The Broncos seem to have high expectations for Montee Ball. Releasing Willis McGahee and signing Ball the same day was no coincidence. The Denver running game is going younger; that is obvious when John Fox said McGahee’s release was a “conscious decision for us to get younger.” They clearly see a future with Ball.
The Denver Broncos lucked out with this pick in the second round. I was very surprised to see that Ball was still available at the 26th spot (58th overall) as he was considered the best running back available going in to the second round.
Ball’s junior year at Wisconsin was clearly his breakout season, even after a 996 yard, 18-touchdown season in 2010. In 2011 he was the top running back in college football with 1,923 yards and 39 touchdowns (tying Barry Sanders’ NCAA record). It was no surprise that he was considered for the Heisman Trophy (earning fourth place) as well as named winner of the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year award.
His senior year went a little differently. He suffered a concussion from being assaulted near the Wisconsin campus over the summer and had a slow start to the season. In his first five games he had two fumbles, however he ended the season with 1,850 yards and 22 touchdowns. He was again the best running back in the NCAA, earning the Doak Walker trophy.
A lot of experts see similarities between him and Willis McGahee. Ball is a quick, solid running back. At 5-foot-10, 214 pounds, he should succeed at pass protection. He seems to have some difficulty making quick thinking runs in tight conditions, however he has shown to be good at avoiding those tight conditions and finding holes to run through. He is unstoppable once he gets through. With Denver’s offensive line only increasing in talent, they should make that job even easier for Ball and of course any Denver RB.
The fact that Peyton Manning describes Ball as having an “it factor” is clearly a sign that Ball is going to be getting some major playing time if the veteran quarterback, who has played with some of the best in the league, is describing him in that light.
With regards to Ball and the early training camps Manning said, “we’re just kind of going through plays, going through games, getting him comfortable hearing audibles at the line of scrimmage because we are going to count on him in a big way this year. He’s a rookie, but coach Fox isn’t going to bring him along slowly.”
Looking at Fox’s coaching history it is clear that he doesn’t rely on just one running back. It’s expected that second-year back Ronnie Hillman and Ball will be sharing the running back role, at least to start out the season.
Last season Hillman was a rookie change-of-pace running back; he had 330 yards and one touchdown, as well as two fumbles. Being that he was a smaller guy, he was brought in to be tricky or unpredictable. He made a few good plays including being a crucial playmaker in the playoff game against the Ravens, having 103 yards – 83 rushing, 20 receiving. He also proved to be a valuable pass protector. In the offseason Hillman has bulked up to 200 pounds (15 pounds of muscle) so expect him to be someone the Broncos can rely on and make Ball work a little harder.
It goes without saying that a unit like Manning, Decker, Thomas and Welker should be able to survive on their own but having a well rounded team is very important, especially when your looking a championship quality team. At a minimum we should expect these running backs to give Peyton Manning and the wide receivers a break when things are going good and at least run out the clock. However I’m sure John Fox and company have higher expectations for our running game, which is expected.