I could pretend to be surprised by the release of Willis McGahee, but I like you guys too much to lie like a filthy person. Although McGahee didn’t believe it because a running back must never concede that his death bed awaits until death itself beckons, this move has been nearly a formality since the moment Denver spent a second-round pick on Montee Ball.
So yeah, it’s officially happened now. Which means omg MONTEE BALL MONTEE BALL MONTEE BALL MONTEE BALL.
I’m not sure I can accurately articulate my excitement for Ball, which admittedly right now may seem just a touch premature since we’re still waiting for his first meaningful NFL carry, and we’ll be doing that for a few months. But the fantasy potential of a set of young, bruising legs which are attached to Ball’s wide frame that chugs fast and hits holes exceedingly hard seems limitless right now.
Of course, Ball’s rookie potential and the general giddy excitement which has now morphed into excessive drooling is rooted in the offense he’s in. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed the passing weapons available to the Broncos, so let’s review. Peyton Manning throws the ball to Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, and now Wes Welker too. The versatility of the Broncos’ wide receivers alone after the addition of Welker will lead to far fewer stacked fronts, which is pretty inviting for a running back who will make his living colliding with other humans.
He’ll still do that, but he’ll be able to run a few — or many — yards before finding the first defender. This is a running back who’s already shown he’s fully capable of handling the pounding of a heavy workload after logging two +300 carry seasons at Wisconsin, most recently receiving 356 handoffs during his senior season.
Long term, those hits add up and so will the breakage, which is what led to McGahee’s release today. The combination of his age (he’ll turn 32 in October) and his recent injury (a torn MCL) that resulted in six missed games this past season made the men who make decisions for the Broncos come to a simple conclusion: it’s time to add a quality running back early in the draft (done), and move on (done).
Short term for Ball, you need to care little about any abuse he faced in college. Although McGahee now becomes the latest example that a running back’s career is a fragile thing past the age of 30, Ball is clearly much younger, and he’s therefore only starting the process of decaying (hooray?). Also, please recall that we’re discussing the sort of running back who holds the record for the most collegiate touchdowns, and as a starter over his final two seasons he logged 4,131 yards from scrimmage. That’s just…dumb.
I wouldn’t hesitate at all to make Ball a second-round pick, and in most fantasy drafts he’ll likely lead the third tier of running backs after the more elite — and maybe more importantly for the cautious folk, more experienced — featured backs are off the board. For a ballpark-ish idea of Ball’s current value, Fantasy Football Calculator has his ADP at about 36th overall, which makes him the 22nd running back off the board.
That ADP doesn’t yet reflect Ball’s rise in value with McGahee out of the way, and he could and should quickly ascend to become a late second rounder in a 10-team standard league. Often in that position you’ll be picking between Ball, Reggie Bush, DeMarco Murray, and Darren McFadden. While the decision becomes more difficult if Bush is involved as he’s in a similarly explosive offense and he’ll be used often as a pass catcher, after him it’s pretty easy to side with the guy who’s done far less breaking (a strike against Murray), and his support isn’t absolutely horrifying (eight strikes against McFadden).
Ball will be the ideal RB2 target for those with an early first round pick, as a tandem of, say, Ball and Arian Foster sounds like a whole lot of fun.