Didn’t love the pick at first, but look. What have the Broncos struggled with in recent history? Moving the chains, scoring goalline TD’s, and having someone durable and reliable in the backfield. Montee Ball improves all of those areas immensely.
He is not a sexy or flashy pick, but a lunchpail hardnosed runner that will get you the yards you need.
I’m frankly surprised that a google search of “there’s nothing sexy about Montee Ball” didn’t turn up every single article written about him since he left Wisconsin. This quote was the best I could do without fear that my search terms would take me to a part of the internet where I don’t want to go. But, what if Montee Ball isn’t just some plodding Wisconsin RB who won’t be able to hold on to a starting job?
First things first, it’s possible (probable?) that opportunity is a much larger driver of RB scoring than talent, so it may not matter all that much if Montee Ball is more or less talented than the average NFL back. It will just matter if he’s talented enough to hold on to a starting job. Last season was another excellent example of the value you can find in a backfield shared with Peyton Manning. All the news coming from the Broncos right now indicates that they’re fine with Ball as their starter and they’ve even put their money where their mouth is by staying out of the FA RB market as guys like MJD, Chris Johnson and their own Knownshon Moreno signed elsewhere on team friendly deals.
Rotoviz has a long history of ambivalence (bordering on hostility) toward Montee Ball as a talent. He was 8th in the pre-draft composite rankings last season. He’s been compared to Evan Royster which strikes me as damning with faint insult. He played at Wisconsin which in this context is considered pejorative. He’s been compared to Mark Ingram which is always pejorative. Over and over again, these articles point to his lack of explosiveness, speed and agility. “He’s just some guy” is the overwhelming opinion.
Quick Aside on Montee Ball’s 40 time
There are conflicting times reported for Ball’s 40 yard dash time. NFL.com lists a 4.66 on his combine page, but in many other places I see a 4.59 listed which is the time used in the app. Similarly, at his pro day he either ran a 4.51 or a 4.46 depending on who you believe. I don’t know if this is unusual or just the first time I’ve noticed this type of discrepancy. His 4.11 20 yard shuttle time seems consistent and I’ll discuss that later too. I’ll be using the 4.46 time as this was reported by ESPN and the AP. I realize that this could all be a footnote, but the worst grade I ever received in college was in an architecture class where my one big writing assignment was dinged for failure to properly footnote my work so I have a strong opinion on their use1.
2013 Running Back Draft Class
I’ve been playing around in the RB Prospect Lab App with a few hypothetical versions of Montee Ball compared to the other sophomore RBs from his draft class. Here’s a table of the lot of them:
|LEVEON BELL||Michigan State||20.88||2013||230||4.56||6.75||29.38||137.92||0.92||2.46||93|
|LATAVIUS MURRAY||Central Florida||21.54||2013||223||4.38||6.81||18||100.55||1.36||2.45||84|
|GIOVANI BERNARD||North Carolina||21.02||2013||202||4.5||6.91||18.4||122.8||1.2||4.7||64|
|MIKE JAMES||Miami (FL)||21.63||2013||223||4.5||6.93||12.25||51.75||0.5||2.5||49|
|KERWYNN WILLIAMS||Utah State||21.53||2013||195||4.44||7.15||16.77||116.31||1.15||3.46||48|
|JOSEPH RANDLE||Oklahoma State||21.02||2013||204||4.59||7.01||21.08||109||1.08||2.15||44|
|CHRISTINE MICHAEL||Texas A&M||22.06||2013||220||4.43||6.69||8||37.91||1.09||0.73||40|
|SPENCER WARE||Louisiana State||21.12||2013||228||4.62||7.07||8.55||33.36||0.09||1.64||26|
|THEO RIDDICK||Notre Dame||21.7||2013||201||4.66||6.99||14.62||70.54||0.38||2.77||12|
Here’s the Montee Ball you all know and don’t care about. He scores a 50 in the App which is about what you’d expect and somewhat hilariously pegged to the middle. It’s interesting to note that this is still better than Zac Stacy, Eddie Lacy or Christine Michael, who are all relatively beloved. Ball was also drafted ahead of those guys in the real draft with Lacy falling due to concerns about a toe injury/surgery. If you look at all the other players in the App that score in this range then you find guys like Roy Helu, Alex Green, Shane Vereen and Daniel Thomas. Not a very exciting bunch.
This is the first hypothetical version of Montee Ball. I’ve simply used his 4.46 40 time from his pro day rather than his combine time. Recent investigations from the Fantasy Douche are potentially upending the notion that pro day times need to be discounted. Basically, there’s a selection bias where only the prospects that know they can do better bother to try. In this case, Montee Ball says that he was suffering from the lingering affects of a sinus injection at the combine so I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. This moves him ahead of Giovanni Bernard in the propect lab and pushes him into a group of scores that include players like Jamaal Charles, MJD, Marshawn Lynch and the man he’ll be replacing this year, Knowshon Moreno.
As mentioned previously, Ball also turned in a 4.11 20 yard shuttle time at his pro day. When combined with his 6.88 cone drill from the combine, this would give him a 10.99 agility score to go with a 108+ speed score (using the 4.46). That puts him solidly into profile 2 of Shawn Siegele’s draftable RB profiles. All of the RotoViz articles sited previously bemoaned Ball’s athleticism, but with these numbers he suddenly doesn’t look so bad.
This hypothetical version of Montee Ball uses his upgraded 40 time and also assumes that he came out a year earlier (note the 2012 draft year). I’m very intrigued by the Phenom Index for WRs and you’ll note when using the RB prospect lab app that lowering a player’s age also improves their score. This makes sense since a player excelling against older competition is more impressive than the oldest guy on a college field taking it to the underclassmen. I do wonder if this unfairly slights guys that do put up impressive early seasons but then stick around anyway and actually finish college (leave school early kids!). In Ball’s case, he had a very impressive junior season playing alongside Russell Wilson. If you use his numbers and age from that season then he moves into a tier of prospects that includes DeMarco Murray, Ben Tate, Michael Turner and Ray Rice. Did he become a worse prospect by staying in school another year or was he just revealed to be a lesser prospect all along? Or, is he actually as good as his best season makes him out to be in this double asterisk scenario?
If it seems unfair that I’m giving Ball this exclusive benefit, I also went back and looked at previous seasons for some of the other top sophomores though I didn’t clutter up the chart with them. Eddie Lacy really didn’t put up any big numbers till his final season so he never had a better hypothetical season to play with. Gio’s freshman season at Carolina was a little less impressive than his sophomore year but occurred at a younger age so he actually scores an identical 64 with those stats. Zac Stacy’s Junior year was a bit more impressive to the prospect lab’s algorithm and that version of Stacy jumps up to a 53. Christine Michael would be the big winner in these hypotheticals. If you go all the way back to his freshman season then his numbers would have bumped him from the 40 he scored in his final season all the way up to a 78. That’s still not as good as this hypothetical Montee Ball, but it’s a nice leap. You can play around in the RB Prospect Lab yourself and verify my math or create your own hypothetical versions of these players. Obviously, I had a lot of fun with it. You can also just tweak various parameters and see which ones really drive the app’s opinions of a given player with everything else held constant.
One Last Hypothetical
James Todd recently discussed the high profile sophomore RBs. He used the RB Sim App to project their 2014 results. In the case of Montee Ball, he went a step further and used the RB Sim Score Lab to check Ball’s projection assuming he’d received Moreno’s workload 2. This article originally ran over a month ago and the App’s algorithm was updated in the interim. He’s since updated his article with a revised Ball projection and it’s well worth revisiting. Here’s a table of the big six sophomore RBs which I’ve compiled from James’ article.
This Moreno’d version of Ball has the highest floor of any of these RBs. He’s also tied with Bell for the highest ceiling and his median projection blows everyone else away. Obviously, this is yet another hypothetical for Ball but all of this hand waving is already built into his ADP where he’s going around the same spot as Stacy and well behind Bell, Bernard and Lacy. This seems like a situation where fantasy owners are excited by what happened in 2013 and aren’t properly calibrating for what is reasonably expected to happen in 2014.
I ended up acquiring Ball in a couple of leagues last year when the price was cheap and also more notably here. I assumed I’d just be sitting on him until it looked like he’d be the starter and then I’d flip him again. Now, I’m not so sure. If you own one of these other sophomore RBs then I’d explore the possibility of swapping them for Ball assuming that you’d also be able to get some other enticing piece in the deal. It doesn’t make sense to assume any of these guys are a sure thing when they’ve only had one NFL season under their belts. If you take advantage of the tools provided by RotoViz to look back at the types of prospects that these players were when they entered the league a year ago then you’ll only have to squint a little to see that Ball is their equal 3. That’s the sexiest Montee Ball has ever looked.