Former first-round draft pick Knowshon Moreno made his 25th career start on Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs. That should be utterly unsurprising news, but the Denver Broncos’ 12th overall draft pick in 2009 has been in the NFL for four years.
Expectations were sky-high for Moreno coming out of Georgia, but injuries and inconsistency kept him from being a dependable running back for Denver in the past. Reacting to Moreno’s career arc as it was at the time, the team locked up a 29-year-old Willis McGahee to start at tailback in 2011.
McGahee performed admirably, posting 1,199 rushing yards in 15 games with a 4.8 yards-per-carry average in 2011 and was on pace for a 1,100-plus-yard season in 2012. That kept Moreno at bay—but a torn MCL derailed McGahee’s season and gave him another shot.
That Moreno (28 carries for 100 yards and a touchdown in 2012) started ahead of rookie Ronnie Hillman (49 for 188 and one) was a positive sign for his career prospects. He also posted a serviceable 4.3 yards per carry against the Chiefs, toting the rock 20 times for 85 yards and catching all four of his targets for 26 more.
Opposing rushers also have experienced success against the Chiefs this season. Following an ACL tear, the ability to take 20 carries in his first NFL start since is a great sign for Moreno.
ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson noted that “Moreno got better as the game went on”: also a positive.
If he feels well entering next week’s matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—a more difficult test than KC—Denver may be able to learn what he has left to offer as a professional running back.
McGahee will be out for the remainder of the regular season, perhaps affording the 25-year-old Moreno an extended audition with the Broncos. After the Tampa Bay game, he has a schedule—and a passing attack led by none other than Peyton Manning—that should make him look pretty good.
None of those teams ranks any higher than 19th in rushing defense.
If Moreno can hold onto the starter’s job on the way to the playoffs, he may very well secure a roster spot for next season and get his once-promising career back on track.
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