montee-ball-run2

I really, really like Montee Ball, and the girth of fantasy potential he has this year after Willis McGahee was released. I may have made that obvious last week when I wrote his name in all caps four times. Loud noises indeed.

Most of that infatuation is fueled by his outlandishly absurd 4,131 all-purpose yards and 61 touchdowns over his final two seasons as Wisconsin’s primary bruising bull. And being the lead running back in an offense which employs Peyton Manning and just added Wes Welker is also helpful.

But there are potential pitfalls surrounding man love for a running back who hasn’t yet recorded a meaningful NFL carry. Namely that whole inexperience bit, but also the small matter of whether or not Ball will, in fact, be the Broncos’ cowbell carrier. It appears the answer to that question is…maybe?

I was fully aware of the possibility that Ball could share carries with some combination of Ronnie Hillman and Knowshon Moreno when I drooled all over myself last week. But my thought then is the same as it is now: while any time share is unwelcome, the carries Ball will share with the other two won’t be enough to severely diminish his value, and he’ll still maintain the all-important role as the goal-line back.

The problem is that even if all those things are true and even if Ball’s ceiling is lowered only slightly by any sort of platoon, the hype around him created by people like me (sorry) may have already pushed his draft value far too high. This means we need to do two things, and in this order: look at his ugly 3.09 ADP at Fantasy Football Calculator and shiver, and then read these quotes from Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase (via Denny Carter):

“Coach Fox has always been great mixing in the multiple backfields and using different guys. He did it in Carolina, and that’s what we’re looking to [do]. We’ll do the same thing here.”

That echoes an early prediction from Broncos beat writer Paul Klee:

One observer’s too-early prediction: Hillman is the starter for the season opener. Ball assumes the position by the end of September. We see plenty of Moreno, in part because he’s their most reliable pass-blocker and protecting Manning is priority No. 1.

A platoon was always a possibility, and now it’s been confirmed. Or has it?

The Broncos’ offensive coordinator and head coach can spew whatever brainstorming scuttlebutt they please in June, but a simple fact will always win: the hot hand gets the football, and if the hot hand remains at a high temperature, it will continue to receive said football.

Ball’s primary hurdle to be the running back who’s atop the pecking order is the same obstacle which faces every rookie running back. He needs to be, at worst, an average blocker on passing downs, which is especially important because his quarterback isn’t far removed from missing an entire season due to a neck injury. If he can give Fox reason to trust him throughout the preseason, I’ll still cling to the belief that Ball will produce fine RB2 numbers.

The problem, though, is that we can’t have this conversation in our tidy little vacuum. Without a draft valuation, Ball’s 2013 outlook seems fine. But with it, and with snaps and rushing yardage possibly siphoned away by Hillman and Moreno, his rising ADP is poisonous, even for a fanboy like myself. In some drafts he’s almost a late second-round pick, an investment which won’t nearly match his production potential.

But we still need to be wary of how much a time share will actually hurt Ball (or Hillman). Yes, Fox did indeed often spread the love around during his days in Carolina, with Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams sharing the pounding. Looking back, though, the result at its peak was some sparkling digits.

The highest carry total for either back during Fox’s Carolina tenure came in 2008, when Williams finished with 273 carries. Funny thing is, even with that sufficient but still moderate total and even with Stewart getting 184 carries, Williams still chugged along for 1,515 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns, both career highs.

That translates into 259.5 fantasy points, and while there was a decline in rushing yardage for Williams the next year as the split with Stewart persisted (this time, Williams had 216 carries in 13 games, and Stewart finished with 221), both backs had over 1,000 yards on the ground, and they both averaged five yards per carry.

A split or a platoon or a share or whatever only sounds scary, but the production potential can still remain exceedingly high. Just not quite early third round high.

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