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Montee Ball, Knowshon Moreno and the Broncos’ Backfield

rsz_knowshon

Credit Jeffery Beal

Knowshon Moreno’s ADP is one of the stranger things I’ve encountered this year. He’s going in the 13th round of drafts, after guys like DeAngelo Williams, Joseph Randle, and Michael Bush. He’s been deemed less worthy than an unathletic rookie and a 28 year old backup. We’re talking about a player (potentially) in the mythic Peyton Manning running back role, who averaged 102 yards and .60 touchdowns over the last 5 games of the season, yet he gets no respect from the fantasy community. The fear of Montee Ball starting, coupled with his injury prone perception is pushing his ADP down, but to the 13th round as the 55th running back? Ludicrous, I say.

The situation with Knowshon closely mirrors the one of San Diego wide receiver Danario Alexander. DX is famous for having 5 surgeries on his left knee since college, causing him to drop completely out of the draft in 2010. After being cut by the Rams because of lingering injuries, he was signed by the Chargers, and blew up with 37 catches for 658 yards and 7 touchdowns in 7 games. The Chargers then went out and drafted Keenan Allen in the 3rd round, 18 picks after Montee Ball was selected by the Broncos. They also have Vincent Brown, a favorite of draftniks, coming back from a broken ankle suffered last season.

So, DX is a 7th round pick and Moreno isn’t?

Don’t take this the wrong way, I love Alexander this year. Mock drafters have appropriately priced in the injury risk to his ADP. Instead of doing the same with Moreno, they’ve completely forgotten about him. It’s like people think the Broncos drafted Adrian Peterson. They didn’t. They drafted a running back with mediocre physical talent who had issues with pass protection in college. Moreno had a pass blocking efficiency rating of 96.5, according to ProFootballFocus. On 50 pass blocking snaps, Moreno allowed 2 total pressures. In an offense that is completely reliant on the health of Peyton Manning’s neck, do you really think they’re going to throw Montee Ball out there and give him 250 carries?

Moreno is a no lose pick. At best, you have a solid, if unspectacular, RB2 for nothing; at worst, you have Montee Ball’s backup, and you cut him without mercy since you spent nothing to acquire him. Drafting Moreno elicits a reaction only replicated by watching old home videos of your birth, but if you’re playing fantasy football with emotions, you’ve already lost.

Comparing Moreno to a couple of top 20 options at running back reveals just how high his upside is:

Knowshon Moreno Stevan Ridley Alfred Morris
Low 9.1 8.7 9.8
Median 11.7 12.2 13.9
High 15.4 14.9 16.5

Moreno’s low and high projections are higher than Ridley’s in both areas, and he’s only a point off from Morris’ high projection. The only difference? Moreno is available 13 rounds later than Morris, and 10 rounds later than Ridley. And here’s the catch: Moreno’s numbers take into account his first 2 games, where he only received 5 total carries, and his last game against Kansas City, where the Broncos were up by 3 touchdowns early and he averaged 2.4 yards per carry. I also configured the Sim Score app to punish Moreno for his 8 week stint on the inactive list. That means the projections are on the low side.

Why couldn’t Moreno be a Ridley or Morris type of back? Physically, they’re all very similar talents:

Player Height Weight 40YD Explosion Agility
Knowshon Moreno 71 217 4.5 150.5 11.14
Stevan Ridley 71 225 4.65 154 10.99
Alfred Morris 70 219 4.63 152.5 11.2

Moreno’s combination of speed and agility is the best of the group. His Explosion Score is the lowest, but I’d argue that’s the least important of the three. Moreno fits right with these runners, who all profile as slower, with more agility than you’d expect for their size. Both Ridley and Morris are in offenses perfectly tailored for a back to step right into produce, but Moreno might be in the best offense of three. He’s playing with the same quarterback who was able to make Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai productive runners. Addai was never able to stay healthy, but for the few season he managed to keep it together, he was productive.

The criticisms against Moreno are fair. He’s underwhelmed thus far into his career, and hasn’t given us a reason to believe in him. However, there are positives (this is where I manipulate the statistics, just a heads up). From weeks 13 to 17, Moreno was the RB7 in PPR. His points per opportunity of 0.48 was higher than Arian Foster and Steven Jackson’s during that period. His Breakaway Percentage of 26.1 was right between Mark Ingram and LeSean McCoy. He ran for more yards per pass route than Matt Forte and Reggie Bush. His yards per carry figure – excluding the Kansas City game – was a more palatable 3.98.

Moreno’s checkered injury history is no doubt a contributing factor in his 14th round ADP, but it’s overrated. Since he came into the league, Moreno has only had 2 DNP’s and 1 ‘Doubtful’ designation prior to tearing his ACL in 2011. While he’s currently rehabbing his knee after having stem cells injected, news out of camp is that he’s running routes.

These are the kind of moves that win your league championship. While your leaguemates are busy jostling over the rights to Connor Barth, you’re taking a running back in a top 5 offense with a similar projection to Stevan Ridley.

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