Whenever any insight emerges regarding the Broncos’ backfield and who will get carries and when, something pretty predictable happens: panic. Pure, almost joy-filled panic.
As fake footballers, panicking about something — anything at all, really — is our default mode. Usually, it looks something like this…
Today a guy who frequently talks to Broncos players and coaches because it’s his job dropped a knowledge nugget about the Broncos backfield, and it’s handful of moving parts which include two young, highly drafted running backs (Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman), and an old rusty anchor (Knowshon Moreno).
The result was a confirmation of what we were told a few weeks ago from another guy who actually works for the Broncos and he’s pretty important (the offensive coordinator). Oh, and more panic.
The first gentleman in question was Mike Klis of the Denver Post, who assessed the team’s backfield in response to a question as part of a mailbag post, also known as the easiest July content grab. A question was asked about Willis McGahee, who was predictably cut last month due to a combination of age, injuries, the fact that he’s now expendable, oh and age (he’s 31). Ball was a second-round pick back in April, and Hillman was selected one round later in 2012. Meanwhile, when McGahee went down in Week 11 last year, Moreno proved to be much more than a mere decaying mess, rushing for 525 yards and four touchdowns over the season’s final six weeks.
So, how will things shake down in 2013? Klis thinks Moreno will be the third-down back. Ruh roh?
The Broncos want Ball and Hillman to get most of the carries this year. Moreno is an ideal “third down” back because of his receiving and pass-protecting abilities. McGahee was not going to accept a “third down” role. Nor was it going to be offered. Remember, the Broncos generally pulled McGahee on third down because he wasn’t much of a receiver.
This sort of seems a little daunting, especially the part when there’s a hint that Hillman and Ball will split carries. Oh, and the part about Moreno sucking away most of the scoring opportunities from anyone not named Moreno.
You should greet this with little surprise, though, because a few weeks ago Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase warned us of the forthcoming running back triclops in Denver, saying that head coach John Fox will look to duplicate the success he had in Carolina under a committee system.
That word — “committee” — is downright dirty. Or at least it is in the wrong hands. Fortunately, Fox is the right man, and this is the part when I take the lazy exit, and echo myself when I wrote on this same topic and these same concerns recently…
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.
The problem, of course, is that even if we assume both running backs in a split still carry value despite Moreno vulturing touchdowns, we need to project who will be on the high end of the split, and that’s difficult right now. Even if the No. 1 running back’s advantage in carries is slight, it’s still significant. And this is where the risk with Ball arises, despite the still fine production you’ll likely get from him.
I’ll freely admit that I was among the first to purchase Ball pom poms, but his price could be terrifying enough to quiet even the most enthusiastic fanboys. Thankfully, it’s fallen of late over at Fantasy Football Calculator, as he’s now coming off the board early in the fourth round in 10-team leagues, almost a tumble of a full round from where he was a month ago.
In that spot, the risk with Ball and the Denver committee is a little more manageable, and easier to adsorb. But right now there’s just no way to justify taking him earlier than 40th overall.