Just weeks before the start of the 2014 season, nearly every fantasy owner is preparing for his draft. With a limited number of lead running backs, Montee Ball has a chance to break out in his second season with the Denver Broncos.
Ball returned to practice on Wednesday, via Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com, and is healthy just in time. Ball spoke about his readiness following the appendectomy.
"It’s just now we’re going to see how it is to take contact. We’re going to see how it is," Ball said, per Andrew Mason of DenverBroncos.com. "I’m sure we’re going to do some things with that. But other than that, just running, sprinting and all that, I feel no pain, so I think I’ll be good to go. It’s time to go."
According to rankings from Fantasy Pros, Ball is seventh on two sites, eighth in another, 10th on one and even falling down to 13th by ESPN. Therefore, the site actually has him listed eighth at the position and 16th overall.
While he still has a lot to prove after an underwhelming 2013 season, he has a chance to shine in 2014. Mike Sando of ESPN.com (subscription required) ranks him as his No. 4 breakout player.
Sando writes: "The Broncos will remain a pass-heavy team, but with Knowshon Moreno out of the picture, Ball is in position to benefit. He'll need to bounce back from an appendectomy that sidelined him for part of the preseason. He's expected to start in Week 1 after playing in 16 games as a backup last season."
The biggest issue for Ball last season was struggling to block in the passing game and having three fumbles. But with Knowshon Moreno now with the Miami Dolphins, Ball has no choice but to improve in both facets to take over as the lead back.
Last season, Moreno did show flashes of greatness out of the backfield. Given just two opportunities to have 13 or more carries, Ball compiled more than 85 total yards and a touchdown—including a 117-yard rushing performance against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Ball has returned to training camp, but Lindsay Jones of USA Today notes why the surgery was a setback:
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
What is the fantasy value for Ball this season?
Though his carries were limited, Ball averaged 4.7 yards per carry. That ranked eighth in the NFL, along with averaging 88.7 yards per game in the final five games in which he had 10 or more touches. Needless to say, he can be productive when given the chance.
With an average draft position of 2.02 on FantasyFootballCalculator.com, Ball's stock is slightly high for an unproven back. But thanks to the production he showed at the end of last season, Ball is still more reliable than some backs in the top two rounds.
If he can show a huge improvement in the pass blocking, look for Ball to be relied upon in 2014. When he's given the reins for the Denver running game, expect the second-year back to live up to the fantasy hype.
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