Broncos continue to shake up backfield situation

8/28/13 in NFL   |   Matthew_Shovlin   |   735 respect

When the Denver Broncos drafted Montee Ball in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft and released Willis McGahee a few weeks later, it looked like they would make Ball the featured runner in their backfield. With less than two weeks until their season opener, however, a lead runner has yet to surface in Denver.

The three running backs competing for touches are Ronnie Hillman, Ball, and Knowshon Moreno.

July 25, 2013; Englewood, CO, USA;Denver Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman (21) and running back Montee Ball (38) and running back Lance Ball (35) during training camp at the Broncos training facility. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY SportsHillman has run with the starters through most of the preseason, but his fumbling issues have gotten both teammates and coaches extremely frustrated. Two days after Hillman's most recent fumble, the Broncos gave Ball a chance to run with the starters. Just one day after earning first-team reps, however, Ball was relegated to the second team and Hillman was moved back up, suggesting that the coaching staff just wanted to temporarily punish the fumble-prone runner.

The same day that Hillman was re-promoted to the first-team offense, offensive coordinator Adam Gase said that the team plans to use a "running back by committee" approach. Of course, in most committees, there is one runner who gets a few more touches than everyone else, and that runner has yet to be identified.

As far as early down work, it looks like Hillman and Ball will continue to battle for carries. Ball is probably the better talent and better overall fit as an early-down, between-the-tackles runner. Hillman only has one year of experience over Ball, so my best guess is that as the season progresses, Ball will prove to be the better option and earn the majority of early-down work.

For what it's worth, head coach John Fox addressed the battle between Hillman and Ball on Tuesday: "I don't even know (who the lead back is) yet, so I don't know how you all know. They'll both carry a big load for us this season, knock on wood. Whether it's '1A' and '1' or however you want to list it."

As for the third down back, Moreno currently looks to have the lead in that competition. The most tenured man in the backfield, Moreno is the best back in terms of assignments and pass protection - that's huge for Peyton Manning, particularly in passing situations. It is worth noting that Hillman can be effective as a receiver, but Moreno still figures to be in the backfield for the majority of passing downs.

This competition will likely carry into the regular season, and a few big plays from one of these three backs could earn him a majority share of the workload. It's the type of situation that gives fantasy owners migraines as they prepare for drafts. If you're drafting a Broncos running back, I'd advise targeting Ball. He is the superior runner between the tackles and had 802 touches in college before losing his first career fumble - that should make him the best option for early-down work as well as goal-line carries.
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