The last time Peyton Manning had a thousand yard rusher in his backfield with him (Joseph Addai, 2006), he led his Colts to a Super Bowl Ring. Having that safety valve, that balance, is a key to running a truly efficient offense. Now, even when Willis McGahee went down last year, the Denver offense was a machine, but having youth and dependability in the backfield will go a long way to control the time of possession and keep defenses guessing. Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman have not proven their value as consistent runners yet, but Montee Ball provides the perfect package for the Denver backfield.
Now, it is true that Ball was not the best running back in the 2013 Draft. Truly, he was not even the most talented running back playing for Wisconsin last year! But what he lacks in physical gifts, he made up for in dependability and durability. How else does one compile 3,753 rushing yards and 61 total touchdowns in only 2 years of starting? Though college production is not a great way to measure a player’s skill (See: Tons of college players), one has to look at what made that player productive in college and how, or if, that game will translate to the next level.
In college, Ball behind arguably one of the best offensive lines outside of Tuscaloosa; Peter Konzs, Kevin Zeitler, Travis Fredrick, an Ricky Wagner are all Wisconsin offensive lineman that were drafted to NFL teams, a testament to the quality of the players paving the way during Ball’s career. When watching Ball on tape, he is not someone who pops out because of mind numbing speed, or world altering strength… He just sees a gap, usually quite a big one, and hits it as hard as possible, getting into the secondary at full speed. That is what he really dominates with, his vision. Being a great athlete is not the key to being a productive NFL running back, look at Darren McFadden. Having patience and vision, knowing when to hit a gap and that it should be hit with confidence. A guy like Chris Johnson could outrun almost anyone in the NFL, but it doesn’t matter as he dances behind the line of scrimmage and gets taken down for a loss. Players like Alfred Morris and Arian Foster, while not being top-notch athletes, are able to succeed with vision behind very strong offensive lines. No other back on the Denver roster has the same level of vision that Ball has. His vision, a strong Denver line and the fact that he will almost never see an 8 man box means that he will have plenty of room to run around and maintain balance in the Denver offense. Besides vision, Ball is a tough runner who keeps his legs moving; He is not overly strong like Marshawn Lynch, but his motor is high and he will break tackles out of pure effort. He is agile enough to make some miss in the hole, but his game is not predicated on that. He has no issue running into traffic and plays a lot bigger than he is. That blue-collar mentality that he brings to playing running back, only wants to move forward, opposed to Diva Backs who look for the homerun, that hard working mentality is so important to a back and to the offense he resides in.
What makes Ball even more valuable in Denver is what he brings to the passing game: He is a solid receiver with soft hands and the ability to turn up field and use his running style to pick up yards after the catch. Even more important, he is a great pass protector when left in the pocket with the Quarterback. He is aggressive and will meet blitzers in the hole or cut block a pass rusher, something Peyton Manning and Denver fans will love.
If put in a starting position, there is now doubt that Montee Ball can produce week to week. While he may not be the game changing back as Adrian Peterson, CJ Spiller or Lesean McCoy, Ball will be consistent and keep defensives honest. His skillset best fits what Denver wants to do on offense and his productivity will key a Broncos’ Super Bowl Run.