Once upon a time, Denver Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno was viewed as the future of the franchise at the position. A former All-American and first-round pick, Moreno was believed to be their featured back for years to come.
After four mostly disappointing seasons in Denver, those expectations have changed. However, that isn't to say that there isn't a role for Moreno in the Broncos offense, and it's one for which he may be best suited in the NFL.
According to Mike Klis of The Denver Post, the Broncos plan in 2013 is for second-year pro Ronnie Hillman and rookie Montee Ball to handle most of the early-down work, while Moreno functions as a third-down back.
Moreno, who had a procedure in the offseason in which stem cells were taken from the bone marrow in his hip and injected into his balky knee, has been slowly working his way back onto the field for the Broncos.
As Cecil Lammey of ESPN Denver recently reported, when Moreno did make his way back onto the field, it was to participate in just the sorts of drills that would appear to make sense for a third-down back.
#broncos working Knowshon Moreno slowly into the mix, he was actually running routes today at minicamp, last week just in pass pro— Cecil Lammey (@cecillammey) June 11, 2013
Moreno's new role makes a lot of sense, too, for a number of reasons.
The first is simple. Moreno just wasn't very effective as a "featured" running back in the NFL.
In three of Moreno's four NFL seasons, he has carried the ball more than 100 times. In none of those seasons was he especially effective doing so.
In only one of those three years did Moreno average more than four yards a carry or rank among the Top 25 running backs in the NFL overall, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Moreno may have been a great runner at the University of Georgia, but in the NFL, he's been average—at best— in that regard. In fact, as recently as last year, Moreno's roster spot was in real jeopardy, and many people were surprised when it was Willis McGahee who was shown the door last month and not Moreno.
However, Moreno kept his job while McGahee finds himself looking for one, for two primary reasons.
Despite playing in far fewer snaps over the past two seasons, Moreno posted nearly identical receiving stats to McGahee. Also, despite the fact that Moreno is a significantly smaller back than McGahee (the latter is about 15 pounds heavier, even after Moreno bulked up a bit in the offseason), the pair had identical scores in Pro Football Focus' pass blocking efficiency last year.
In short, Moreno is a better fit for the role the Broncos have in mind.
That wasn't the only reason. After a decade as a starter in the NFL, McGahee may not have taken well to a greatly reduced role in the offense. Also, Paul Klee of the Colorado Springs Gazette recently reported that the Broncos had serious concerns about McGahee's surgically repaired knee, especially given his age and injury history.
So, it will be Moreno who will take the field on third downs for the Broncos this year, and it should set the stage for the 26-year-old to have the most successful season of his career, at least on a per-snap basis.
Moreno is going to be able to do what he does best (catch the ball and pass protect), without being asked to do too much. Moreno will be tasked with complementing the running game, not carrying it.
It's the best fit for Moreno as a player and the Broncos as a team.
Granted, it's not what the Broncos were expecting when they drafted Moreno 12th overall back in 2009.