Denver Broncos Running Back Breakdown: Full Evaluation and Depth Chart Analysis
The Denver Broncos are currently in organized team activities, and there are a few interesting storylines as the Broncos prepare to enter the 2013 season.
Some may point to the competition for starting middle linebacker spot. Others may point to who will replace Elvis Dumervil as Von Miller's "partner-in-crime" when it pertains to Denver's sack specialist coming from the edge.
This article won't cover those storylines. This article will cover the running back competition that will be witnessed by the Mile High faithful from now until the start of the regular season in September.
The Broncos currently have eight running backs on the roster. A handful of them are afterthoughts who look to shake up the depth chart as unknowns. Others are well-known commodities who have either already made their marks in prior seasons for the Broncos or are just beginning anticipating to make their marks as they begin their Broncos (and NFL) career.
How does the Broncos' running back situation look during the middle of organized team activities?
The true veteran and the oldest guy of the bunch, Willis McGahee enters the 2013 season with a lot of question marks.
First of all, the injuries. McGahee signed with the Broncos before the 2011 NFL season after having been used in a utility running back/fullback role for the Baltimore Ravens for the prior several seasons.
He had an excellent 2011 campaign while playing alongside Tim Tebow in the "read-option" attack and ran for nearly 1,200 yards while posting a remarkable 4.8 yards per carry average.
It was as good of a season as you could possibly expect, as McGahee didn't suffer any significant injuries.
However, 2012 was a different story as the University of Miami product suffered a torn MCL in his right knee that ended his season after 10 games.
Secondly, he'll be 32 years of age during the 2013 season.
Most of all, he enters a crowded running back situation, and he's due to earn $2.5 million in 2013.
Not helping matters is his "no-participation" rule in OTAs that he's abided by his entire career.
With Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman ensured spots on the Broncos' roster, the nine-year veteran's career may come to a close before the regular season begins.
Knowshon Moreno enters his fifth season with the Denver Broncos after having been drafted in the first round by the Josh McDaniels regime in 2009.
Moreno—like his fellow veteran teammate McGahee—enters 2013 on the fringe of making Denver's roster.
2013 draftee Montee Ball and second-year man Ronnie Hillman are sure locks to make the Broncos' roster, which begs the question, "Who will the Broncos keep? McGahee or Moreno?"
Or will they decide to cut both Moreno and McGahee and retain a less expensive and less heralded back, such as a Jeremiah Johnson?
Moreno has obvious advantages over his fellow veteran, McGahee. Moreno excels in pass blocking and receiving out of the backfield.
Having said that, Moreno also has clear deficiencies. One of them is, despite being six years younger than Willis, the University of Georgia product has struggled with his share of injures (season-ending ACL injury in 2011), while also proving to be a mediocre runner (3.8 yards per carry in 2012).
The question then becomes, will the Broncos value Moreno's strengths as a player, or will they choose to go in a different direction, whether that's with the more-effective-as-a-runner McGahee or with a younger alternative who has more potential than the soon-to-be 26-year-old Moreno?
The second-year product out of San Diego State looks to be a lock to make Denver's roster.
Hillman gained more playing time as the season came to a close, seizing the change-of-pace role after McGahee went down to a season-ending injury vs. San Diego in Week 11.
The San Diego State product didn't overly impress by showing off his speed (just 3.9 yards a carry in 2012), but he showed that he could run the football in important game situations, despite being the youngest player in the NFL last season.
The Broncos don't expect Hillman to be a full-time running back; they just expect him to help carry the load.
Which is something that he should be able to do alongside the next running back in this slideshow.
The Broncos drafted their newest running back—Montee Ball—in the second round of this past year's NFL draft.
The University of Wisconsin product is not short on accolades, having left school as the NCAA's all-time touchdowns leader and having finished as a runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in 2011 as a junior.
The NFL has become a vertical passing league, and running backs are less valued than they have ever been. Along with this trend has become the increased usage of "running games by committee."
Expect the Broncos to utilize this type of committee with the aforementioned Hillman and the more solidly built Ball.
Barring a slow development by Ball entering the regular season, expect the NCAA's all-time touchdowns leader to be the Broncos' starting running back come opening day.
The other "Ball" on the Broncos' roster is none other than Lance Ball.
Ball enters his fourth year with the Broncos, and more so than ever, looks to be on the outside looking in.
The University of Maryland product played in 15 games and carried the ball 42 times for 158 yards and one touchdown while competing with three other running backs for playing time in the Broncos offense.
With McGahee, Moreno, Hillman and Montee all entering training camp ahead of Lance on the depth chart, one shouldn't expect the fourth-year veteran to make the Broncos' roster for a fourth consecutive season.
There are three other running backs on the Broncos' roster, with those three backs being the previously mentioned Jeremiah Johnson, along with Mario Fannin and C.J. Anderson.
Johnson was on the Broncos' roster during the 2011 season, having played eight games, while playing in both of the postseason contests. He initially joined the Broncos toward the end of the 2010 regular season as a practice-squad signee.
Fannin is a real wild card, having won a national championship at the University of Auburn before joining the Broncos as an undrafted free agent before the start of the 2011 season. He has missed the past two seasons due to injury and has been on the Broncos' injured reserve for the first two years of his NFL career.
Anderson is the newbie of the group, joining the Broncos as a college free agent this offseason.
Johnson has experience playing on the Broncos' roster which gives him a slight chance to do the same this season. Fannin has been a mainstay on Denver's injured reserve, which speaks volumes as to how much the organization views his potential, despite being as injury-prone as he has been.
If the Broncos choose to go younger and release both the injury-prone McGahee and the underwhelming Moreno, either of these three backs have a chance to make Denver's roster as the third back, or at the very least, the practice squad.