Football Tip: Draft Ronnie Hillman Instead
Note: In an update, Ronnie Hillman is currently discussed as the likely #2 running back in Denver. Montee Ball is edging closer to being a bust. It could still turn around, but I wanted to provide an update. You might put Ronnie Hillman’s name where Montee Ball’s name is below. LOL End Note
When Montee Ball joined the Denver Broncos as a 2nd-round pick in 2013, he was seen as the starter of the future. That never materialized for the former Heisman Trophy finalist and All-American selection.
Instead, he struggled to pick up blitz packages and was relegated to a backup for Knowshon Moreno in 2013. Then he struggled again in 2014, after Morena had left for the Miami Dolphins. Ball got appendicitis in preseason, looked slugging at times throughout the first half of the season, and lost the starting role to undrafted free agent C.J. Anderson.
CJ Anderson: The Starting RB
Going into the 2015 season, fantasy football owners have to assume CJ Anderson is the certain starter for the Broncos. That means the 3rd-year veteran is going to be on one of the league’s most prolific offenses, alongside Peyton Manning, Demaryius Thomas, and Emmanuel Sanders. He should get plenty of scoring chances, while defenses in no way will be able to focus on Anderson in their game-planning. Even with Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady already out for the season, the conventional opinion is CJ Anderson should be a top producer at the all-important running back position.
Everyone also knows that Gary Kubiak, the new head coach for the Broncos, loves to run the ball. In his stint with the Houston Texans, Kubiak made Arian Foster one of the top running backs in fantasy football. Before that, he was the offensive coordinator for the Shanahan-era Broncos, helping players like Terrell Davis, Clinton Portis, and Mike Anderson fantasy stars.
Where Anderson Goes in a Fantasy Draft
Given everything altogether, C.J. Anderson looks like a cinch to be a 2nd-round draft pick in 2015 redraft leagues–perhaps a 1st rounder, depending on your league’s scoring system and owner mix.
I’m not going to argue that Montee Ball is going to beat out CJ Anderson or he’s going to have a better season, though he might. I’m definitely not suggesting Montee Ball should be drafted anywhere close to the rounds in which starting RBs usually get drafted, though news updates might change that equation.
What I’m suggesting is that he’s one of those running backs most everyone is likely to see as a strict backup, but who could be significantly more than that once the season begins. When the starting runners are off the board and people start drafting handcuffs and taking fliers on backups, he’s one of those you should add and stash on your bench. Depending on the way your draft goes, he should be available in the mid-to-late rounds, where he becomes a value pick.
Here’s why you should draft Montee Ball in those later rounds.
1. Montee Ball and C.J. Anderson Splitting Time at Practice
In the spring practices, the news items state that Montee Ball and C.J. Anderson are splitting carries with the 1st team offense. The team has a whole new coaching staff and “nothing is being handed to anyone”, according to one anonymous Broncos player.
Gary Kubiak was calling plays for the Baltimore Ravens last season. He was not watching CJ Anderson’s nice run and he had nothing riding on his fantasy numbers. While he has seen the tapes, he also is starting over fresh with everyone. He has nothing invested in CJ Anderson or Montee Ball, so he owes neither of them the job over the other one.
Thus, he is starting his tenure in Denver with a clean slate.
2. Gary Kubiak Loves One-Cut Runners
Montee Ball has stated in interviews that the Broncos are going to play “smash-mouth football“ in 2015. That makes sense. Gary Kubiak has coached some prolific offenses, but those offenses tended to start with the run. You might think Peyton Manning dictates a passing philosophy, but remember how Peyton wore down at the end of 2014. The Broncos remember the last 6 games of the regular season (and playoffs) all too well, just like any fantasy owners who depended on Peyton Manning remember.
Everything is going to be done to make the Broncos more of a running team in 2015. The team let Julius Thomas walk in free agency. Thomas was great catching passes, but he’s struggled blocking in the past. The team lost Ryan Clady, who is Peyton Manning’s blindside protector. They have yet another reason to lessen the wear-and-tear on their franchise quarterback.
Then there’s the fact Gary Kubiak loves one-cut runners. Montee Ball is the classic one-cut running back, meaning he perfectly fits the role Gary Kukiak wants to fill. For his part, Kubiak has said he expects Ball AND Anderson to get plenty of carries, because of his run-first philosophy.
But you might think Montee Ball simply sucks, so let’s take a look at his first two NFL seasons.
3. John Fox Hates Rookies: 2013 Excuse
The fact of the matter is, former Broncos head coach John Fox hates young players. He especially hates rookies. It was never realistic to expect Montee Ball to come in and be the franchise running back in 2013. The stories about the blitz pickups were probably true, but John Fox is especially hard on young guys. One of the reasons John Elway wanted him gone was the way Fox leaned on the veterans too much, thus wearing out guys like Peyton Manning.
Those who’ve played fantasy football for the past 10 to 15 years should know this. Deshaun Foster was supposed to replace an aging Stephen Davis, but it never seemed to happen. Then Deangelo Williams was supposed to replace an often-injured Deshaun Foster, but that never seemed to happen. Then Deangelo Williams was supposed to be phased out for the young 1st round stud, Jonathan Stewart. Though injuries played a part, there were season Stewart was more or less healthy and it never happened.
John Fox clings to veteran players like an overboard sailor clings to a life vest. Of course, Knowshon Moreno was going to get the carries over Montee Ball in 2013. (Note: I’ll predict John Fox rides Matt Forte harder than ever in 2015–bad long term, but great in 2015.)
4. Appendicitis Is Bad: 2014 Excuse
That only explains half of Montee Ball’s failed pro career. Let’s take a look at his 2014 season. In the middle of August 2014, Montee Ball had to have emergency appendectomy.
According to NFL.com, Ball says the injury “weakened his core and led to a right groin injury that ultimately landed him on IR.” Of course, players who did badly tend to make excuses, so take it for what it’s worth. But after an offseason in which everyone agreed Montee Ball had looked good and was bound to be the starter, he suddenly was deprived of his health weeks before a long season.
As the song says, one thing leads to another. Players sometimes overcompensate when they have injuries and this can lead to more injuries. That’s what Ball says he did, whether it’s true or not. You can believe him or not, but it has the ring of truth to me. You might think it’s not a dangerous surgery, but adults who have appendectomies have a lot more trouble with pain and recovery than kids do. And no one you know who had an emergency appendectomy was rushed into NFL games at the most physically-demanding position on the field.
Of course, Montee Ball was going to struggle in 2014.
5. Weeks 1 and 2 of 2014
You might say that Montee Ball stunk it up even before he started having injuries early in 2014. Look at his numbers in his only two starts of the season. While those numbers were not stellar, they were respectable. If you play in a high-performance league, then his numbers were not that bad in starting off a long season. You would have wanted more, but you also wouldn’t have been cursing him, either.
In Week 1 against the AFC runner-up Indianapolis Colts, Montee Ball had 23 carries for 67 years and 1 rushing touchdown. He also had 2 receptions for 16 years. In most high-performance leagues, that translates to 15 fantasy points. While his yards-per-carry was awful, you’ll live with 15 fantasy points.
In Week 2 agaist the Kansas City Chiefs, who were a playoff team the year before, Montee Ball had 12 carries for 60 yards and 3 receptions for 29 yards. Once again, that’s 11 fantasy points. The yards per carry and production in the passing game were actually pretty good, though he failed to score. In Week 3, he awful with 14 carries for 38 yards against the Seattle Seahawks. I suspect he already was dealing with the injury which would put him out for the year, but they were playing the Seahawks, anyway. In Week 4, Ball got injured early and didn’t play any significant time the rest of the year.
That’s it. That is all we know about Montee Ball’s NFL career. In very limited time, he had decent fantasy numbers. Then the injuries piled up and the Broncos turned elsewhere.
6. C.J. Anderson Was Plan C for the Broncos
First, they turned to Ronnie Hillman. They even gave Juwan Thompson a look. After exhausting all the other options, John Fox went with C.J. Anderson. From his first start of the season in Week 10 until the fantasy season ended in Week 16, CJ Anderson was one of the best running backs in fantasy football. He probably helped a lot of owners win league titles. Don’t let all of that fool you, though: CJ Anderson was supposed to be the UDFA backup and nothing else.
This brings me to one of my favorite theories in fantasy football. It has to do with backup running backs who get starts in the second half of the NFL regular season and look like they’re Jim Brown.
Think about it. NFL defenses were beaten up by Week 10. CJ Anderson has had 2 months of inactivity, so he’s rested. Suddenly, he gets the start and runs strongly. Against tired defenders, he looks great. Everyone annoints him the savior.
But what happens the next year, when he has to start the year against rested and healthy defenses? Or he goes into Week 10 already ground-down from half a season of banging heads with linebackers and safeties?
I’m just saying you shouldn’t take CJ Anderson’s 7-week stretch of fantasy greatness as the end-all, be-all of his talent evaluation. They call it a small sample for a reason.
7. Montee Ball Was a 2nd Round Draft Pick
Speaking of small sample sizes…contrasted against the undrafted free agent profile is Montee Ball’s 20-game NFL career. Most of those games, he sat on the bench. Now, the 3rd-year former Heisman finalist is ready to contribute.
The camp news has Montee Ball and CJ Anderson battling for carries, battling for the starting job. Fantasy owners who saw the wreckage of his 2014 season or last remember the fantasy playoffs might be wondering what the Denver Broncos are thinking.
I’m saying that it’s not that great of a mystery.
Let’s assume CJ Anderson wins the Broncos’ starting job, or at least holds 1/2 of that position come draft day 2015. Assuming the news is what we expect it to be, I’m saying you should make sure to add Montee Ball to your roster sometime in the mid-to-later stages of the draft. He’s good value, and could end up paying off whether he’s technically the starter or not.