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The Peyton Manning Effect and Believing In Montee Ball

When discussing Knowshon Moreno’s 2013 season and Montee Ball this season, fantasy experts seek to acknowledge a Peyton Manning effect. Basically, the Peyton Manning effect is the value a running back gains from having The Sheriff as his quarterback.

Although we all know that the Manning effect is a positive impact, it has generally been difficult to quantify the extent of this positive effect. This effect happens to impact Ball’s fantasy value this season, so we need to investigate, analyze, and quantify.

Since his rookie season in 1998, Manning has played with five bonafide starting RBs: Marshall Faulk, Edgerrin James, Joseph Addai, Willis McGahee, and Moreno. The following table reflects the RB statistics during each season of serving as the RB for Manning during his career with the Colts and the Broncos.

YearPlayerGAttRuYdTDsRecReYdTDsY/RY/CFPFP/G
Average13.6259.81088.98.1346.9391.41.84.188.14254.618.41
1998Faulk16324131968690844.0710.56368.723.04
1999James163691553136258644.219.45377.923.62
2000James163871709136359454.429.43401.325.08
2001James615166232419304.388.04127.521.25
2002James1427798926135413.575.80213.315.24
2003James133101259115129204.065.73272.120.93
2004James16334154895148304.639.47308.119.26
2005James153601506134433714.187.66312.320.82
2006Addai16226108174032514.788.13228.614.29
2007Addai152611072124136434.118.88274.618.31
2008Addai1215554452520623.518.2414211.83
2009Addai15219828105133633.786.59245.416.36
2010Addai811649541912404.276.53104.913.11
2012McGahee1016773142622104.388.50145.214.52
2013Moreno162411038106054834.319.13296.618.54

In order to evaluate how effective RBs are in a Manning offense, we have utilized fantasy points per game as the baseline.

It is impressive that over a 15-year career, Manning’s tailback has averaged 18.41 fantasy points per game – that would equate to the sixth-highest per game average for a RB during the 2013 season.

The trained eye can see that Manning started with very talented RBs–Faulk and James–who saw massive workloads. When Addai became the starting tailback, the workload diminished.

Here’s a table that paints a clearer picture.

Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 10.20.06 AM

Key: AFP/G = Average Fantasy Points per Game, PAA = Points Above Average (Subtracted from the average of 18.41), R/G = Rushes per Game, C/G = Catches per Game, Y/R = Yards per Rush, Y/C = Yards per Catch, TDPG = Touchdowns Per Game.

It is clear that Faulk dominated with a massive workload–it was also Manning’s rookie year, which likely lead to the Colts wanting to feature Faulk. Manning wasn’t at the height of his powers, so Faulk’s TDs per game wasn’t as high as some of the others on this list. However, Faulk did lead the field in fantasy points per game and finished 4.63 points above the average fantasy points per game of these RBs.

James actually saw three more carries per game than Faulk, but wasn’t as involved in the pass game. Edge scored in 75 percent of his games with Manning despite having James Mungro steal eight TDs in 2002. In fact, 2002 was the only year Edge finished below 19.26 fantasy points per game. It should also be noted that when Edge was injured in 2001, Dominic Rhodes started 10 games. He went on to finish with 1,328 total yards and nine TDs, averaging 22.08 fantasy points per start. To put his production in perspective, James’ average fantasy points per game for his career with Manning would equate to the fourth-best RB for the 2013 season.

James left the Colts in 2005. The following is what occurred thereafter.

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 2.19.43 PM

Addai was a big disappointment for a Manning tailback, finishing 3.63 points below average. With just 14.7 rushes per start, Addai didn’t see the same volume as Faulk and James, who each saw over 20 rushes per game. 2007 was the only year that Addai saw over 14.6 rushes per game. Not coincidentally, that was his highest scoring season at 18.31 fantasy points per game.

I do not believe that the Colts wanted Addai to be their feature bell cow. He was constantly splitting carries with Rhodes and later Donald Brown. During Addai’s rookie season (2006), Rhodes started each game, finishing with 223 touches for 892 yards and five TDs. In 2007, Rhodes signed with the Raiders but only touched the ball 86 times. Without viable depth in the form of Rhodes, Addai saw his highest usage in 2007. But in 2008, Rhodes returned to see 197 touches for 840 yards and nine TDs. Perhaps, Addai wasn’t a particularly talented RB? More on this later.

In all fairness, McGahee probably should be omitted from this study. As a 31-year-old RB with 1,790 carries-worth of wear on his tires, McGahee wasn’t exactly set up for success. Splitting carries with the likes of Moreno and Ronnie Hillman, McGahee put up 14.52 fantasy points per game. Last year the Browns tried to see if he still had some productivity left and he rewarded them by rushing for 2.7 yards per carry.

Just last season, Moreno went from career bust to the fourth-best RB in PPR leagues–clear proof of the Manning effect. Before 2013 Moreno averaged 12.67 fantasy points per game. With Manning, he averaged 18.54.

Now that we’ve seen how well Peyton Manning’s RBs have performed, let’s take a look at how well these players performed in the combine.

Combine Numbers

We know how good Faulk was and the combine wasn’t the same when he was a rookie, so I’m omitting him from this section of the article. Here are the other four backs’ combine statistics.

PlayerCollegePickAgeWT4020ConeASSS
Joseph AddaiLSU3022.92144.44.487.111.58114.2
Edgerrin JamesMIA420.82164.383.886.8710.75117.4
Knowshon Moreno *UGA1221.82174.54.276.8411.11105.8
Knowshon MorenoUGA1221.82174.624.276.8411.1195.3
Montee BallWIS5822.32144.664.46.8811.2890.8
Montee Ball*WIS5822.32144.464.116.8810.99108.2

* = Pro Day results, AS = Agility Score, SS = Speed Score.

I included the Pro Day results because there was a big difference between Ball and Moreno’s 40 times from the Pro Day and the Combine. This makes a big difference in terms of how we judge each player as a prospect. (Perhaps, we’re putting too much weight into how fast each player runs on one particular day?)

Ball looks like a completely different prospect depending on which 40 time and 20-yard short shuttle time we apply. If we use his combine time, Ball looks like a slow RB with average agility. If we use his pro day, Ball looks like an extremely agile and fast RB.

No matter how you analyze Ball’s athletic profile, he does not match James. Considering his superior age, agility score, and speed score, it’s easy to conclude that Edge was the stronger prospect.

Addai’s speed score is impressive because he had a strong 40 time but his 20-yard short shuttle and three-cone drill leave something to be desired. He has a terrible speed score and he was an old rookie.

I wouldn’t be too discouraged by Ball being drafted 28 picks later than anyone else in this group. The NFL has devalued RBs in recent years. I firmly believe that if Addai was a prospect for the 2014 draft, he wouldn’t be a first-round selection. Only two RBs were selected before Ball in 2013, Giovani Bernard and Le’Veon Bell. Both proved to be fantasy assets as rookies.

Collegiate Production

Each RB played extensively in their final two years of college so those seasons are included in the table below.

PlayerYearRushYdsTDY/RRecYdsTDsY/C
Joseph Addai200518791194.872018019.0
Joseph Addai200410168036.7326294411.3
Edgerrin James19982421416175.8517255215.0
Edgerrin James19971841098135.9719250113.2
Knowshon Moreno20082501400165.6033392211.9
Knowshon Moreno20072481334145.3820253012.7
Montee Ball20123561830225.14107207.2
Montee Ball20113071923336.2624306612.8

Once again, Addai stands out in all the wrong places. All of these players rushed for over 1,000 yards in their final two seasons, except for Addai. Each player rushed for at least 13 TDs in each of their final two seasons, except for Addai. Addai is also the only one to rush for below five yards per carry in any of these seasons.

Edge was the most efficient, averaging 5.9 yards per carry and 14 yards per catch over the course of his final two seasons. Both James and Moreno rushed for 30 TDs over their last two seasons.

The most dominant season goes to Ball, who scored 33 TDs in his junior year while leading the nation with 1,923 rushing yards. In fact, over his last two seasons Ball rushed for 1,000 yards more than any of the other backs.

The problem with measuring by aggregated statistics is the sheer volume that Ball received. He was extremely efficient during his junior year but still received at least 50 more carries than the other RBs in any of their seasons. To combat this anomaly, let’s look at the market share of yardage and TDs.

Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 10.29.11 AM

nQBruYds = The percentage of the team’s non-QB rushing yards gained by that player, nQBruTDs = The percentage of the team’s non-QB rushing TDs gained by that player, MsReYds = The percentage of the team’s receiving yards gained by that player, MsReTDs = The percentage of the team’s receiving TDs caught by that player.

James was extremely consistent in both seasons as both a rusher and receiver, hovering between 54-59 percent of Miami’s non-QB rushing production. Addai looked like a productive receiver during his junior year, but was weak in the rushing department–at least compared to these players. Unlike the rest of this list, he never captured 50 percent of his teams’ non-QB rushing yards or TDs.

Moreno had a fantastic sophomore year before entering the draft, rushing for 73.8 percent of his team’s non-QB rush yards and 80 percent of their non-QB rushing TDs.

Once again, Ball’s junior year stands out, but he was unable to continue that rushing or receiving production in his senior season. When considering his rushing production, it appears that Ball holds his own with James and Moreno. Ball’s senior year was the worst receiving season on this table. Replaced by James White as a senior, it is fair to ponder whether Ball is the kind of back that can catch 60 passes.

2014 Takeaways For Montee Ball

Good

By averaging over 20 fantasy points per game, Faulk and James proved that Manning can help a RB achieve fantasy football greatness.

Even Addai (who appears to be a below-average talent), had RB1 fantasy value with Manning. The Sponge Effect is real. In terms of talent, Ball appears to be closer to James and Moreno than Addai, who did not produce similarly to the others in college and was never truly trusted by the Colts.

Despite being a high-profile prospect with a dominant sophomore season, Moreno was a bust early in his career. He suffered injuries that possibly sapped some of his athleticism. That’s just speculation, but the facts are that in 2012, as a 25-year-old, Moreno played behind the 31-year-old McGahee. He was inactive from Week 3 until Week 11 when McGahee was injured, and only then did he start.

A season later, that same Moreno was able to salvage the Manning effect and finish as the fourth-best PPR RB. This offseason, the Dolphins were the only team to offer Moreno a contract.

This tells us that Broncos are not concerned about starting Ball. With just Hillman, C.J. Anderson, and Jerodis Williams on the roster, the Broncos are already showing their commitment to Ball. Out of their seven draft picks, the Broncos did not select a RB. Ball has never looked sexier.

Although he was playing for Wisconsin with high volume, Ball did have the best college season out of group. During his junior season, he showed that he could shine as a three-down workhorse. With the starting RB in Manning’s offenses averaging 47 receptions, the Broncos must believe in Ball’s ability to catch passes. Over his last seven games of 2013 Ball averaged 2.6 receptions. Extrapolated to a full season, that computes to 41 receptions over the course of a full season.

ESPN Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold commented that the most improved aspect of Ball’s game is as a receiver, and suggested that Ball is “ready for a starring role in the run game.”

Perhaps he’s a workhorse for the 38-year-old Manning like Edge was in Manning’s Colts days. If Ball proves to be a more natural rushing talent than Moreno, the Broncos could feed him a heavy workload. Unlike Moreno, he doesn’t have a second-round draft pick nipping at his heels.

With Manning leading the offense, his TD upside is massive.

Bad

We’re overconfident and Ball’s ambiguous role is not factored into his current price. Perhaps Ball isn’t suited for the pass catching role and the Broncos plan to use Hillman as a Darren Sproles-type back.1

Ball’s athletic ability could be closer to the combine than his pro day. Perhaps he won’t be trusted with a full role and will perform closer to Addai, splitting with Anderson and seeing 14.7 carries per game.

Of course, there are always the David Wilson problems, which may arise. If Ball fumbles or blows a few blitz pickups, he could spend time on the bench.

Conclusion

While much could go wrong for Ball, the signs point to the Broncos being ready to trust him. It will be telling if they seek out a veteran RB in the preseason but at this point, they seem comfortable with Ball as a workhorse. Maybe we should be comfortable trusting him too.

When he’s not searching for ways to defeat his opponents, Mike Braude spends his time finding ways to remove the randomness of fantasy football and reward the most skilled fantasy owners. He has remedied this issue by creating Apex Fantasy Football Money Leagues.

  1. I had hoped to include Hillman’s agility and speed scores but he did not participate in the combine because of a hamstring injury.  (back)

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