Star running back Royce Freeman is returning to the Oregon Ducks for his senior season.
Get ready, Ducks fans, your star halfback is coming back.
On Wednesday, Oregon announced that running back Royce Freeman would return for his senior season instead of declaring for the 2017 NFL Draft. Freeman explained his decision to return to the Ducks through a press release sent out by the University of Oregon.
“After consulting with my family and giving this considerable thought, I feel this is the best decision for me in regards to my future on and off the field,” Freeman said. “My education was one of the most important reasons I chose to come to Oregon and that priority hasn’t changed.”
He’ll now have the opportunity to play for new head coach Willie Taggart and jumpstart a new era in Eugene. While he’s excited about playing for his new coach, Freeman showed gratitude to the man Taggart is replacing, former head coach Mark Helfrich, who was fired following a 4-8 record in the 2016 season.
“I wish to thank Coach [Mark] Helfrich and the entire coaching staff for the roles they have played in my success thus far. I am extremely grateful to Coach [Gary] Campbell for everything he has taught me and the influence he has had in my life over the last three years,” Freeman said. “However, the prospect of playing for Coach [Willie] Taggart my final year here was certainly a factor in my return. His enthusiasm and vision for this program are contagious. I am excited to be coached by him and to enhance my development.
After rushing for more than 3,000 yards in his first two years with the Ducks, Freeman’s 2016 season was injury plagued. In 11 games, he ended up with 945 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns on 168 carries, which was a decrease of 41 percent from the carries he received as a sophomore in 2015 (283).
Freeman’s injuries opened a door for redshirt sophomore Tony Brooks-James, who was given 101 carries and rushed for 771 yards.
While Freeman will likely split time with Brooks-James again in 2017, he’ll have a chance to improve his draft stock, which fell tremendously this season.
The crop of talented halfbacks heading into the 2017 NFL Draft includes Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey, Donnel Pumphrey and others. Had he declared for the draft, Freeman would have been a mid-second-round pick in a best-case scenario.
But with a more experienced Justin Herbert returning at quarterback and Taggart injecting some energy into the program, Freeman can close out his college career with his degree and possibly a few more records. He’s already the school’s single-season rushing leader with the 1,836 yards he posted in 2015.