Wisconsin Running Backs, Montee Ball, and NFL Production


Montee Ball is still being selected in the 4th round of redraft leagues, despite all of the dramatics surrounding the Denver backfield. I’m not sure Ronnie Hillman is the answer, but I am pretty sure that Montee Ball isn’t. Knowshon Moreno, already on the roster, is a solid pass blocker (15th in the league per PFF) and already knows the system. All 3 players offer something to the Broncos, and in the end, they may just choose to use all 3.

A large part of my concern is that much of what he accomplished in college has been overblown. Under Brent Bielema, running backs have consistently posted gaudy yardage and touchdown totals. These are the career totals for the backs who have gotten consistent usage since Bielema took over in 2007.

Player Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD
P.J Hill 770 3942 5.1 42 39 358 9.2 2
John Clay 629 3413 5.4 41 11 72 6.5 0
James White 422 2571 6.1 32 34 370 10.9 1
Montee Ball 924 5140 5.6 77 59 598 10.1 6

Ball easily trumps the other players in touchdowns, but that is to be expected, given that he received 154 more carries than the 2nd best back. There is no doubting Ball’s ability to score touchdowns at the collegiate level, but for running backs, that doesn’t always translate to the professional level. As Rotoviz writer Coleman Kelly astutely calculated here the “nose for the endzone” scouting evaluation is a myth. The number of college touchdowns a player scores explains 0.7% of the amount of touchdowns that player will score in the NFL.

Perhaps more worrisome is how Ball’s backfield compatriots have fared in the NFL. P.J Hill bounced around with 3 NFL teams before finally being waived in 2011. John Clay was a Heisman candidate, who scored 14 touchdowns in 2010, despite missing 3 games with an MCL sprain. Clay went undrafted but was signed by the Steelers as  UDFA. Clay appeared in 2 games for the Steelers, got 10 carries and as of this writing, is not on an NFL team. I was planning on doing a table of Bielma RB’s since 2007 in the NFL, but there wasn’t enough production to warrant a table. AND I LOVE TABLES.

From a measureables standpoint, Ball isn’t all that impressive either. His agility score of 11.21 and unofficial 40 time (per nflcombineresults.com) of 4.66 aren’t popping any eyeballs. It’s worth mentioning that various sites have his 40 time as high as 4.59, so it’s possible he is a step faster. Given his stature, Ball has a speed score of 90 which is 10 points below what is even considered average. Just for comparisons sake, that is behind noted plodder Shonne Green who scored 99 by that metric. Several months ago, Rotoviz Writer Shawn Siegele found that Ball’s closest NFL comps were Kevin Smith, Vick Ballard and Evan Royster. One of those dudes is munching cheetos, the other is cleaning Ahmad Bradshaw‘s walking boot and the last is wishing he could find out Mike Shanahan’s favorite donut (longtime listeners of the Footballguys.com The Audible Podcast and On The Couch with Sigmund Bloom understood that joke).

Just compared to the speed of Hillman and the reliability of Moreno (510 yards, 3 scores after taking over starting job last year), I can’t see anyway that Ball out right claims the starting job, without an injury to somebody. Hillman was selected with the 67th overall pick in the draft; Ball was selected with the 58th. The Broncos were more than willing to let Hillman sit for a year, learn the offense, and take his lumps. I see no reason why they wouldn’t feel the same way about Ball, or at least throwing him into the committee.

The general sentiment amongst the twitter community after the news that Hillman was running with 1’s broke was to just avoid Denver running backs until the 8th round or so and I tend to agree with that idea. I’m not saying that if given the carries, Ball couldn’t produce, but I don’t think he has the talent that demands he be given the lion’s share of the carries. John Fox has an extensive history of splitting carries between multiple backs (cut to fantasy owners of Stephen Davis, DeShaun Foster, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart nodding glumly). At this murky moment in the preseason, it makes the most sense to take the Shanahanigans approach and simply draft the cheapest option. Coleman again argued efficiently that Knowshon Moreno isn’t dead yet, and given that he is the cheapest option in this backfield at the moment, he seems to be the smartest investment.

Davis Mattek

Davis Mattek is a 21 year old English Major at Kansas State University. He can be found most days writing about fantasy sports for www.sportswunderkind.com , FantasyInsiders, RotoAcademy and Rotoviz.
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