At the close of the 2013 season, while the Broncos were licking their wounds after an ugly Super Bowl loss at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks fantasy football analysts had already turned the page on their season. With a strong finish from Montee Ball and Knowshon Moreno‘s looming free agency, the fantasy football community read the situation as it unfolded (myself included) and have been excited about the prospects of Denver’s second year back ever since.
The title of this post misses the point to a degree, surgery is surgery and recovery is tough to predict. Beyond that, of course fantasy investors and the Broncos alike would like to see a man they are pinning their hopes to this season on the field through the preseason and excelling after a problem free August. Unfortunately, that will no longer be the case. With that said, the emergency surgery and subsequent recovery presents a unique buying opportunity for Ball, if anything. Let others be scared off by an injury that has no bearing on his 2014 output and enjoy the back who is being handed the keys to a fantasy goldmine of an offense.
Denver had little interest in using Ronnie Hillman in 2013, and the early discussion was that C.J. Anderson may have been on the roster bubble entering camp. All of a sudden, the race to see who will be Ball’s back up has taken on more relevance – particularly if he is unable to go for Week 1, but with the Broncos front office seemingly having little confidence in either back o lead the way it would take a massive preseason performance to change their plans for the position this year. While careful not to read too much into the first preseason game, Hillman’s 6-15 rushing performance isn’t exactly ‘massive’.
On that note, Ball represents a sound investment entering his second season. He did have some issues early in the 2013 season with ball security, but hung onto the rock over his final 57 regular season touches and through the playoffs. Along the way, he averaged an impressive 4.7 YPC with 704 total yards and four scores. His progression was evident as the season moved along. In 55 carries during the first eight games of the season, Ball had two of his three fumbles and gained just 177 yards. In 65 during the next eight, he gained 382 (an average of 5.9 a pop) adding 18 of his 20 catches during this span.A slippery back who is hard to cover in open space (19 missed tackles on 119 carries, per Pro Football Focus) Ball projects to run well in an offense that keeps opponents focused on the pass game and always puts its backs in position to succeed.
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Peyton Manning has long been lauded for his ability to put his backs in position to make plays through checks at the line, and as a result of the attention opposing defenses must pay to the aerial attack. Beyond the cliche assessments of Manning’s abilities the numbers back it up: #18’s offenses
have never failed are all but assured (thanks Donald Brown, 2010) to produce a quality fantasy running back.
Manning has worked with different running backs who led their teams in carries throughout his career and the numbers posted by each have been impressive, regardless of their own skill level, the team’s overall offensive context and any other variables. On average, backs have posted 212.94 fantasy points with the 15 year vet, composed of 14.4 fantasy points per contest. The specifics are outlined below, and outside of a poor showing by Brown and 10 and 12 game outings from Joseph Addai and Willis McGahee the production has been exemplary. Addai (to a debatable extend), Rhodes and Moreno are all viewed as non-special talents, and yet each has produced with Manning at the helm.
What does this all mean? Montee Ball is poised for success this season regardless of his own skill level. That’s important to note because Ball showed us in his first season that he has the makings of a quality NFL starter. With a potential 250 carry workload on the horizon Ball should finish the season as easily a top-10 back through volume alone. If his efficiency numbers stay on track compared to last year, his output should shoot even higher. If Ball finishes in the range of 300 touches (perhaps a lofty goal, but note that Moreno finished with 301 of his own in 2013) a 200 fantasy point season would be hard to miss. Manning”s backs have average .67 fantasy points per touch throughout his career. Even with a slow start, Ball posted a .63 number in his rookie season.
A line in the range of 240-1100, 50-450 with 10+ touchdowns is easily within reach for Ball. Those numbers would have been good enough for a top-6 finish at his position in 2013.