Peyton Manning Fallout: Willis McGahee Will Suffer Most from Big Acquisition

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Peyton Manning Fallout: Willis McGahee Will Suffer Most from Big Acquisition
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Peyton Manning made the biggest decision in NFL free-agency history when he chose to become a Denver Bronco on Tuesday, March 20, 2012.

His huge announcement realigned the entire AFC West. The Denver Broncos went from outsider looking in to favorite to win the division. The big change didn’t just affect the conference, but it signaled big changes on the team as well.

I think that the biggest player affected will be rejuvenated 30-year-old running back Willis McGahee.

McGahee enjoyed his best year out of the backfield in four seasons last year. Head coach John Fox’s run-first mentality to reduce mistakes and win with a conservative style of play gave McGahee the opportunity to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark, accumulating more than three times the yards he did in 2010.

His amazing production, made the Broncos front office look like geniuses after they signed him in last season’s free-agency period to a four-year, $10 million contract, the largest offer they made to any free agent they signed.

With the Broncos’ addition of Peyton Manning, the offense is going to be completely different. The Broncos won’t be running any read-option package with Peyton Manning. They aren’t going to run 55 times like they did against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 10 compared to just eight passes.

Last season, the Broncos ran the ball about 71.5 percent of the time. That is, 546 times out of a total of 763 plays. No wonder the Broncos led the league in rushing at 164.5 yards per game.

Granted the Broncos did start Tim Tebow, a developing quarterback who struggled with accuracy issues throughout the season for 11 games last year. Tebow was often seen on designed pass plays frequently ditching the pass for a chance to take the ball and run, something he was far more comfortable with.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

In the last full season Peyton Manning played in (2010), the Indianapolis Colts passed the ball 53.3 percent of the time.

Manning is like an offensive coordinator on the field. He has the football IQ, intuition and awareness to predict the defense’s moves before the snap, switch to the best call and then execute.

He runs a fast-paced, no-huddle offense that is predicated on the quick strike down the field to expose and wound defenses. He does it with surgical precision. That’s why John Elway and Pat Bowlen so coveted his services.

However, the running backs are often left behind in this approach.

In McGahee’s early days in the league, he was a very talented receiving running back. Especially before Ray Rice joined the Baltimore Ravens in 2007, McGahee was particularly lethal. He made 43 receptions for 231 yards. The next season, Ray Rice arrived and McGahee’s production dipped significantly.

Speculation about the draft leads many to believe that the Broncos will use a first-, second- or third-round draft pick to select a top running back to go with McGahee next season.

To complement McGahee’s short-yardage, pounding style, the Broncos will likely add a speedy playmaker out of the backfield such as Lamar Miller out of Miami. Miller would be the receiving back if he is taken in the 2012 draft by the Broncos.

Leaving McGahee to a backseat (again), replaced by a younger, faster rookie back in a high-powered offense directed by Manning.

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