Editor’s note: This is a guess post from Justin Becker of Fantasy Football Overdose. You can follow the Fantasy Football Overdose Google+ Page, and for more NFL Football News visit Fantasy Football Overdose – a fantasy football blog.
The witch is dead. Well, in a sense. Montee Ball can finally stop looking over his shoulder or worry about what his role will be with the Denver Broncos in 2014. Knowshon Moreno is officially a member of the Miami Dolphins, which means Ball is officially on breakout alert in fantasy football.
There is still a chance the Broncos add some talent in free agency in the draft as insurance, as Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson don’t exactly promote confidence. Head coach John Fox has long been a fan of using two backs together instead of driving one into the ground, as well, so pairing another solid talent with Ball would make a good amount of sense.
With that said, Moreno did still dominate the touches in 2013, and Ball should do the same for the Broncos in 2014. Cue the salivation for fantasy owners and bank on Ball’s ADP (average draft position) rising with each passing day.
After all, if the injury-prone Moreno can put up 1,600+ total yards and 11 touchdowns in Denver’s system, what could Ball be capable of in that same role? At least that, if not more, right?
To get a better idea of what we can expect of Ball, let’s break down his game and how it will translate to fantasy success given his new role:
The torch has been passed. Unless Denver randomly signs or drafts someone to compete with Ball, he is going to be in line for nearly triple the total touches he had as a rookie. Last year he ran the ball 119 times and caught 20 balls. He can probably expect to rush at least 260-270 times, while haul in somewhere between 40-60 catches. However, if he has fundamental issues, both of these numbers could take a serious hit. It’s all about his development and how comfortable the Broncos feel about him handling the ball that much. After all, David Wilson and Lamar Miller were mega fantasy sleepers last year, but both had their ceiling’s ultimately curbed by ineffectiveness or ball control issues. Fantasy owners will need to have their 2013 failures in the back of their mind when they think about selecting Ball in their 2014 fantasy drafts.
Moreno was slightly more versatile and more explosive than Ball, but neither were going to blow you away with huge 90-yard runs. Ball can bust loose and has fluid hips to get good chunks of yardage, but expecting massive runs or huge plays on a regular basis just isn’t realistic. The good news is that isn’t necessary in Denver’s offense. Ball will have enough medium plays to make up for the lack of giant runs or receptions.
Here come those fundamentals again. Basically it all comes down to Ball’s main flaws – ball control, blitz pickup and catching the ball out of the backfield. While he did show marked improvement as the season went on, Ball did have hands of stone early as a rookie, fumbled too many balls, and was inconsistent in picking up his blocking assignments. He should be past all of these issues and ready to dominate in his second season, but that’s still no guarantee. After all, he wasn’t on the field all the time as a rookie and we can’t know for sure if the Broncos just did a good job of masking his issues or if he truly improved in all of his problem areas. If he’s going to be a true RB1 or even a RB2 in fantasy football, none of these issues can pop up and stick around for long.
This is where Ball makes his living, as he scored four times as a rookie on 139 total touches. Now with the expected full load, Ball will see the ball way more and should be the top goal-line option. Ball was a touchdown fiend in college at Wisconsin and his size and nose for the end-zone haven’t gone away. In Denver’s system, the opposing defense is always much more worried about Peyton Manning hitting a slot receiver or tight end on a short passing route, so the running lanes should normally be open inside the five. That’s where Ball should go to work in his second season, becoming a real threat to target 10+ touchdowns on the ground alone. If he can turn into that reliable receive rout of the backfield the Broncos need him to be, he’ll inflict even more damage in the endzone.
Where to Draft Him
When and where you draft any player is always about your confidence level in them. However, short of an epic face-plant, Ball appears headed for a huge second season, one similar to if not better than what Moreno put up in 2013. Unlike Moreno, though, who was drafted much later last year due to no one really knowing his role, Ball isn’t going to come and sneak up on anyone. Unless something crazy happens, everyone will know Ball is in for a massive role in arguably the league’s best offense. The interesting change is the fact that Ball was taken anywhere from round three to round six last year, and that’s about where you’re finding him in fantasy football mock drafts early this offseason already, too. Of course, Ball was a heavy fantasy sleeper going into his rookie season last year and no one expected Moreno to win (and hold onto) the starting gig.
That isn’t going to happen again, though. With a job seemingly locked up, finding Ball anywhere after round three in any league should prove to be difficult. He lacks the explosiveness of a C.J. Spiller or Ray Rice, but the stock of those players is plummeting and Ball’s is very much on the rise. Thanks to his stable offense and his role, he should actually be drafted before guys like that often in drafts. For now, Ball still has to earn his stripes in the fantasy realm, meaning you probably can at least make an argument for taking guys like Rice and Spiller ahead of him, and you probably would want to roll with Arian Foster or Alfred Morris before Ball, too. Slowly but surely, however, Ball is creeping into the top-10 of fantasy drafts at the running back position.