The list has to begin with Montee Ball. Last year’s starting running back, Knowshon Moreno, has moved on in free agency to the Miami Dolphins. Denver didn’t make an offer to retain Moreno because they believe in Ball’s ability.
Ball was selected in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft with the idea that one day he could be the team’s lead back. He failed to win the starting job in training camp last year due to fumbling and pass-protection problems. To begin his rookie season, Ball rotated with Ronnie Hillman as the primary backup behind Moreno.
After Hillman’s fumble near the goal line against the Indianapolis Colts, Ball locked up the No. 2 job. He took the opportunity and ran with it.
In the second half of the season, Ball improved his production and rushing style. Gone were the carries where he tried to do too much. Instead, Ball was intent and patient with the rock. He didn’t try to bounce carries outside anymore, but would follow his blockers and look to pick up yards after contact.
He matured as a runner, and Ball finished the season strong.
Patrick Smyth, executive director of media relations for the Denver Broncos, recently pointed out some great numbers from Ball. Over the final six weeks of 2013, only Jamaal Charles (6.6) averaged more yards per carry than Ball (6.5, 52-337). Ball also led the NFL in percentage of rushes for first downs (40.4 percent) and 10-plus yards (21.2 percent) during final six weeks of 2013.
The Broncos are likely to paint the picture of competition for the starting running back job in 2014, but Ball is likely to be the team’s primary back this season.