground.

Despite missing just one game in 2016, he had 115 fewer carries than a year ago. Under Taggart, Freeman likely anticipates more carries and a chance to show NFL scouts he is an elite talent. Before his announcement on Wednesday, CBS Sports had Freeman ranked as the fourth-best running back in this draft class.

Next year, he could rank even higher than that on NFL draft boards. While we don’t yet have Freeman’s explanation in his own words, this was both a business decision and a decision made to help Oregon’s program get back on track in 2017.

Oregon’s Running Back History

In the past decade or so, Oregon has seen a lot of great running backs come through. Their speed-option attack is appealing to some of the country’s fastest running backs and receivers, so naturally, there is going to be a gem every now and then. Freeman is hardly the first great back to come through Eugene.

Some have fared better than others. Maurice Morris turned out well for the Seahawks after being drafted in the second round, but that was before Oregon’s current speed style was instituted. Jonathan Stewart has been one of the most consistent running backs in football since entering the league as a first-round pick in 2008. This season or next, he will become the Panthers’ all-time leading rusher.

Jonathan Stewart runs in the open field on Monday Night Football against the Washington Redskins.
Jonathan Stewart, an Oregon alum, has been one of the best backs in football since he entered the league. [Image by Patrick Semansky/AP Images]

Due to character issues, LaGarrette Blount went undrafted, but he is now one of the best power runners in the game. During Week 15 of the NFL season, he broke the New England Patriots single-season rushing touchdown record with his 15th score of the year.

Meanwhile, guys like LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner have failed to stick with a team so far in their careers. When it comes to the NFL, it’s always a roll of the dice. Freeman is simply trying to give himself the best odds.

How Other Running Backs Are Affected

Oregon football fans aren’t the only ones jumping for joy at this news. Other draft prospects slotted around the same spot as Freeman are also likely ecstatic at this announcement. It means they’re going to get drafted higher, and thus make more money.

Samaje Perine runs to the edge in a regular-season game for Oklahoma.
Samaje Perine and other running backs projected to be drafted on Day 2 have to be jumping for joy that Freeman is returning to Oregon. [Image by Tony Gutierrez/AP Images]

A few guys that stand to gain from Freeman’s announcement include the following players.

  • Samaje Perine – Oklahoma
  • D’Onta Foreman – Texas
  • Wayne Gallman – Clemson

All three of those guys played at big-name schools and have gained notoriety this season. While they’re not going to be taken in the first round, anything after that is unpredictable. With Freeman off the board by virtue of him staying in school, the draft stock of all these players goes up. The same demand and smaller supply mean teams are going to be more desperate for a potential premiere running back come April.

For Freeman, the wait is going to be a little longer to see his NFL Draft dream come true. With a monster senior season, it will have certainly been worth the wait.

[Featured image by Young Kwak/AP Images]