When the Denver Broncos selected Wisconsin’s Montee Ball in the 2nd round of the 2013 NFL draft, the writing was on the wall for Knowshon Moreno. And yet, in spite of it, Moreno went out and not only had a career season (in a contract year), but also a franchise record setting one. He became the first Bronco to have at least 1,000 yards rushing and 500 receiving.
But Moreno is gone. The torch has been passed to Montee Ball. As a rookie, Ball had an up and down season, but down the stretch, he played lights out and was instrumental in the Broncos’ success. As a backup, he rushed for 559 yards and 4 TDs, but in the last 6 weeks of the season, he averaged an eye-popping 6.4 YPC.
Ball’s performance in 2013 was enough for Johns Elway and Fox to not bat an eye in letting Moreno walk. As excited as the team and the fans are about Ball, there are questions surrounding the depth behind him, however.
2nd year UDFA, C.J. Anderson, is penciled in as the team’s RB2. He put on a show in the Broncos’ pre-season game vs the 49ers and impressed the team so much that they decided to keep him on the 53-man roster, despite a significant knee injury. He’s powerful, decisive and runs with authority. There’s a lot to like about Anderson, but he only saw 7 touches on the season. He’s very inexperienced.
Behind him we have the enigma that is Ronnie Hillman. After looking great in training camp last year, and even earning a higher spot on the depth chart than Ball, Hillman underwhelmed once the games counted and was eventually benched for fumbling away a possible comeback victory, on the goal line, in Indianapolis.
There is a lot of derision in Broncos Country when it comes to Hillman. I, for one, still believe in him. At 22 years old, it’s way too early to give up on this vastly talented player. It’s true that he has fallen short of expectations, both the fans’ and the team’s, but he has a lot of natural ability. His speed and abilities in the open field, separate him from Ball and Anderson.
Then we have this year’s crop of UDFA running backs, battling for a roster spot. Brennan Clay, Kapri Bibbs, and Juwan Thompson. Clay is a real threat to make the roster and Bibbs led the NCAA in TDs last year with 31.
The biggest attribute missing from the players listed above, is experience. It’s possible that the Broncos are content with their young stable of RBs and would prefer youth to experience. But it’s also very likely that as we get closer to training camp, the team could decide to bring in a veteran, on the cheap, for insurance.
The free agent market for running backs includes names like Kevin Smith, Michael Bush, Willis McGahee, and Felix Jones. But the one who is most intriguing to me, is Ronnie Brown.
The former 2nd overall pick of the 2005 draft is an experienced runner and an above average receiver out of the backfield. He spent the last 2 seasons with the San Diego Chargers, primarily seeing reps as the 3rd down back and although his stats weren’t mind blowing, he’s exactly the type of savvy veteran that the Broncos could target, should they choose to bring in a veteran. At 32, he still has some gas left in the tank.
At the end of the day, I think the Broncos will be very successful, should they choose to roll the dice with their young RB corps. There’s a lot of talent in that group. But if they do choose to bring someone in, Ronnie Brown could be the perfect fit.