It’s four minutes left in the third quarter and the Jacksonville Jaguars shockingly trail the Denver Broncos by only three points. Knowshon Moreno takes the hand-off from a struggling Peyton Manning, bursts up field for five yards, then lowers his shoulder on safety John Cyprien and powers his way for the final three yards into the end zone.
Moreno’s second touchdown run from last Sunday’s game between the Broncos and Jaguars may be the defining moment of the former first round draft pick’s surprising return to glory in 2013. It not only perfectly exemplifies his progression as an NFL running back but also the evolution of his character.
When Moreno was drafted in the fist round of the 2008 draft following an incredibly productive collegiate career, he was expected to make an immediate impact for the Broncos. Unfortunately, the only thing he impacted was the bench as he proved neither his mind nor body was up to the task of playing in the NFL.
Each year, whether it was due to injury or a lack of production, Knowshon saw less playing time and appeared less enthused by the game of football. As a consequence he has neither rushed for 1,000 yards nor scored ten touchdowns in a single season and has never been elected to the Pro Bowl.
However, since the introduction of Peyton Manning, Moreno seems to be a new type of player. Whether it was the team’s success around him, or the high expectations of Manning, something has rejuvenated the former first round pick and awoken a monster.
In Moreno’s first few years in Denver he struggled picking up yards after contact, was indecisive as a runner, and lacked explosion. In that single touchdown run against the Jaguars he made a decisive cut, ran through contact, and exploded though Cyprien into end zone – truly a different player than the one Broncos’ fans have seen in the past.
Despite all of the naysayers throughout the years, Moreno has continued to work hard, improve his craft, and strengthen his body. Thanks to his ego-less patience, when his second opportunity to start presented itself due to the departure of Willis McGahee, he was ready to perform.
Moreno currently leads all NFL running backs in touchdowns with seven (tied for his career high), is top ten in yards per carry (4.79), is on pace to break to break the 1,000 mark for the first time in his career, and has become a staple of Denver’s high-flying offense. In fact his seven rushing touchdowns through six games ties a franchise record for second only behind the nine of Terrell Davis in 1998.
However, this type of transformation is more that just a testament to Moreno’s work ethic; it is a testament to his maturity and character. As a young player Moreno dreaded the boring meetings and endless film study, was often involved in off-the field issues, and rarely took the time to lead. Now as Moreno has suddenly become the veteran back on the staff, he has managed a full 180. Not only is he engaged in meetings, but he is visibly motivated and helping the younger players.
Having Moreno playing well makes this Broncos offense even more versatile and much better prepared for late season play. If he can stay healthy and continue to lead his position group, Moreno could not only reach his first Pro Bowl in 2013 but also his first Super Bowl.
Written by John Spina. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter @jsspina24