UW coach: Royce Freeman will be first RB selected in NFL draft

When it comes to college football's spectacular junior class of running backs, Royce Freeman's name isn't generally the first in the conversation. Or even the second.

But University of Washington co-defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake believes it will come up first when it matters most: in the NFL draft.

"I'm calling it right now: You will hear this guy's name probably (as) the first running back taken (in the NFL draft)," Lake said of Oregon's 230-pound workhorse, per the Seattle Times. "He's a decade running back -- he'll play 10, 12 years in the NFL. This guy is a big-time player."

Lake's defense will try to contain Freeman on Saturday as the Huskies try to remain unbeaten. LSU's Leonard Fournette, Stanford's Christian McCaffrey and FSU's Dalvin Cook have garnered more attention and could in time present a challenge to Lake's assertion, depending on whether they end up in the same draft class as Freeman. Each RB is an underclassman and has until a mid-January deadline to apply for early eligibility into the 2017 NFL Draft.

UW's other co-defensive coordinator, Pete Kwiatkowski, sees Freeman as a better runner than McCaffrey.

"... McCaffrey is probably the best all-round football player (in the Pac-12), because he can do so many things, but just as a pure running back -- it's Freeman," Kwiatkowski said. "He's the prototype. He's good."

So what kind of skill set could Freeman bring to the pro game? An NFC scout sees a more effective version of the Carolina Panthers' Jonathan Stewart. The scout described Freeman to NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks as "bigger and badder" than Stewart with the ball in his hands.

Freeman has 463 yards in four games for the Ducks this season, including a 207-yard performance against Virginia. In facing the Huskies on Saturday, he'll get a chance to show NFL scouts what he can do against the nation's 15th-ranked defense (299 yards per game).

Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter *@ChaseGoodbread*.

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