Denver Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno has been handling the load for the team with Willis McGahee out with an injury, and how he performs the rest of the way will go a long way in determining whether or not he is the future.
The Broncos selected Moreno in the first round of the 2009 NFL draft with the No. 12 overall pick, and he didn't disappoint in his rookie year as he rushed for 947 yards and seven touchdowns.
After his rookie season, however, Moreno's performance began to take a turn for the worst.
His impact was softened by the arrival of McGahee, who took the starting job from Moreno in 2011 after he had failed to produce anything significant. Moreno lost his job for good last season after he suffered an ACL tear late in the season.
After a lackluster sophomore campaign, things had looked promising for Moreno last year. He was averaging 4.8 yards per carry, a career high. He benefited from sharing the load with McGahee before his injury, but appeared to have turned a corner.
This season Moreno has now assumed the responsibility as the lead back and has performed well, thanks to Peyton Manning calling the shots from under center. He's only seen 80 carries in four contests for 287 yards and two touchdowns, but he's clearly been effective so far.
With Manning at quarterback, Moreno can absolutely be a successful franchise running back for the Broncos. The veteran will place Moreno consistently in a position to succeed as he reads defenses.
Perhaps the most important thing Moreno has to do at this point is protect his quarterback when he is asked to block. In his four appearances so far this year, Moreno has excelled in picking up pursuers, which is something he has struggled with in the past.
Even more encouraging for the former first-round pick is the absolute trust both Manning and head coach John Fox have shown Moreno after he took over for McGahee.
Instead of going to a committee approach with the likes of Ronnie Hillman and Lance Ball, Moreno has received the lion's share of the carries. He took 20 handoffs in both Week 12 and 13 against the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, respectively.
Most recently, Moreno took a season-high 32 carries against the Oakland Raiders in Week 14, which he turned into a 119 yard, one touchdown performance.
The trust in Moreno makes sense as long as he is healthy. He's a strong runner at 5'11" and 200 pounds who is versatile enough to catch passes out of the backfield as well—a critical trait for running backs hoping to stay on the field with Manning at quarterback.
Moreno isn't going to break massive runs for big gains, but he'll provide a consistent presence in the backfield who can move the chains when called upon.
Looking toward the future, Moreno can be the franchise running back for the team if the organization wants him to be. He's oozing with potential at only 25 years old, and we could begin to see his best play to date when on the field with Manning.
As of now, Moreno is only on the field for the Broncos thanks to an injury to the starter and the fact the other backs on the roster are simply not effective. If Denver chooses to upgrade the position this offseason, Moreno will once again find himself on the bench next season.
It appears Moreno may have other plans. If he continues to play well, he may just change the coaching staff's opinion and remain the starter for next year and beyond.
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