Could a running back who ran for 559 yards and four touchdowns during the 2013 season really be worth a first-round pick in fantasy leagues for 2014?
He is if he is the featured back in the Denver Broncos' mighty offensive attack.
With Knowshon Moreno now on the Miami Dolphins, Ball is the natural heir to the running back throne in Denver. However, before we assess Ball’s fantasy value, it is important that we know he is coming back from an appendectomy he had during training camp.
Ball seemed upbeat about his recovery in comments, via Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com: “[It’s] great that we caught it now; obviously, it’s great that it happened now than in September. Very unfortunate situation for me, but right now I’m looking up. Feeling great and getting to some running next week. I’m excited.”
Troy Renck of The Denver Post provided another encouraging update regarding Ball’s health:
#broncos Montee Ball did sprints and agility work. He told me he feels really good. His progress obvious by demeanor— Troy Renck (@TroyRenck) August 14, 2014
From a fantasy standpoint, Ball’s appendectomy could present an opportunity for owners who are looking for early-round sleepers. While your opponents will likely be focused on Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte, LeSean McCoy and others in the first round, it would be wise to keep Ball in mind.
Ironically enough, it is actually Moreno’s production from a year ago that should have fantasy players optimistic about Ball in 2014.
Moreno tallied 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground and 548 yards and three touchdowns through the air last year as the featured back. He will never be mistaken for a superstar, but Moreno was just that in the Denver system. He finished fifth among all running backs with 220 fantasy points last year.
That was more than Mr. Peterson.
Where will Montee Ball rank among NFL running backs in fantasy this year?
With Moreno gone, Ball will have the chance to earn the heavy workload and goal-line carries in the NFL’s most lethal offense. It is impossible to stack the box against the run when facing Denver because Peyton Manning, Julius Thomas, Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker will light up the scoreboard. That means plenty of room to operate for Ball.
Remember, we are talking about the team that put up more points than anyone else in 2013.
Moreno’s involvement in the passing game last year is also a welcome sign for fantasy players who draft Ball. The Broncos aren’t going to fundamentally change their attack simply because there was a change at running back.
What’s more, Denver will be ahead in plenty of games in the second half thanks to that explosive passing attack. Ball will get carries throughout the second halves of those contests as the Broncos try to kill the clock.
It’s not as if the AFC West is loaded with elite defenses either. The Oakland Raiders finished 28th in the league in opposing passing yards last year, so Manning should open up a big lead and then turn over the reins to Ball. The Kansas City Chiefs were 25th, and the San Diego Chargers were 29th in that same category, so expect more of the same in those contests.
Fantasy football is all about opportunities, and Ball will get plenty of those in the league’s best offense. Don’t forget about him on draft day.
*All fantasy scoring totals from 2013 courtesy of ESPN.com’s standard league format.
Follow me on Twitter: