With the surprise addition of free-agent running back Melvin Gordon in the offseason, the Broncos run game will certainly look different than the 2019-2020 season. The addition of Gordon allows new offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur to have a running back for any situation. Philip Lindsay is a receiving back, Melvin Gordon is a speed back and Royce Freeman is a power back. Most of the attention is being put on the pass game but since Drew Lock can’t be perfect all of the time there will be games that will be run-heavy. So when that happens which back will answer the call?
Even though he’s the new kid on the block, Gordon will have an easier time adjusting to the split in carries between him and Lindsay. Gordon spent his entire career on the Chargers where he usually shared carries with one or more running backs. However, when it comes to the scheme Lindsay is primed for a monster year in receiving yards. The running back has always been a focus in the pass game for Shurmur. This means that Lindsay won’t just pick up yards as a safety valve on broken down pass plays, he’ll have designed pass plays to make the passing game more diverse.
Although there will be a split in carries this season it seems like Gordon will edge out Lindsay to be the back on first and second downs. This means that he should expect a bigger workload. Shurmur is no stranger to calling running plays on first down. In 2017, during Shurmur’s last year as the offensive coordinator in Minnesota, the Vikings ran the ball 61 percent of the time on first down.
New Rush Offense
Pat Shurmur uses a west coast style of offense and has a run game. Similar to Denver native and 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan. This style of run game uses a lot of pre-snap motion to confuse the defense. Shurmur believes this will create big holes in the defensive line. This scheme combined with Gordon’s pure speed and elusiveness will no doubt translate to some big first down runs all season long.
Expect to also see a spike in touchdowns this year from Freeman. This new offense relies heavily on inside runs and short passes. This means a lot of methodical and calculated drives leading to goal-line opportunities. Freeman is the most effective power back on the team so he’ll most likely be used in these situations only. Former Broncos fullback Andy Janovich would usually block on strong run plays near the goal line in the I-formation. Now without Janovich, the power run game might struggle. That doesn’t seem like it will be a focal point of the offense anyway so it shouldn’t really matter.
One significant change was made to the offensive line in the offseason. The front office decided to bring in right guard Graham Glasgow from Detroit. Glasgow has been a decent pass blocker in his five-year career but his run blocking is what really stands out on the stat sheet. On Pro Football Focus, Glasgow was ranked as the eighth-best run blocker in the NFL for 2019.
The rest of the running back depth chart consists of Jeremy Cox, Khalfani Muhammad and Levante Bellamy. Cox and Muhammad both have one year of experience and have not logged any carries. Bellamy is a rookie from Western Michigan and was signed as an undrafted free agent. If Bellamy makes the final 53-man roster look for him to produce on a small amount of touches. Even though he flew under the radar he was still one of the most productive backs in the NCAA.
What to expect
The Broncos will be facing one of the toughest schedules for quarterbacks in the league so the running back rotation better be in full force if they want to make the playoffs. Last year the Broncos finished 21st in rushing offense and missed the playoffs during a down year for Philip Lindsay.
Look for Melvin Gordon to finish with over 1,000 yards on the ground and 8 or more touchdowns. Lindsay should be able to exceed the 500 yard receiving mark with 700 or more rushing yards. Freeman most likely won’t crack 250 yards on the ground with this stacked backfield, but 4 or more touchdowns seems likely.