In the wild jungle that is depth charts at the beginning of training camp, an interesting development emerged Monday. Ronnie Hillman will open camp as the Broncos’ starting running back.
What does this mean? Likely nothing, and maybe something. But likely nothing.
Consider this a brief public service announcement to remind you that although there will be a training camp battle to see who wears the crown as the lead hand in Denver’s backfield, much of what you see in the early going shouldn’t generate panic, and it certainly shouldn’t lead to a significant adjustment in any fantasy rankings. The Denver Post reported that Hillman is indeed listed ahead of Montee Ball as the starter, while the second-round rookie “will get a look as a third-down option and a rotation runner on early downs.”
Chill, because that sounds scarier than it is. Hillman is likely receiving the early edge simply due to his experience, and while a time share of some kind is still entirely possible — especially under one of the league’s platoon pioneers, head coach John Fox — that won’t be a death sentence to the fantasy value of either back.
You’ll recall that I looked back on Fox’s history of carry distribution during his time in Carolina, and found that if the running game of his offense is functioning at optimal speed, there’s plenty of production to go around:
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.
We’re mostly concerned about Ball here and going forward, because with his much larger frame he has more upside as a touchdown vulture while getting the goal-line carries. How you view Ball’s heavy workload throughout his time trampling humans at Wisconsin (697 touches over his final two seasons, which resulted in an absurd 4,131 all-purpose yards with 61 touchdowns) depends on the level of liquid in your glass: he’s either now nearly broken, or he’s proven that he can handle significant and regular abuse.
Or instead we can be diplomatic and split that thinking down the middle, and realize that he can sustain pounding, but some help to ensure fresh legs and to mange body bruising early in Ball’s career won’t be a bad thing.
When I reflected on Fox’s history in that post last month, I also noted that while Ball can still be highly productive in a platoon situation, his ADP at the time was in the low 30′s. That’s pretty painful, and at that price, Ball represented poor risk management.
Thankfully, the market has started to correct itself…slowly. In ESPN leagues Ball’s ADP is nearly at 40.0, which is slightly more tolerable, and it’s about the same at Fantasy Football Calculator, which has a handy little chart for us.
By mid August, here’s to hoping that’s hovering closer to 50.0, which would make a mid-round gamble on a high-upside rookie much easier to stomach without feeling your lunch rising quickly.