Montee Ball, heading into Denver’s Week 5 tilt against the Cardinals, was well on his way to being the most disappointing, most underachieving, least efficient Peyton Manning running back in the quarterback’s 17 NFL seasons.
Ball, through three games, was notching a horrendous .6 fantasy points per touch, unable to crack fantasy’s top-20 running backs despite lining up behind Manning, who has manipulated defenses and created fantasy goliaths out of so many otherwise-average runners. Ball’s 3.4 yards per carry and 2.1 yards after contact per run wasn’t getting it done.
Now he’s on crutches, expected to miss significant time, and Peyton’s backfield is up for grabs.
The average running back taking the bulk of carries from Peyton has piled up 1,518 total yards and scored 10.5 touchdowns per season. They’ve had fantasy floors that seem silly in hindsight, as they face favorable fronts while defenses scramble to deal with Peyton and his bevy of aerial threats. Joseph Addai, an otherwise pedestrian runner, scored an astounding 45 touchdowns as Peyton’s main runner from 2006-2009.
That’s why it’s paramount for every fantasy footballer, no matter your depth at running back, to snag the next guy up in Peyton’s backfield.
Ronnie Hillman, that 2013 fantasy tease, was dubbed by the Denver Post as the Broncos’ “most trusted running back” in the wake of Ball’s severe groin injury, as Hillman ran for 65 yards on 14 second half totes against Arizona. Hillman impressed coaches and observers alike during offseason workouts, but thanks in large part to an untimely illness, Hillman missed the final days of preseason practices while the team committed to Ball as their workhorse — as they had done since March.
C.J. Anderson, who looked like Ball’s backup for most of the season’s first month, was deactivated before yesterday’s game, though he’ll certainly have some role in Denver’s Ball-less backfield. He’s a decent stash for those with deep benches, but Hillman is the one to pick up. There’s no reason to think that, if Hillman fares well in Ball’s stead, he can’t seize the starting gig for himself.
I wouldn’t fret about rookie runner Juwan Thompson, though I suppose he could take goal line duties with a bulky frame and a straight-ahead, take-no-prisoners running style.
It was in the final weeks of the 2012 season — after Willis McGahee succumbed to injury — that Knowshon Moreno was slated to take the starting role, taking handoffs from Peyton. Moreno’s less-than-spectacular statistical track record was held against him in fantasy circles. The talent — the explosion and vision and ability — wasn’t there, detractors said.
It shouldn’t have mattered. You want the guy lining up behind Peyton. Moreno showed that in the waning weeks of the 2012 campaign, as he was a top-5 fantasy back during that season-ending stretch. The Sponge Effect is real, and it’s spectacular.
Here are a few other tidbits we learned in Week 5…
- Undrafted free agent Branden Oliver made a strong case to be the Chargers’ featured back for a little while longer. He tormented the Jets’ fierce front seven for 182 yards and two scores after starter Donald Brown left the game with a concussion. Brown has reverted to the Dammit Donald we all knew before the 2013 season, when he showed signs of fantasy life. Ryan Mathews is expected to miss another couple weeks with a lingering knee injury and Danny Woodhead is done for the year. That leaves Oliver, whose athleticism score and breakout age are bordering on elite. Oliver has proven himself as a superb pass catcher — a critical skill in a San Diego offense that can’t get any push up front and has taken to the air over the season’s first five weeks. Oliver could be a PPR cheat code going forward.
- A quick note on Matthew Stafford: If Calvin Johnson is indeed held out for a while with a lower leg injury he suffered against the Bills, I would do anything and everything to trade away Stafford to a league mate who sees him as a locked-in elite fantasy option. Stafford, in three games without Megatron in the lineup, has averaged 215 passing yards and .67 touchdowns. With Megatron, Stafford puts up an average of 290.2 yards and 1.87 touchdowns per contest. Stafford’s peripheral stats without Calvin are similar to Sam Bradford‘s. Rid yourself of Stafford and stream quarterbacks if Megatron misses more than a couple weeks.
- Let your league mates sprint to the waiver wire and grab Patriots tight end Tim Wright. Many may see him as the new Aaron Hernandez in New England’s offensive attack, but his big-time Week 5 stats line doesn’t show how unsustainable that production truly is. Wright ran a grand total of 13 pass routes in the Pats’ win over the Bengals. He racked up five catches for 85 yards and a touchdown. That’s all well and good, but until he’s more than a part-time player, I can’t trust him outside of the deepest leagues.
- While we’re on the topic of tight end route running, it’s important to note that Travis Kelce is still not getting the run that he needs to be a top-end fantasy option. He saved his fantasy day in Week 5 with a two-yard score against the 49ers — a score that might make some forget that he ran a measly 19 pass routes to Anthony Fasano‘s 22 routes run. Sure, Kelce is notching a ridiculous .71 fantasy points per pass route (FPPRR) — .14 higher than Jimmy Graham — but I worry about Kelce’s every-week usability unless and until he’s running 25 routes every week. It sounds nit picky, I know, but opportunity is half the battle in fantasy football, and Kelce is simply not getting it.