First, rookie Montee Ball appeared to be the main guy in the backfield. Fantasy owners were lining up to draft this guy, as his ADP was sitting at a ridiculous 3.09 on June 16th. Signs were pointing towards Ball being strong enough in pass protection to be an every-down back in this league, warranting the attention of fantasy owners everywhere.
Then it changed.
Many recent reports out of the Denver Broncos website have indicated that the team could very well use multiple backs, which would allow Ronnie Hillman to see some significant playing time, causing an unwanted fantasy headache. The sit suggests that we could see a running-back-by-committee situation. It’ll be interesting to see who establishes themselves more during camp and preseason time.
So, what does this mean for fantasy land?
If the Broncos do use multiple backs, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen it from head coach John Fox. Looking back at his days in Carolina, Fox often utilized all of his backs together, including DeShaun Foster and Stephen Davis, as well as most recently (and still annoying) DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Having said that, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Fox implemented the same idea in Denver, especially considering Ball is a rookie. Here is a chart to highlight the usage of both running backs on Fox’s rosters in Carolina:
As for Fox’s history with rookie running backs, it isn’t very pretty in terms of fantasy production. Only three of his rookie backs have seen over 100 carries in their first season, while only one has seen over 150 (Stewart posted 184 carries in 2008). Keep in mind that guys like Stewart and DeAngelo Williams were even more highly touted collegiate backs than Ball, both of which being drafted within the first 30 picks of their respective drafts. Having said that, I could see Ball seeing around 175 touches, but nowhere near enough to be considered a workhorse for the Broncos, or fantasy rosters. Hillman, meanwhile, will still see at least 100 carries (barring injury), but will also be the preliminary third down back, and has the opportunity to catch around 25-30 balls alongside Peyton Manning. Touchdowns, on the other hand, are where Ball’s fantasy value begins to become much more appealing.
I’d expect Ball to be the team’s short yardage back, which could bode extremely well for his fantasy prospects. After already having weapons on the outside like Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, the Broncos then went out and signed Wes Welker. With this powerhouse of a receiving corp, the Broncos should find themselves in the red zone early and often in 2013. Between both Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno last year, both backs saw 52 red zone attempts. He may not rush for a boatload of yards in his rookie campaign, but I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if Ball scored double-digit touchdowns.
While Ball will most likely be the end zone threat, I still don’t think Hillman is going away. Having said that, this potential committee situation isn’t something I’m looking to own in my leagues. As of right now there is just too much uncertainty for my liking, and until someone establishes as the clear-cut number one option, I’m looking elsewhere.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.