Much has been said about the Denver Broncos’ running back situation entering the 2014 season. Montee Ball has been written in as the starter, while conventional wisdom putting C.J. Anderson as his primary backup and Ronnie Hillman as the third-down/change of pace back. The Broncos did not select a running back in the draft after selecting Hillman and Ball in the previous two years, but they invited three undrafted free agents to camp; Juwan Thompson (Duke), Kapri Bibbs (Colorado State), and Brennan Clay (Oklahoma). Bibbs, the local favorite, had generated some buzz through OTA’s and entering training camp, but all we’ve heard about since the pads went on was Thompson.
The 5’11”, 225 lb. back has taken advantage of the injury to Ball (appendectomy) and Anderson (concussion) to the point he has been taking first team reps. Have the Broncos unearthed yet another hidden gem at running back in the spirit of Terrell Davis and Mike Anderson? Although he’s still fighting for a roster spot, Thompson reminds me more of Terrell Davis than any back I’ve seen in a Broncos uniform since T.D. hung it up. They both have Georgia ties as well, with Davis attending the University of Georgia and Thompson attending high school in Atlanta.
Davis arguably had a Hall of Fame worthy career, and Thompson has yet to take a snap in an NFL regular season game, but humor me. The thing that made T.D. so great wasn’t his speed or his power, it was his vision. Nobody could plant their foot and cut back better than Davis did, and his vision was unparalleled. I see the same thing in Thompson. He’s a bigger back but has great speed (4.57 40 yard dash at pro day) and power (22 bench reps) but the thing that impresses me most is his vision. Thompson is decisive going through the hole and has great burst and balance. Much like T.D., Thompson appears to be the perfect one-cut/zone-blocking type of back.
He still has a lot of work to do to even make the roster, but right now all signs point to Thompson sticking. He saw 16 snaps and had 6 carries for a team-high 59 yards (9.8 YPC) in the Broncos’ first preseason game and could see even more action this week against San Francisco. How much action he will see when the games matter largely depends on the health of the aforementioned Ball, Anderson, and Hillman, but it’s not realistic to think all three of those backs will be healthy for 16 games.
Of course it’s hyperbole to start fitting Thompson for a gold jacket before he’s even made an NFL roster, but his combination of size, speed, and vision has generated a buzz around Dove Valley. There will never be another Terrell Davis, but if the Broncos have found a way to incorporate some power running into their high-powered offense it may propel the Broncos to another Super Bowl victory. John Elway needed Terrell Davis to get over the hump. Does Peyton Manning need Juwan Thompson?
We’ll leave you with some classic highlights of Terrell Davis for your viewing pleasure.