The Denver Broncos running back position will have a much different look in 2014. Though the team ran rampart on the rest of the NFL last season with their high-octane passing game, the focus this season appears to be improving their rush. Knowshon Moreno, last year’s starter, is now a member of the Miami Dolphins, leaving a competition for several youngsters to make the team.
The unquestioned lead back is Montee Ball. While he struggled at the beginning of last season, by the time the Super Bowl came around, he was the most effective running back, averaging over five yards per carry. It will be his job to lose this year.
Ball’s backup is Ronnie Hillman, who is entering his third season. Projected as the starter last season, Hillman fell out of favor when he fumbled the football several times. He found himself on the inactive list throughout the playoffs, even though he is probably the team’s most explosive runner. Hillman is entering his third year and needs to improve his game if he is going to make the final roster.
C.J. Anderson is the third-string running back at this time. Although he played sparingly last season he has a great opportunity to earn the backup position to Ball. He played well against New England last season and can increase his playing time significantly with a positive showing in training camp.
The remaining Denver Broncos running backs will come from a competition between rookies Kapri Bibbs, Brennan Clay, Juwan Thompson and second-year back Jerodis Williams. While it is difficult to assess these young backs, they have, nevertheless, a great opportunity to make this team. For them, training camp is critical.
The star of this group, however, is Montee Ball. Being drafted last year in the second round raises his expectations. He did get off to a slow start and had some critical fumbles last year. He recovered well enough to be the most effective runner by season’s end. It was his level of improvement that enabled Denver to let Moreno go.
What helped Moreno become last year’s starter was his ability to block. That requirement will loom large again this season. The success of this team lies on the throwing ability of Payton Manning. First and foremost the running backs need to help to keep Manning upright.
Whoever makes this team will have stellar opportunities. Because of the Broncos’ great passing attack, defenses are usually spread wide apart to cover the stellar receivers. That opens up running lanes for the backs to exploit. Historically running backs on Payton Manning led offenses have been very successful. Moreno was the beneficiary last year; Ball should be the beneficiary this season.
Another prerequisite for the running backs is their ability to catch passes. The Broncos’ offense centers on an aerial assault to talented wide receivers. Having a running back that can catch the ball is an added bonus. It gives opposing defenses another thing to worry about.
This season the Denver offense has an opportunity to repeat its record-setting performance from last year. Manning is still at the top of his game and the wide receiver group may have actually gotten better with the addition of Emmanuel Sanders. Whoever emerges as the leader of the Denver Broncos running back competition in 2014 will have the opportunity for a huge season, easily surpassing 1,000 rushing yards and possibly 500 receiving yards. Those numbers will rank with the NFL’s very best, and will make the lead Denver running back a surefire fantasy football star.
For the Denver Broncos, the running back position is wide open in 2014. This competition is now offering the young running backs to grab their opportunity and make an impact on one of the NFL’s most dynamic offenses.
Commentary by Hans Benes