Can Montee Ball Be the Next Terrell Davis?

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Can Montee Ball Be the Next Terrell Davis?
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Denver Broncos surprised many draftniks by selecting Wisconsin running back Montee Ball ahead of Alabama's Eddie Lacy in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft.

Apparently, one of the reasons that Broncos vice president John Elway made that call is that Ball reminds Elway of a former teammate and a key contributor to Denver's back-to-back Super Bowl championships. 

According to Mike Klis of The Denver Post, during a fan forum conference call, Elway said "His running style was a lot like Terrell Davis. We hope that Montee has a career and even a longer career than Terrell had."

That's a heady comparison. Despite a career that was cut short by injuries, Davis is the franchise's all-time leading rusher with 7,607 yards. During a four-year stretch to begin his career, Davis was as good as any running back in the NFL.

Year

Att.

Yards

Avg.

TD

Rec.

Yards

TD

1995

235

1,117

4.7

7

49

367

1

1996

345

1,538

4.5

13

36

310

2

1997

369

1,750

4.7

15

42

287

0

1998

392

2,008

5.1

21

25

217

2

Over that span, Davis led the NFL in rushing once and led the AFC in rushing three times. He was named to three Pro Bowls. After his 2,000 yard season in 1998, Davis was named the NFL's MVP.

Then, disaster struck. Davis tore his ACL and MCL four games into the 1999 season, and he was never the same after that. In his last three NFL seasons, Davis missed nearly twice as many games as he played in, and by 2002 his NFL career was over.

The Broncos will no doubt be hoping for a lot of early Terrell Davis and very little late Terrell Davis from Montee Ball, and Elway's comparison actually does hold a little bit of water.

For starters, as Ball's career unfolded at Wisconsin he adopted a running style that was quite similar to Davis.

When Ball arrived in Madison, he was the very definition of a "bowling ball" taliback, a 225-pound bruiser.

However, prior to the 2011 season Ball shed nearly 25 pounds, and as Adam Rittenberg of ESPN reported at the time the reason was simple. Ball wanted to get faster and stronger.

I felt like I left a lot of yards on the field. I had a bunch of shoestring tackles because I was top-heavy. I would just tumble right over. I feel so much better. It's a complete difference. I just didn't feel comfortable being that big, a big back. I love to make faster cuts and all that stuff, and be a lot faster.

It showed on the field. A smaller, quicker Ball excelled in Wisconsin's zone-blocking scheme, gaining over 1,900 yards and scoring a staggering 33 touchdowns as a junior.

That's the same zone-blocking scheme that the Denver Broncos employed in Terrell Davis' heyday, and the blocking scheme that Denver still utilizes to this day.

Ball, much like Davis, has also shown to be able to shoulder a heavy workload, wearing away at a defense before they finally break.

As a junior Ball carried the ball 303 times for the Badgers. In a senior season where Ball topped 1,800 yards and scored 22 touchdowns, that number jumped to 356 carries.

That's something of a double-edged sword, however. Many people blame Davis' heavy workload from 1996-98 for the injuries that cut short his career, and Ball's 2012 carry numbers would equate to an eye-popping 407 carries over 16 games.

With that said though, the Denver Broncos don't need (or even want) Montee Ball to carry the ball 400 times.

Sure, there are similarities at quarterback between this Broncos team and the ones Davis played for (the aging Hall-of-Famer in the twilight of his career), but the NFL is a much different league now. In Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker the Broncos may have the best trio of wide receivers in the NFL.

At the end of the day, is Montee Ball going to be the next Terrell Davis? Probably not.

After all, we're talking about a back in Davis who appeared destined for the Hall of Fame before his body betrayed him. There are plenty of folks who feel Davis deserves enshrinement regardless.

However, Ball could develop into a very similar weapon for the Denver offense. A powerful and decisive ball-carrier ideal for Denver's zone blocking scheme. A running back who can not only move the ball and chew up clock, but who can also help set up the play-action passes that Peyton Manning loves to shred defenses with.

That may be all it takes to put Denver in the Super Bowl for the first time since Terrell Davis topped 2,000 yards and John Elway rode off into the sunset.

 

 

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