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Mile High Mess

Mile_High_RBs

Editor’s Note: This particular article is submitted by Member Corner author Zach Bahner.  We welcome Zach to the Member Corner and look forward to seeing more of his work in the future! 

From time-to-time, the NFL Draft ends up leaving us with more questions than answers – that can be especially true for fantasy football owners. Sometimes teams make picks that seem to not make much sense and that can greatly affect the value of players. The Cowboys made one of these picks in 1989 by drafting Steve Walsh with their first round pick in the supplemental draft after using the first overall pick on Troy Aikman that same year. The Bills were also guilty of this when they took CJ Spiller with the ninth overall pick in the 2010 draft while having Fred Jackson and former first rounder Marshawn Lynch on the roster.

This year, the Broncos arguably made one of those selections when they drafted Montee Ball with pick #58. Ball was the third running back selected and was taken over draft community favorites like Eddie Lacy, Johnathan Franklin and Christine Michael. Many in both the draft and fantasy football communities expected a running back to go the Broncos, but with bigger names still available, Ball was a bit of a surprise. On top of that, the Broncos used a third round pick (#67 overall) on Ronnie Hillman in 2012.

This has left the fantasy community with quite a conundrum, especially those owners who selected Hillman last year. According to 2012 rookie only ADP data on myfantasyleague.com, Hillman was the tenth rookie selected in rookie drafts with an ADP of 17.56. He was selected ahead of fellow running backs Isaiah Pead, Lamar Miller and Bernard Pierce, among others. It’s difficult to argue Hillman was overdrafted due to the uncertainty that the future of the Broncos’ backfield showed last season, but it is now a reality.

More of a change of pace back than an every down runner, Hillman had a less than extraordinary rookie campaign amassing only 3.8 yards per carry and one touchdown on 84 carries and only 62 receiving yards on ten receptions. Hillman is a runner who is best when used in space rather than as a between the tackles runner. His quick footwork can get him out of trouble, but his inability to give up on some plays causes him to lose more yardage than he should. Ultimately, Hillman is best served in a complementary role.

Hillman isn’t the only back on the Broncos’ roster that Ball may have to compete with for carries. The Broncos currently have nine running backs on the roster, but I’m going to focus on the five who have the best shot at making the roster and contributing this season – Knowshon Moreno, Willis McGahee, Hillman, Montee Ball and Lance Ball. Each of these players has reason for and against why he could get significant carries this season.

McGahee is the incumbent starter, but has a difficult injury history dating back to the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. McGahee has missed time in several seasons and missed the last six regular season games and playoffs last year due to a torn MCL and compression fracture in his right knee. On top of his concerning injury history, he will also turn 32 shortly after the start of the season and counts $3 million against the cap this year. The cap strapped Broncos would save $2 million against the cap if they parted ways with him. McGahee does have some positives, though. He rushed for 4.38 yards per carry and four touchdowns on 167 rushes last season. He also caught 26 passes for 221 yards.

Moreno, a first round pick by former head coach Josh McDaniels in 2009, has had a difficult time keeping hold of the starting job. He has had his own injury woes, missing 14 games in four seasons due to injuries and was a healthy scratch for eight weeks last season. When Moreno was on the field after the McGahee injury, he was unimpressive. He ran for 3.8 yards per carry and four touchdowns on 139 rush attempts. He also caught 21 passes for 7.95 yards per reception. Moreno is the definition of a “bulk carrier” – a running back who needs a large number of carries in order to amass much yardage. One thing Moreno does have going for him is the team would only save $945,000 against the cap if they decide to cut him and do away with his $3.287 million cap number.

The final back who has a solid chance at making the roster is restricted free agent Lance Ball (at this point I’ll refer to Lance and Montee by their first names to avoid confusion). Lance signed a $1.323 million tender this off season, none of which is guaranteed. Only amassing 192 carries in four seasons, Lance does not have the wear and tear that Moreno and McGahee have. Lance put up pedestrian numbers in 2012, averaging only 3.76 yards per carry and one touchdown on 42 carries. He also added 61 yards and one score on seven receptions. While Lance does not contribute much on offense, he is heavily relied upon for his special teams play. His special teams ability may very well lock him into a spot on the 53 man roster.

Finally, there is Montee Ball, the newest member of the Broncos’ backfield. Since Montee is a rookie, we have to look at his college career to determine what kind of role we anticipate for him in the NFL. When evaluating rookies, I typically do not look at their college stats. The reason for this is the quality of opponent can greatly skew those numbers. Rather than looking up stats, I look specifically at that player’s attributes and how they should translate into the NFL. I won’t go too deep into all the specifics of Montee’s game because our very own Jacob Feldman has already done an excellent job of that, but I will touch on a few high points.

One of the biggest things that sticks out to me about Montee is he is a patient, one cut runner – this is perfect for running in a zone blocking scheme like the Broncos use. While not having great top end speed, he does accelerate to his top speed very well and has elusiveness one would not expect from a power runner. Montee is also smart about the hits he takes, often spinning off them to deflect the force rather than absorb it. He is a solid blocker and performs well in the pass game.

One thing that could really show how much the Broncos plan on using Montee is the full back usage. At Wisconsin, Montee often ran behind a fullback or a tight end in motion – that is typical of John Fox run offenses. Andrew Mason did a great job illustrating in this article.

With the signing of Wes Welker, it looks like the fullback position could be on the sideline fairly often, but the Broncos didn’t sign Jacob Hester (one of the better fullbacks in the NFL) back in November for nothing. Hester actually saw a good number of snaps in the four weeks he was on the roster in 2012, playing 78 out of 331. While it is unlikely Hester will push Welker, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Jacob Tamme or Joel Dreessen off the field very often, he should get some snaps to make way for Montee.

Based on recent production, special teams ability, injuries and salary cap implications, I believe McGahee will be cut sometime before the start of the regular season. I doubt the Broncos would go into the season with five running backs and based on that information, none of the other four backs make sense to cut. Depending on what we see in the preseason, Moreno could start the season as the #1 back, but will end up passed by Montee Ball early in the season. Moreno is a known commodity at this point, so I typically play it safe, rather than having high expectations come crashing down.

This leaves us with a few situations to contemplate. Who do I target in start-ups and where? How high should Montee Ball go in rookie drafts? If I’m a Ronnie Hillman owner, what do I make of this situation?

In a startup, the clear target is going to be Montee Ball, but don’t ignore Moreno or Hillman. Based on our current May ADP, Montee is the #26 running back selected in startups with an ADP of 65.33 – this puts him behind Giovani Bernard, Eddie Lacy and Le’Veon Bell as the fourth rookie running back taken. I’d certainly take him over Lacy due to fellow rookie Johnathan Franklin getting drafted by the Packers, as well. I would also take Montee over Steven Jackson and Ryan Mathews. Overall, I’d be happy taking Montee as high as the #20 running back in startups, but I wouldn’t push him any higher. Ronnie Hillman is currently the #48 running back off the board with an ADP of 137.83. If you take Montee, be willing to spend a tenth round selection if you want to guarantee yourself a handcuff – Moreno is currently the #59 running back selected and I would only take him as a spot starter. Beyond this year, Moreno’s value is not tied to Montee or Hillman.

Based on current ADP, Ball is the fifth player being selected in rookie only drafts with an ADP of 7.51. In my opinion, he should be the fifth player selected behind Bernard, Cordarrelle Patterson, Tavon Austin and DeAndre Hopkins. However, if you are completely set at the wide receiver position, take him any time after Bernard.

For those who took Hillman in last year’s rookie drafts, there are three options. The first option is to hold Hillman and not worry about drafting Ball. I don’t see a ton of value in that move, as I don’t see Hillman being higher than a RB4 or RB5 in most formats for the foreseeable future. The second option is to do whatever you need to do to draft Ball in your rookie draft and have Hillman as a decent handcuff in case Ball is ever injured – this could mean trading away a veteran or picks in order to secure him on draft day. The third option is to trade Hillman to whoever selects him in your rookie draft. If you take this option, however, don’t expect a terribly large amount of compensation. A third or fourth round pick might be all you can get for him at this juncture. My recommendation would be one of the latter two scenarios if you are able to get the proper value. If you can’t, go ahead and hold him and hope for either a better option in the future, or that I’m wrong and Hillman ends up a solid flex play.

While the preseason holds more answers than we can find right now, it appears clear Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman are the future in Denver.

Zach Bahner

Zach Bahner

Zach has been playing fantasy football since the beginning of high school and started playing dynasty in 2010. He is a musician that spends his free time writing and performing music, binge watching television shows on Netflix, experiencing all things Star Wars, working on spreadsheets, doing math for fun, reading, cooking and learning as much as he can about the world we live in. He specializes in contract and salary leagues but also participates in daily fantasy sports.
Zach Bahner

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27 Comments

27 Comments

  1. Eric Olinger

    June 11, 2013 at 6:28 am

    Nicely done Zach.

  2. Ralphster

    June 11, 2013 at 8:02 am

    Excellent write up Zach. As someone currently holding Moreno as an RB4 I’ve been targeting Montee early and often.

  3. SJ

    June 11, 2013 at 8:07 am

    How McGahee and Moreno perform in the preseason will determine which of the two stays or goes before the season starts, but its no guarantee that M.Ball doesnt beat them out at the clear #1 in that time anyway. At this point were just trowing darts as to who will be the starting rb come week 1. Could be either of the three.

    However, I dont think DEN is overly cautious enough to worry about saving the difference of $1M, and having that be the deciding factor. It will come down to play. But figuring that out will only be something we’re privy to much later on when McGahee and Moreno are actually on the field.

    • Eric

      June 11, 2013 at 8:56 am

      I agree, but they were cautious/stingy enough to botch the Dumervil contract and let him walk…

  4. duffmanohno

    June 11, 2013 at 8:08 am

    Nice article.

    I think that because it’s John Fox at head coach, my gut is telling me to run from this situation. Although it may just be the water in Carolina, I blame Fox for setting up the Stewart/Williams mess that the Panthers have and suspect that the same thing could be happening in Denver. Also, has there been a time when Fox actually started and played a rookie?

    • SJ

      June 11, 2013 at 8:22 am

      I think thats everyones underlying concern, and really the only reason Moreno/McGahee have any value at all at this point. We all know what Fox did with young/rookie RBs in Carolina (and to an extent last year in DEN with Hillman).

      Its possible Elway and Manning will pressure him to skirt that trend if they really are behind Ball after preseason.

      Quite frankly, to be continued is all we know…
      (well that and that Hillman has lost significant value since this time last year)

  5. SJ

    June 11, 2013 at 8:19 am

    Honestly everyone should just be targeting Ball. Hes going to be a beast in that offense for many years to come, and waiting a week (or five) until hes installed as the starter is just something that seems par for the course

  6. Darkaine

    June 11, 2013 at 8:21 am

    Denver seems pretty set in their thinking of having Ball start right out of the gate but I guess anything can change. Good write up though, I took Ball 5th in my rookie draft although patterson was still on the board. The other ones you mentioned were all gone and I needed RB help more than taking a chance on him.

  7. Kyle

    June 11, 2013 at 9:25 am

    This article is pretty short-sighted and lacks a lot of the right kind of investigation to make these determinations one way or the other.

    Hillman added 20 lbs of muscle this season and has been lighting up OTAs and has received a lot of praise from the DEN coaching staff and reporters alike.

    Ball, on the other hand, was described as “slow” and appeared to “lack the dynamism of a lead RB in the NFL.”

    We all know Ball sucks. He does. In fact, even in college it was obvious he was a product of the huge line that he played behind.

    On top of it all, John Fox dislikes throwing rookie RBs into the fire right away.

    I’d be surprised if Ball finds any real playing time this fall or beats out Hillman in the long-term – Ball’s just not very good.

    • Eric

      June 11, 2013 at 9:34 am

      I’m sensing some anti-Ball bias here. He might not be AP, Doug Martin, etc, but he far from sucks.

      Freshman year: 98 att/391 yds/4 ypc/4 TD
      Soph: 163/996/6.1/18
      Junior: 307/1923/6.3/33
      Senior: 356/1830/5.1/22

      So did this large offensive line just carry him for 1800 yards 2 years in a row. It’s the O-Line’s job to open a hole at the line of scrimmage. Ball seems to have a knack for taking that hole and getting at least 5 yards on average.

      I realize the competition level is different in NFL, but you’re dislike for Ball is based purely on personal bias.

      • Eric

        June 11, 2013 at 9:37 am

        Also the argument of “he’s a product of his O-Line” is absurd.

        Every running back needs blockers. By that same comment Trent Richardson is/was overrated. Look at Chris Johnson…he’s a good runner and even he needs an O-Line to help open holes.

        Discounting/disliking a player for playing with other talented players is bogus.

    • smcguiga

      June 11, 2013 at 10:11 am

      Kyle….did ball date your sister or something? Wow hating on him big time….I am sorry to have to be the one to tell you this but Hillman will never be a bell cow back I don’t care if he added 50 lbs of muscle(I highly doubt he added 20 unless he is juiced out of his mind). Ball will be man this year and near future….sorry your arguments don’t hold a drop of water…..

    • zachbahner

      June 11, 2013 at 11:30 am

      Kyle, thanks for reading the article. I’m sorry you think I didn’t do adequate research for this piece, but I did put a lot of time into it. I can agree with you when you say that it’s difficult to make these kinds of determinations this early, but the reality is that many leagues require these decisions to be made early with rookie drafts and roster limitations.

      While Hillman may have put on 20 pounds of muscle this off season, I would have a difficult time calling that 20 pounds all muscle. Adding bulk and muscle are two different things. However, I will concede that 20 pounds, whether muscle or not, will add to Hillman’s power.

      It seems that you have probably watched at least some Ball on tape, but I’ll have to vehemently disagree with your evaluation of him. He isn’t the type that will be an All Pro, but he does not suck. Regardless of his skill or lack there of, I would not recommend drafting a player based on his rookie time. That’s not what dynasty is about.

      Speaking of offensive lines making backs look better or worse, what was your evaluation of Eddie Lacy? He was behind the best line in college football, but many people had him as their #1 back in the draft (I had him 3rd behind Bernard and Franklin).

      Again, thanks for the read and the thoughtful comment. I’ll check back to continue the discussion.

    • SJ

      June 11, 2013 at 12:13 pm

      Lol.. the dude set Touchdown records – how does he suck?

      Sounds like a Hillman homer, or a Montee Ball basher

    • Steve

      June 11, 2013 at 12:56 pm

      Where are these glowing OTA reports for Hillman? I own him in one league and would love to see how awesome he is doing in shorts. Also please provide your “source” of the Montee Ball description of being “slow” and “lacking the dynamism of a lead RB in the NFL.”….From OTAs. Jesus man.

    • Kyle

      June 11, 2013 at 3:25 pm

      Ball possesses no upside. He is a mediocre talent compared to Bell, Michael, Lacy, and even Franklin. Look up his metrics – they are god-awful. He possesses no elite, or even above average physical attribute.

      People keep comparing Le’veon Bell to Daniel Thomas. Bell is a superior athlete compared to Ball.

      Ball is this year’ Daniel Thomas – you heard it here first.

      • JT

        June 11, 2013 at 5:39 pm

        Troll..

  8. Ariakis

    June 11, 2013 at 11:35 am

    I remember when Spiller had little more than throw in dynasty value. I also remember when Felix Jones bulked up and was hyped as a major sleeper. One of these two is perhaps Hillman.

    Ball has had a ton of carries and is unproven as a pro to stay healthy, be productive, and to have a role in a spread offense and passing game. I want to buy into the hype but is he Dan Thomas or Alfred Morris? Is Hillman therefore Pead or Helu?

    I do think 5th in the rookie draft is right for Ball however in a week class his lack of elite talent met opportunity. Reminds me of Thomas.

    I will aquire Hillman on the cheap and split the difference and target Ball in others I guess until it clarifies.

    • zachbahner

      June 11, 2013 at 11:51 am

      I don’t think he’d be in the top 5 conversation most years. If Lacy and Franklin weren’t going to have to compete for touches, he’d be behind both of them. I think he’d still be a 1st round pick in most years, but the lack of elite talent in this class pushed him up. He and Hillman will be guys that I’ll only want at the right price, but I’ll be fine drafting him #5 in a rookie draft.

  9. SJ

    June 11, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    Funny how this article was posted on the same day DEN mandatory OTA’s began, and also the same date McGahee reported for practice, stating he still considers himself the starting RB.

    Nice timing

  10. SD Guy

    June 11, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    Goodness guys, how many articles do you have to write about Montee Ball. It’s clear that you guys love the guy, but how about something new like an article about Le’Veon Bell. I would love to read something about this guy.

    • smcguiga

      June 11, 2013 at 1:32 pm

      this article was about entire denver backfield actually but I agree Ball has been covered enough….more Bell and Giovani would be nice a nice….how are these guys looking in OTA’s? Bell could surprise IMO

  11. Michael Antebi

    June 12, 2013 at 6:03 am

    Ok I have been playing fantasy football for over twenty years. (yes we used to call our picks into an answering machine and our commissioner used to do the stats by hand from the news paper) I have now been playing in multiple dynasty leagues for over five years. Just to be clear I already had the rest of the Denver backfield. I was not initially excited about the idea of drafting Ball. (I had the #4 and #6 picks in the rookie draft). This was until I watched his tape. Ball makes plays from the running back position. He is not a scat back getting stats in college from some unrealistic offense. He very much looks like Emmitt Smith on tape. He has great vision and looks to have enough speed to be very effective. He has a great jump step and gets downhill in a hurry. He also shows (granted from his college tape) what we always drool over in fantasy football. That is a nose for the end zone. Watching tape of players is the best way for me to try to envision how they will translate to the NFL. A simple google search of a players highlights and you can decide for your self. I am very excited about Ball and it is because I did my own research. DFL is great but you can’t expect them to wipe your ass for you. We are all big boys and many of you need to start using the Big Boy potty. Do your research and make your choice. To DFL you are great at providing us with the information and I love the site. Thanks, Mike

    • smcguiga

      June 12, 2013 at 6:40 am

      Good comparison with Emmit I see same thing actually

    • Zach Bahner

      June 12, 2013 at 6:05 pm

      I had the same thoughts about not wanting to draft Ball until I watched his tape. The Draft Breakdown cutups that I watched changed my mind. I could not say it any better than you just did. Thanks for the kind words, Michael!

  12. SJ

    June 13, 2013 at 7:55 am

    DEN just released McGahee today… guess they saw enough on his recovery to make a decision on moving on with Ball, Hillman, Moreno (who hasnt been cleared for practice yet) and L.Ball.

    Probably the same situation as last year just with Montee as the featured runner and Hillman as the COP back. If anything happens to Montee, Moreno would sub in just like last year.

    Great news for M.Ball owners. His path is just about cleared for starting carries.

  13. Big Al

    June 15, 2013 at 8:19 am

    For the record, Montee was my #1 RB coming into the NFL draft since Jan.

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