Denver 450x253 2014 Outlook: Broncos Backfield

Written by Matt Young

Going into the 2013 NFL regular season, one highly debated topic was where the value was in the Denver Broncos backfield.  After the initial buzz surrounding Montee Ball being selected 58th overall in the draft died down, those who took a chance on Knowshon Moreno were greatly rewarded after Moreno posted a top-5 finish for running backs in standard scoring with 220 fantasy points.  However, he did see his usage dwindle as the regular season ended, finishing the Broncos’ last five games with 14, 16, 4, 9, and 12 carries.  The most commonly used explanation for this is that they wanted to save him as well as Montee Ball for the playoffs, but there is really no way to know if the Broncos were starting to like Montee Ball more as well.

 

With the 2013 regular season over, we have a full season of statistics to look through to determine if we can glean any additional factors that will allow fantasy players to value the Denver Broncos running backs going into 2014.  Below is a chart of the total touches by game for Moreno, Ball and Hillman.

 

Week Opp.

2013 Regular Season Touches

    Moreno Ball Hillman

1

BAL

 12

 8

 6

2

@NYG

 16

 14

 1

3

OAK

 13

 11

 10

4

PHI

 13

 8

 13

5

@DAL

 24

 1

 11

6

JAC

 22

 3

 6

7

@IND

 18

 -

 5

8

WSH

 19

 12

 -

9

BYE

 -

 -

 -

10

@SD

 23

 5

 -

11

KC

 27

 11

 -

12

@NE

 38

 10

 -

13

@KC

 19

 14

 -

14

TEN

 20

 18

 -

15

SD

 13

 8

 -

16

@HOU

 13

 4

 3

17

@OAK

 11

 13

 12

  TOTAL

 301

 140

 67

 

Hillman’s usage decreased rapidly after recording double digit touches in weeks 3-5, not recording a touch until the last two weeks of the season, both of which the Broncos had complete control of by the time he got the ball.  After removing Hillman and C.J. Anderson, another rookie who carried the ball just seven times in his first 16 games, we are left with Moreno and Ball as expected in the 2013 preseason.  Moreno was the definite feature back throughout the 2013 season, touching the ball 301 times, more than double the 140 touches for Ball.  Moreno was also very effective in the passing game, finishing the season with 60 receptions on 74 targets for 548 yards and 3 touchdowns.  Additionally, Moreno is a great pass protector, contributing to an effort that resulted in Peyton Manning being sacked just 18 times the entire season, by far the least amount among quarterbacks that played the entire season.

 

So with the 2013 regular season in the books, Moreno looks to be the running back to own in Denver in 2014.  However, there are additional factors that must be accounted for those have yet to be decided.  The first one to watch is the NFL playoffs, where the Broncos find themselves in great position to contend for the Super Bowl, allowing fantasy owners to truly see how they value their running backs in the most important games in football.  Hopefully the games the Broncos play are tightly contested, forcing them to play competitively with who they consider to be their best players for the entire game.

 

The final key offseason factor is that Knowshon Moreno is a free agent following the postseason.  Despite his success in a contract year, the Broncos may not be able to bring Moreno back due to the fact that he may command too much money and the Broncos have 15 other free agents they need to make decisions on.  In addition, the Broncos did just spend a 2nd round pick on Montee Ball, and even though they have obviously benefited from a career year from Knowshon Moreno, they may be inclined to see what they really have in Ball after spending such a high draft pick on him.

 

No matter who ends up as the lead back in Denver, it is definitely a position of value.  I don’t consider this backfield situation to be quite as much of a problem as other split backfields such as the Panthers.  Peyton Manning is definitely playing at least one more season, and with at least Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas and Wes Welker being signed through the 2014 season, defenses aren’t likely to key in on the run game at any point next season.  If the Broncos resign Knowshon Moreno, I think that means that they value him the same way they used him this year because there are likely other teams who would pay him that way, and as a result I would value him as a top 15 back in a redraft league for the 2014 season.

Would love to hear your thoughts and predictions.

– Matt Young (@Matt_Young2)