The Denver Broncos should draft running back LaMichael James with the 57th pick in the 2012 NFL draft. Not only is he a perfect fit for the team, but he could be the catalyst the offense needs to become the most dangerous unit in the NFL.
James draws comparisons to Darren Sproles due to his lack of height (5’8”) and abundance of speed. His ability to find holes combined with his Dante Hall-like jukes enables him to escape tight spaces before bursting into the open field.
While he is not a physical runner, he will not shy away from contact when he needs to gain a few extra yards. He even excels running up the middle where he can hide behind his offensive line before making a bee-line for the open field.
But, the fact still remains that James is too small to be an every-down back in the NFL. Since he cannot carry the load on offense, he will be a reach for most teams in the second round.
The former Oregon Duck will add depth and explosiveness to a backfield which lacks both.
Willis McGahee will be 31 years old before Halloween, Knowshon Moreno is perennially injured and both Lance Ball and Jeremiah Johnson are scrubs.
But depth and explosiveness are not what makes James a perfect fit for the Mile High City—it is the acquisition of the aforementioned Manning.
Everyone is well aware of Manning’s neck injury. While John Elway and the Broncos organization is banking on the fact that No. 18 will come back as good as ever, nothing can be certain until Week 1.
Manning’s surgeries, combined with the fact that he did not play a single snap in 2011, raise three concerning questions: how strong is his arm, how will he withstand pressure in the pocket and will he show the same confidence that has earned him 11 trips to the Pro Bowl?
Again, we can speculate all we want, but until he actually steps onto the field we cannot know for sure.
But for the purpose of this article, let us assume that Manning’s play is affected by the voice in his head warning him that any big hit could be his last—that he will not be the same quarterback receivers love and defenses fear.
Should Manning look rattled in the pocket or not be able to throw tight spirals to the sideline, he will need someone like James to bail him out.
James is a creative playmaker who can consistently gain yards with ease, whether he is running off tackle, taking a delayed handoff or catching a short pass.
His presence will take the pressure off Manning, who can opt to dump it off to James instead of exposing himself in the pocket as he searches for receivers down the field.
Imagine the defense showing an all-out blitz. Manning knows he needs to get the ball out quickly, but does not trust his new receivers to beat their man before the pressure is in his face. However, he knows that all James has to do to get open is throw a shoulder fake at his defender and then speed off in the opposite direction (all of which he can do within seconds).
Oh, and once the ball is in his hands, forget about it. He is gone.
Eventually, defenses will catch on to the fact that James cannot be handled by one person. Whether it is zone or man coverage, extra attention will be given to the shortest player on the field. With defenses worrying about James, wide receivers will start seeing more open field.
This is how one 5’8” scat back can enhance an entire offense.
In the 2012 NFL draft, teams will look to draft the next Darren Sproles; whether it is James, David Wilson, Ronnie Hillman or Chris Rainey.
But I guarantee that three seasons from now teams will no longer be looking for the next Sproles; instead, they will be desperate to add the next LaMichael James: a lethal threat in space that can turn any play into a memorable one.