About this time last year, rookie running back Montee Ball was seeing his ADP rise significantly in fantasy football circles. The idea of Ball, an unproven back who had never stepped foot on an NFL field before, being a runner selected in the first five rounds or so seemed a bit ludicrous. I mean, we had never seen how this kid was going to adjust to the pro level.
Then Peyton Manning happened.
Sure, opportunity has a ton to do with fantasy football. Are you going to choose the running back that plays on first and second down, or the one that primarily plays on only third? I thought so. However, a favorable environment is plenty involved in fantasy. Oh, would you look at that? Ball has both.
A lot of both.
With Knowshon Moreno signing elsewhere this offseason, the keys to the backfield have shifted to now sophomore running back, Montee Ball. This, of course, excites fantasy owners. So much to the point where people are considering selecting him in the first round of their drafts. It seems a bit far-fetched, but many have already made the case for him as a top-12 overall pick.
Well, here goes nothing.
Mile High Magic
That’s how many points the Denver Broncos scored in 2013. They became the first team to ever eclipse 600 points in a single season, while quarterback Peyton Manning set the record for passing touchdowns in a season. Running backs are typically the guests, while the Manning-led offenses serve as the top tier hotels.
Denver’s offense is The Grand Del Mar, folks.
Amid the record-setting performances, Knowshon Moreno had his best season ever. Considered a potential bust a few years ago, Moreno went on to finish 12th in rushing yards (1,038), fourth in touchdowns (10) and 5th among all running backs in fantasy points. Yes, the same Moreno that had just 2430 career rushing yards prior to last year, had more fantasy points than all but four rushers. Now, did Moreno play better this past season? Obviously. He looked more decisive and showed more burst, but let’s be honest, he isn’t doing that in any other offense.
Pack your bags, Montee. It’s time to check in.
Last year, Moreno greatly benefited from opposing defenses not really worrying about him all that much. As Adam Levitan points out, Denver’s offense faced dime defense a league-leading 15 percent of the time. And a terrific stat via Christopher Harris, of Moreno’s 241 carries last year, 192 of them came with six men or fewer in the box. Talk about making your job a whole lot easier. Ball will see the same opportunity that Moreno saw last season, but the sophomore is probably a better all-around player, presenting more upside. He’ll see plenty of volume, too, as Denver led the league in offensive plays per game last season, averaging 72.1 per contest. And while many may see Manning and the receivers and automatically assume pass or die, Denver was very quietly 10th in rushing attempts per game last year as well. They get up close more than anyone else in football, seeing 4.3 red zone attempts per game last year, which means when they run, Ball will see ample touchdown opportunity.
I mean, remember Joseph Addai back when Peyton was in Indy? Really not a very talented runner (he’s no longer in the NFL), but Addai benefited from the offense, as he averaged 8.5 rushing scores from 2006 to 2009. During that span, he finished as fantasy’s 11th, 5th, 39th and 9th-best fantasy running back. Ball is lightyears better than Addai, and so is the Denver offense compared to those Colts units.
It’s his time
Denver could have easily brought back Moreno this offseason, utilizing both runners once again. The running back market isn’t what it used to be, and Moreno wasn’t looked at as a feature back for an offense. However, they feel more than comfortable with Ball shouldering the load, which shows that the backfield truly belongs to him. With less-than-stellar guys like Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson behind him on the depth chart, Ball really has nothing to worry about. Sure, Denver is almost certainly going to select a running back at some point in this May’s draft, but it won’t matter.
This time last year, I was telling people to cool it with the Montee love. However, this year and last year are very different. Ball has his first full season under his belt, has a general idea of what it takes to play in a Peyton Manning offense, and improved his pass protection. Remember, Ball would have likely entered 2013 as the start if it weren’t for his questionable pass-blocking skills, which Manning doesn’t take lightly. I think it’s very, very likely that Ball, assuming he stays healthy, at least replicates the numbers that Moreno posted a season ago. And, considering Moreno finished as the number five fantasy back, that would warrant a first round draft selection.
I’m not saying you should, I’m not saying you shouldn’t. But he has to at least be in the discussion.