According to Gray Caldwell of DenverBroncos.com, the Denver Broncos have named Ronnie Hillman as the starting running back for the 2013 NFL regular season. As a result, Hillman has seen a rise in value from a fantasy football perspective.
Before you make a critical mistake, don't allow Hillman winning the starting job to sway you into believing he's a fantasy football diamond in the rough.
Hillman had a productive preseason. During the 2012 NFL playoffs he ran for 83 yards on 22 carries and caught three passes for 20 yards against the Baltimore Ravens. With that being said, the Broncos have depth in the backfield and plan on using all of it.
Per Caldwell, the Broncos will utilize a back-by-committee type of system.
"I would say that the group as a whole is about as good a group as you want," offensive coordinator Adam Gase said of the running backs last Tuesday. "We've pretty much said, ‘Hey, this is going to be a back-by-committee-type backfield.’ We’ve never shied away from that and right now those three guys (Hillman, Montee Ball and Knowshon Moreno) have done a good job of handling the workload."
And that's the only information you need to know as a fantasy football owner.
Hillman, Montee Ball and Knowshon Moreno will be sharing carries, and that makes him a risk to produce inconsistent points. While the ability may be there, Hillman's label as the starter doesn't necessarily separate him from the pack.
Not yet, at least.
The Broncos have been lucky enough to run the football with Willis McGahee over the past two seasons, establishing a clear No. 1 back. While injuries presented an issue in 2012, there was a consistent source of offense when McGahee was active.
Now, the Broncos employ a back-by-committee system and thus display the fact that no individual player has proven capable of handling the every-down duties.
Who should be the Denver Broncos' starting running back?
Hillman has the ability to become that player, but it will take a string of powerful performances to separate himself from the pack. With the course of action that Denver has taken in recent seasons, all signs point towards the Broncos remaining true to their current scheme.
The Broncos selected a running back in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft, taking Montee Ball out of Wisconsin. Ball owns the Division I FBS record for rushing touchdowns at 77 and total touchdowns at 83, and is the reigning Doak Walker Award winner.
If that's not enough, the Broncos still haven't given up on Moreno, who averaged 85.0 yards per game during his final six appearances in 2013. Not only did Moreno run strong during the final weeks of the 2013 season, but he caught at least four passes in four of his closing six games.
In other words, there's some competition.
This isn't an evaluation of Ball, Hillman or Moreno as NFL players, but instead, as fantasy football options. Without any of them truly proving to be the best in the backfield, and the Broncos going on record as saying that each will receive touches, the fantasy value is all but void.
It certainly doesn't help that there are three running backs playing with Peyton Manning.
Playing with Peyton
Peyton Manning is one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, possessing ability that few have ever dreamt of. From his ability to read a defense at the line of scrimmage to the pinpoint accuracy that has fooled even the best of defensive players and coordinators, Manning has it all.
One thing that Manning isn't often credited with, however, is facilitating an elite rushing attack.
The last time a player ran for more than 1,000 yards with Manning under center was 2008, when Joseph Addai hit 1,072 and 12 touchdowns. Mind you, Manning hasn't played with the best of running backs over the past half-decade, but that doesn't change the facts.
Denver's running backs may have upside, but that doesn't make them any better than the players who failed to top 1,000 yards in Indianapolis.
Hillman has potential, both as a runner and pass-catcher, but upside doesn't always translate into production. He averaged 3.9 yards per carry during his rookie season and caught just 10 passes in 12 games.
Again, no one will the doubt the ability, but a quality running back playing with Manning might as well be a complementary piece. For that reason, taking Hillman any earlier than his average draft position of 133.0, per ESPN, would be a dangerous reach.
Even if winning the starting job may tell you otherwise.