This post comes from Justin Becker of FantasyFootballOverdose.com. You can follow him on Twitter @NFLRankings or the Fantasy Football Overdose Google+ Page, and for more NFL Fantasy Football Projections and Rankings, visit Fantasy Football Overdose.
Knowshon Moreno is now with the Miami Dolphins, leaving the door wide open for Montee Ball to take his place as one of fantasy football’s top running backs.
Still, there is some real hesitance from fantasy owners to totally buy into Ball as the next big thing in fantasy football – and for fairly good reason.
For one, we’ve kind of been here before. The Broncos didn’t really have a locked in starting running back going into last year, as the previous season’s starter (Willis McGahee) had moved on. Whoever it was going to be was in for a solid year of fantasy production, though, that much we were all certain of.
Thanks to Moreno’s shaky injury history and arguable marginal talent, no one really got excited about him. In fact, early on, few even gave him a legit chance at beating out Ball, who was merely a rookie. That led to Ball getting massively overdrafted with a round five ADP (Average Draft Position), while Moreno had an ADP of round nine.
As it turned out, Moreno held onto the starting gig to get the year going, largely thanks to Ball’s biggest flaws (ball security, catching and pass protection) popping up in preseason.
In the end, Moreno was the main man all season long and ended the year with over 1,600 total yards and 11 total touchdowns. You weren’t sad if you picked him up at some point or drafted him, either, as he finished the year as fantasy’s #5 running back.
Not bad for a guy you probably got in the ninth round, and possibly later, and wasn’t even expected to be a fantasy factor.
Ball, on the other hand, finished 42nd overall. He did manage to be a pretty productive Flex option down the stretch, while he also slowly chipped away at concerns about fumbling, dropping passes and messing up as a blocker.
In fact, he got pretty darn good at all three, while also putting his physical running style and deceptive athleticism on full display as a change of pace option.
Now that Moreno is gone, there has to be that slight concern over whether or not Ball is fully ready, though. Or if he’ll get passed over once again by the likes of C.J. Anderson, Ronnie Hillman or maybe even some undrafted guy who comes into camp and lights it up.
Moreno showed us in 2013 that the old adage “ya never know” really does need to be taken into consideration.
With that said, the tape on Ball during his rookie year showed a player evolving and getting more comfortable. He might still have a minor issue with ball security. After all, he ran the ball 119 times last year, but that’s not quite the 242 times Moreno toted the rock. With more runs, he naturally is going to increase his chances of losing a ball here and there.
He’s not an elite receiver, either, and perhaps he’ll never be. But Ball did end up catching 20 passes as a backup in his first season as a pro – including 18 of those catches over the final seven games. Stretch that pace out to a full 16 games, and Ball could have the ability to handle around 41 times. And that projection is just based off of his backup role with Moreno still in town.
The worries should be slowly drifting away by now. Ball is a very talented back that was a yardage and touchdown monster in college, and he has an improving skill-set. He also has a monster role in the league’s most prolific offense (quite possible ever) and he’s replacing a guy he’s better than.
Yes, Montee Ball needs to be drafted in the first round of fantasy football drafts. Oddly, he’s still being drafted just outside of that ADP (beginning of round two). The funny thing is, if he has the upside we think he does (he does) and he’s better than Moreno (he is), then his upside is arguably better than Moreno’s.
That’s all fairly accurate, which would indeed at least hypothetically vault him into top-five consideration. The key word there, naturally, is “consideration”. Of course, as good as Ball might be, you still want to get value. Pegging him as a top-five pick means you’d considering taking him over the likes of Matt Forte, Marshawn Lynch, Arian Foster, Eddie Lacy and others. He’s probably not quite there yet in terms of value, but he’s not far off.
He moves even closer to those guys, actually, when you consider their specific situations. Lynch has had an insane workload for three straight seasons and there are rumors swirling that Seattle wants to lessen his load. Green Bay is already talking about taking it easy on Lacy and Foster broke down in 2013. As rock solid as these guys appear to be, even they can be argued down from their current ADP.
Ideally, Ball slides to you somewhere in round two and you hopefully get a round one producer at killer value. But that’s an ideal world. Chances are, if you want one of fantasy’s best backs – in which Ball is projected to be – you’ll have to pull the trigger somewhere in the first round to ensure you get him. That may not mean using a top-five pick on him, but the evidence suggests doing so certainly wouldn’t be a crazy move.