Just when it appeared that everything was coming together for the Denver Broncos the team was dealt a severe blow in Week 11. Any hope that things may not have been as bad as they first seemed has now gone up in smoke.
After tearing his MCL and suffering a compression fracture in his knee, running back Willis McGahee, who ranks fifth in the AFC with 731 rushing yards, has been placed on the designated for return injured reserve list according to Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk.
This means that the soonest McGahee could return to action is the AFC Championship Game. This latest development flies in the face of earlier optimism expressed by head coach John Fox, who told Brian McIntyre of Yahoo! Sports earlier this week that the hope was McGahee would return sooner as opposed to later.
I tend to go from day to day to week to week. He'll be week to week...Yeah, but I think right now, he's a fast healer, he's a tough, competitive guy. A lot of times your veteran guys are that way. We wouldn't, at this point, want to prolong it that far.
So much for the power of positive thinking.
This move means that rookie Ronnie Hillman, who has 188 yards and a touchdown on 48 carries on the season, will move into the lead back role for the Broncos, although Hillman will likely cede some passing-down work to fourth-year pro Lance Ball, with reserve Knowshon Moreno seeing a handful of carries here and there.
It's certainly a significant blow to the Denver offense to lose McGahee, who was averaging 4.4 yards a carry and was closing in on 1,000 total yards, but Hillman has shown flashes of explosiveness when afforded the opportunity, and if there's one quarterback in the NFL best equipped to guide an offense without a proven running back, it's likely Peyton Manning.
After all, he did it for several seasons after Edgerrin James left Indianapolis.
For fantasy football purposes this latest update doesn't really change anything, as McGahee's original injury timetable all but destroyed his fantasy value for 2012 anyway. McGahee owners should absolutely pursue Hillman if it all possible, with Lance Ball a much less appealing fantasy option.