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The combination of Peyton Manning’s praise of rookie runner Montee Ball and today’s release of veteran Willis McGahee could be enough to out-price Ball in fantasy football drafts this summer.
The Denver Broncos, with the release of McGahee, was likely less of an indictment on McGahee’s ability than it was the team’s comfort with Ball and the smaller, much shiftier Ronnie Hillman as backfield mates in 2013.
It was en vogue this spring to deride Ball’s one-cut running style and lack of startling athleticism, but in Manning’s backfield, that’s not required. For proof, take a look back at the final four games of 2012, when Knowshon Moreno – a gifted runner by no one’s definition – averaged 117 total yards and scored three times as the Broncos’ lead back.
Ball is an upgrade to Moreno; a significant one, in fact.
McGahee and Moreno combined for 305 carries in 2012 for 1,257 yards and eight touchdowns as Manning’s ability to read and manipulate defenses and the big play threat of Denver’s duo of Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker often left Broncos running backs with favorable matchups against six and seven man fronts.
McGahee and Moreno caught a combined 47 passes from Manning last season for 388 yards.
Read more about the Denver Broncos backfield…
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Manning played his part in boosting Ball’s average draft position last week when he said head coach John Fox might not be as averse to using Ball in a featured role as he has with other young runners.
“He’s a rookie, but coach (John) Fox isn’t going to bring him along slowly,” Manning said in an interview with USA Today. “We’re just kind of going through plays, going through games, getting him comfortable hearing audibles at the line of scrimmage. Because we are going to count on him in a big way this year.”
Second year back Hillman is getting most of the first-team snaps in Broncos’ OTA practices, though that could change when the pads are broken out in training camp next month. If Hillman carves out a role – and keeps that role – in the next 60 days, it could be just enough to sap some of Ball’s fantasy shine and make his ADP of 4.01 too pricey for any true draft day value.
Ball is the 22nd running back off of fantasy draft boards today, a number that will surely climb by a handful of spots in the coming weeks. With enough hype – valid or not – Ball could be the 12th running back taken in drafts come late August.
Probably that’s too expensive for a guy who might not get 200 carries. Hillman, on the other hand, is free for the taking today, sitting at the end of the 13th round, well behind a half dozen backup runners without any sort of clear role in their respective backfields.
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