The Denver Broncos enter the 2021 season with a talented backfield at their disposal. Today, I'm breaking down Denver's running back room and that'll include the team's depth players who are fighting for the chance to contribute or rebound from injury.
How will each back affect the offense? Which project as fitting into the backfield vision of offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur? Lastly, is this room stout enough or should the Broncos look to add a different player through the draft? All will be known in due time.
Melvin Gordon | RB1
Gordon enters the coming season as the clear-cut RB1. Last year, he came close to recording his first 1,000-yard rushing season since 2017 but ultimately fell just 14 yards short in the final game. He showed flashes in the Broncos' offense last year and is poised to build on his first year in the Orange and Blue as the de-facto starter.
Gordon has an old-school, hard-nosed, smash-mouth running style that makes it a serious challenge to get him to the ground — a trait he's proud of as he's on record of saying, "I don't like to make it easy for anybody, you better group tackle me."
His powerful running style does have its downfalls, though, as he sometimes loses control of the ball and fumbles when attempting to get those few extra yards. In Gordon's second year with Shurmur, the Broncos will need to get him more involved in the passing game.
Last year, Gordon produced his lowest output as a pass-catcher out of the backfield — something that is a legitimate concern, as it was the main reason he was brought in. Shurmur has been known for taking full advantage of pass-catching backs in the past and should look to spread out the defense and get Gordon in space.
2021 is a big opportunity for Gordon and not just because he projects as the RB1. The two-time Pro Bowler enters a contract year on the heels of the Broncos jettisoning a fan-favorite with no small degree of controversy.
Mike Boone | RB2
As the Broncos turn the page on Phillip Lindsay, the team looks to start a fresh chapter with Boone, who was signed the day after the former's restricted free-agent tender was rescinded by GM George Paton. If Boone earns some touches in the running game, Broncos Country could be pleasantly surprised with his production.
He's a one-cut running back with terrific acceleration and runs every play as if it is his last. Boone is poised to make an impact in the passing game as well as he has good hands stemming from his play as a receiver in high school and looks to be a dual-threat out of the backfield, which could be key if Gordon finds himself facing a suspension due to his prior legal trouble or suffers an injury that causes him to miss multiple games.
Boone will arrive in Denver seeking to make an impact whenever his cleats hit the field, including on special teams. He said recently, "I take pride in our special teams unit because I realize the importance of it."
Boone has a fondness for playing special teams, as it was how he created value for himself initially after going undrafted, getting his foot in the NFL door.
Royce Freeman | RB3
The Broncos had high hopes for Freeman as a 2018 third-round draft pick out of Oregen. He was a high-usage back in college with good hands to help compete in the passing game.
In Freeman'srookie campaign, he shared carries with Lindsay and seemed to be the perfect piece to complete a formidable duo at running back. Unfortunately, he would struggle with the injury bug while Lindsay flourished in his absence. From there, Freeman's role diminished with each passing week.
Two years later, the Broncos paid Gordon, causing Freeman to slide even further down the depth chart. Freeman now enters a contract year and will have to take a big step forward and find a way to stay healthy to even be considered for the 53-man roster going into 2021.
LeVante Bellamy | RB4
Bellamy is a young, exciting, former undrafted free agent out of Western Michigan. His final two collegiate years vaulted him up the running back rankings as he rushed for 2,700 yards and found the end zone 30 times over that span.
Bellamy is poised to take full advantage of this year's expected preseason to exploit opponents with his dynamic play and nose for the end zone. His downfall comes from his diminutive size at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds. He is not known for his pass-catching ability so Bellamy will need to show out this preseason to leapfrog Freeman and prove his true worth to the team.
The Broncos' backfield has to produce this season if they want to have any chance to compete with teams like Kansas City, Las Vegas, and the L.A. Chargers. Gordon and Boone should thrive together behind an offensive line stacked with talent that began to really gel late last season.
If the O-line can remain healthy, Denver's running game is going to be a handful for opponents. Having legitimate weapons in the backfield keeps defenses guessing, extends drives, and preserves Denver's premier defense, allowing it to perform at a high level every time it takes the field.
Follow Kenneth on Twitter @KennethMHH.
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