Peyton Manning will be pricey — really pricey — in 2014 fantasy football drafts. Don’t pay up.
Instead, ride his coattails. Latching on to Manning’s pass catchers and running backs has time and again proven to be a viable way to absorb the quarterback’s statistical greatness like a greedy, stat-loving sponge.
It worked beautifully for those who drafted Julius Thomas as a late-round flier in 2013, as Thomas became the fifth consecutive Peyton tight end to finish a top-4 fantasy option at the position. Greedy sponges who took Eric Decker at a deep discount last season surely don’t regret the coattail riding approach after watching their guy finish as a top-10 fantasy receiver.
But what of Manning’s running backs? Do they have the same sort of mouth-watering track record as the Hall of Famer’s wideouts and tight ends? Are they part of the fantasy sponge effect?
Facing constant seven-man fronts and having the luxury of a quarterbacking Jedi master manipulating defenses and creating favorable situations for runners seems to have paid off over Manning’s 15 seasons as a pro. Below is a rundown of production posted by Peyton’s running backs since he entered the league in 1998.
Every runner listed below was the leading rusher on that particular team. Some of them only played half a season.
Strip away 2008, 2010, and 2012 — seasons in which Manning’s running backs were in flux — and his running backs averaged an astounding 1,235.5 rushing yards and 9.4 touchdowns on the ground. Added together, the guys lining up behind Manning have averaged 213.3 standard fantasy points per season, which would’ve been good for top-6 numbers in 2013.
This brings us to one Montee Ball, a second year runner whose post-Peyton prospects might be blury — at best — but who is in line to take the lion’s share of carries from Manning in 2014. This, of course, barring fumbles and missed blocking assignments that put Ball firmly on the Denver bench early in his rookie season.
Ball, the 14th running back off the draft board, will see his average draft position (ADP) climb as summertime hype does what it always does.
He could still be a value, even if he climbs, and here’s why: I think it will be an upset if Ball doesn’t finish 2014 as a top-7 fantasy running back.
The Broncos shook hands with Moreno and let him walk into the Miami backfield this spring. Ronnie Hillman has showed plenty over the past two seasons to prove he’s not an every-down option.
That leaves the shifty 5’8″ C.J. Anderson to compete for carries in the Denver backfield. Anderson was head coach John Fox’s choice to sub in for Ball when the rookie struggled with recognizing and picking up blitzes on the team’s franchise quarterback, or when Ball fumbled.
I suppose Anderson could swoop in and seize the vaunted title of Peyton’s running back, but not without serious and persistent early-season struggles from Ball.
Ball, who totaled 704 yards in a complementary role to Moreno in 2013, isn’t a special runner by any definition. The best news, of course, is that a run-of-the-mill back can success — even excel — with Manning calling the shots.
Ball is a nice fit in the zone-blocking scheme implemented by the godfather of said scheme, Alex Gibbs, who has hired by the Broncos as an offensive line consultant last season.
Wisconsin’s run game used quite a bit of one-cut running, a style that suited Ball well during his collegiate career. Many of his most impressive runs were on the one-cut-and-go variety. A back of his size and power was made to thrive in Gibbs’ zone blocking scheme. Ball doesn’t shimmy and shake and juke in the backfield.
He rarely tries to create with east-west runs. He’s very much a straight-ahead runner.
“I thought Montee had a great year,” said Manning, who added that Ball could have a “huge role” in the post-Moreno Denver offense. “I thought he learned a lot in his first year. In my past, I’ve seen a lot of development in guys from their first year to their second year. There is no question with the loss of Knowshon—who was just nothing short of awesome for us this past year and was a great teammate—that Montee is going to have more responsibilities and I think he will answer that challenge.”
Be the sponge.