There are reasons to be scared to take Montee Ball in your fantasy football drafts, but there are more reasons why he should be selected early with confidence.
The Denver Broncos selected Ball in the second round of the 2013 draft, and many expected an immediate impact by the talented player. Unfortunately, he could not win the starting job out of training camp, as Knowshon Moreno became the No. 1 option out of the backfield.
Ball finished his first year with only 559 rushing yards and four touchdowns and was far from a realistic fantasy option.
Where will Montee Ball rank among fantasy running backs in 2014?
Things got even worse this summer when he needed an appendectomy, which could keep him out for the rest of the preseason, according to Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com. Players like Ronnie Hillman, C.J. Anderson and Juwan Thompson will use this time to prove they deserve the starting job over Ball.
Despite all of this, fantasy owners should feel no hesitation drafting the former Wisconsin star as early as the second round in drafts.
Even though he will miss at least most of the preseason, the Broncos know what they have in Ball. He showed last season that he can be a tough runner when given the chance and that he has the potential for some big performances.
His 4.7 yards per carry ranked eighth in the NFL among qualified players, and his average got better as the year went on. Over the last five weeks of the regular season, Ball averaged 76.4 yards per game. As long as he gets the ball, he has a chance to be very productive.
Fortunately, the opportunity is there for him to be a workhorse this season. Moreno—who finished last season as the No. 5 running back in standard leagues—is no longer with the team. Hillman has had chances to start but has never been considered a featured back by the organization, while Thompson and Anderson do not nearly have the upside of Ball.
As a result, the second-year player comes into the year as the go-to option in the backfield. Lindsay H. Jones of USA Today notes that he should not lose his starting job due to the recent surgery:
I don't think Montee Ball's starting job is in danger while he recovers, but this is a setback. He needs practice/preseason time w/ Peyton.— Lindsay Jones (@bylindsayhjones) August 4, 2014
While losing the reps will hurt, Ball is certain to have a much better understanding of the playbook in his second year. Most importantly, he has also worked to improve his pass blocking, which was one of his biggest faults a year ago at this time.
He explained in July his willingness to get better in this area, via Troy E. Renck of The Denver Post:
I don't think I was good. I didn't do well today, but I am challenging myself. It's going to make me better. After practice, I am going to watch the film to see what I need to do to improve.
You have to get your hands into them and have good balance. We all know how important it is. If you don't do it right, Peyton will let you hear it. That's what we expect.
With Peyton Manning under center, pass blocking is vital. While that alone will not help Ball's fantasy value, the fact that the coaching staff can trust him to be on the field more certainly will.
The Broncos clearly have a pass-first offense, but Moreno showed last year how productive a player can be for the Broncos at running back. Not only can Ball match this production, but he can surpass it this season.
ESPN.com's Christopher Harris has high hopes for the running back and thinks he can be one of the best draft-day values:
With Knowshon Moreno gone, Ball is going to get a ton of chances to prove himself. Yes, the AFC West has to face the rough-and-tumble defenses of the NFC West, which could cause Denver's offense to appear slower than the 2013 edition. But they'll still play fast and move the ball, and the Broncos' lead back should be a top-10 fantasy RB. Period.
Even if the lack of practice over the next few weeks causes a slow start to the year, Ball should still be able to become one of the top 10 running backs in fantasy football. If things go well, he could even be among the top five.
While your friends might be scared to take the risk, Ball is ready to break out and should be selected within the first 15 to 20 picks of your fantasy draft.
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