After Willis McGahee went down last November to an MCL injury, pundits doubted the Denver Broncos and questioned their running back strength. However, Knowshon Moreno stepped up, and the Broncos went 13-3 while getting the first seed in the AFC.
So how are the Broncos rewarding him? By pondering whether to release him or not.
According to CBS Sports, the Broncos could get rid of Moreno, despite his exceptional performance to conclude the 2012 season. Moreno ran for 525 yards and four touchdowns while catching 21 passes for 167 yards and doing a very good job blocking for Peyton Manning in pass protection.
Moreno thrived in Denver's offense, and the Broncos were 6-0 in games Moreno finished. The Broncos won those games by an average of 17.2 points. In my opinion, Moreno was a significant upgrade over McGahee, partly because he fumbled just once in seven games (including the playoffs). By contrast, McGahee fumbled five times in 2012, losing four of them.
McGahee didn't bring anything extra to the table, while Moreno always fought off tackles and did so while protecting the ball. He broke some big runs as well, and his signature play was when he hurdled the Baltimore Ravens' Ed Reed while breaking loose on a run. Moreno brought a new element to the Denver offense, and there is a reason why Denver went 6-0 in games he finished.
Denver has interest in Shonn Greene, which would help the offense as well. Greene would be a short-yardage back, and Moreno would be the starter. Having Greene and McGahee together would be a mistake, though. Moreno is much better at breaking big runs, while McGahee needs a big hole. McGahee had speed, but multiple injuries have taken a toll on him.
In McGahee's last six games, he never broke loose for more than 17 yards. Moreno broke off a run of at least 16 yards in each of his last six full games.
Greene lost just one fumble in 2012, and keeping possession is huge for the Broncos. With Greene (or another power back) and Moreno, the Broncos would be able to hold onto the ball while setting up more opportunities for Peyton Manning. Manning would also be more effective, because the run game would open up passing lanes.
Moreno also brings explosiveness, as he posted a decent 4.55 time in the 40-yard dash and is only 25 years old. McGahee is 31 and past his prime, and at the moment, Moreno is the faster, more explosive back. McGahee is entering the 10th season of his injury-riddled career, so it's unrealistic to expect him to be a speedy, explosive option at running back.
While it is unlikely, the Broncos could keep McGahee and Moreno while signing a cheaper power back for goal-line situations. Greene, who rushed for 1,000 yards in 2012 and 2011, fits the bill as a power back, but there's no way the Broncos will keep Moreno and McGahee while signing Greene.
However, as I've explained, they could easily keep Moreno, who is due just over $3 million in 2013, while signing Greene to an affordable contract. Greene averaged only 3.9 yards per carry in 2012, so he isn't an elite running back and won't be reeling in tons of cash. However, Greene will get paid a good amount, and he could help the Broncos if they sign him. A tandem of Moreno and Greene wouldn't be deadly, but it would sure be good.
Defenses would have to prepare for a bruising runner and a more explosive runner, which would add another powerful element to Denver's superb offense. It's hard enough to prepare for the four-time MVP Denver has at quarterback, so if the Broncos can establish a good running game, it will make the offense unstoppable.
You could argue that the Broncos could do the same with McGahee, but McGahee doesn't scare defenses, and as I've mentioned, he is well past his prime.
Ronnie Hillman is young, and he can't take the bulk of the carries because he isn't experienced. Hillman can stay on the team as a backup, but he won't be starting any games if there are no injuries. Moreno has experience now, and with some time as a starter under his belt, he is bound to improve.
Denver benefited from Moreno's presence in 2012, and Moreno will be even better in 2013. Adding a complement to him would make the former first-round pick even more effective, and it would add a new element to the Bronco offense. McGahee isn't intimidating, but Moreno carved up lots of defenses in 2012.
And he's going to carve up even more defenses in 2013. So, to benefit from Moreno's play in 2013, Denver will need to hold on to Moreno and dump McGahee.