Breaking Down the Roster - Part Two: Running Back

Knowshon_moreno_vs

Opening Statement

Last week, I began this series on the Broncos' roster with some analysis on the quarterbacks. While I did not include anything on Tim Tebow, who had too small of a sample size of 12 quarters, I wrote that Kyle Orton gave Denver the best chance to win as of right now. Although that is likely to change once training camp begins and also depends on what trade value Orton has once the CBA is renewed, all we can go off of is past performances.

Today, I will do the same with Denver's running backs. Part of the struggles at quarterback resulted from the lack of production and health at this position. So I will begin by stating that each of these positional previews is simply based off of what we know right now. Since there is no such numerical value for "potential", I will only use past performances.

As usual, I not only use the base statistics provided by NFL.com, but also my own innovative statistics on my website at www.queuestats.com for further analysis on players and teams.

The Stats

Denver currently has 7 running backs on its roster - Lance Ball, Correll Buckhalter, Jeremiah Johnson, Mike McLaughlin, Brandon Minor, Knowshon Moreno, and Lendale White. Of these seven, Ball, Buckhalter, Moreno and White are the ones with the most expectations to contribute during the year. I will address free agency at the end since this is a position that Denver will most likely take a good look across the league to add depth.

This chart indicates the base statistics for a running back along with a rating I created to measure production. Last year, Arian Foster led the league with a rating of 93. You can check out the full ratings for eligible running backs for the 2010 regular season here.

 

Player Car Yds YPC Tds 100+ Gms Rec Tds Car Rat
Lance Ball 54 241 4.5 0 0 4 0 N/A
Correll Buckhalter 655 2944 4.5 21 6 144 6 49.2
Knowshon Moreno 429 1726 4 12 2
65 5 63
Lendale White 628 2349 3.7 24 7 42 0 53

 

  1. Although Ball has ran well on some of the few carries he has been given, its really too difficult to tell what kind of impact he can have. He was last in the depth chart for running backs going into the 2010 season before injuries hit White and then Moreno. His familiarity with Denver is important but as far as production goes, there is too little to form a decision. It will simply come down to what the coaches see in training camp and the health of the rest of the running backs.
  2. Buckhalter is a seasoned situational veteran that can contribute in both the running and passing game. With a low rating of 49.2, it is clear he can not be counted on to carry a huge part of the load, especially since health has been a factor his entire career. However, he has had several games where he has played very well. He is effective when catching passes and has a good 4.5 YPC average. Although age and health are factors, he should remain on the depth chart for experience until some of the younger running backs begin to show signs of maturation in training camp.
  3. Moreno has played in most of his games in his two-year career, but has left several of them with limited playing time. Health will definitely be a concern going into the 2011 season. His production has not been bad. Although 63 is still below average, he has shown great versatility with 5 receiving touchdowns to go with his 12 rushing touchdowns. To get a deeper perspective on if he is progressing, I looked at his 2010 season before and after the bye. Before the bye, he played in 5 games with 252 yards (50.4 YPG) on 76 carries (3.3 YPC) and 4 total touchdowns. Unfortunately, he was not much of a factor, whether due to health or production. Obviously, the defense or offensive line did him no favors. While the defense remained awful, the offense line was restored, even if they were not 100 percent healthy. After the bye, he played in 8 games with 527 yards (65.9 YPC) on 106 carries (5.0 YPC) and 6 total touchdowns. Even with a couple games lost to injury and poor play, he finished with a pace over 1000 rushing yards and over 10 total touchdowns for a season. On the year he finished with 1151 total yards (88.5 PG) of offense. Is it time for Moreno to finally put together games against the rest of the league like he did against Kansas City? Yes. Is it time for him to actually be in the lineup? Yes. On the other had, has he shown he can be the featured back? Yes. His production significantly improved following the bye and all he needs now is consistency. Unless a big name free-agent running back comes to Denver, he should remain the starter and receive most of the carries.
  4. Lendale White was a scoring machine at USC and is a big running back at 6-1, 235 pounds. I know I thought he would be a great short-yardage and goal-line running back who could also carry the load when Moreno needed a break. White is not much of a receiving threat, but is a solid runner and recorded 7 games with 100+ yards rushing in his 4-year stint with Tennessee. However, with a rating of 53, he is still a situational running back that adds depth to this team. Although he was hampered with injuries for most of 2010, expect him to be used by Fox as the primary back-up running back. Of all the running backs on the roster behind Moreno, he has the most to offer and has only played four seasons of football and has plenty left.

Finally, the past few years have shown Denver can't have too much depth at running back. With Denver's running game possibly needing some added firepower, here is a chart of potential running backs that could add depth and actually have a decent possibility of coming to Denver.

 

Player Car Yds YPC Tds 100+ Gms Rec Tds Car Rat
DeAngelo Williams 841 4211 5 31 15 118 4 71.1
Ronnie Brown 1128 4815 4.3 36 15 184 2 55.4
Tim Hightower 439 1733 3.9 23 4 118 0 54.3
Jerious Norwood 375 1995 5.3 7 2 96 3 49.3
Darren Sproles 249 1154 4.6 6 2 146 11 47.3
Derrick Ward 506 2474 4.9 10 3 96 3 45.7
Mike Bell 395 1475 3.7 14 2 33 0 45.1

 

Of the running backs above, DeAngelo Williams career has been the best by far. Unfortunately, the price tag may be too great, even for his former head coach John Fox. With Ronnie Brown finally playing a full season, health may not be too much of a concern. He has been productive and has shown he can shoulder most of the load with over 15 games over 100 yards rushing. Tim Hightower is the only running back that has played significant time as the featured back, and he has played well at times. Although he is not an explosive back, he can definitely play a significant role.

After them, each running back has not shown too much as far as consistency or the ability to be a featured back. However, Darren Sproles has the most upside because of his unique athleticism in the passing game and return game.

 

In Summary

Denver has two solid running backs with Knowshon Moreno and Lendale White who unfortunately have health issues. Buckhalter adds experience and some quality production while Lance Ball adds youth. However, Denver has little else after these four.

Expect FEX to pursue DeAngelo Williams unless the price is too steep. If that fails, Denver's next best option appears to be Tim Hightower or Ronnie Brown. Hightower hasn't had great production, but Brown has had health issues. If Denver feels they have a solid featured back in Moreno and a solid back-up in White, then look for them to get someone like Sproles, who can add another dimension in the receiving game as well as take over the role for returning and let Royal line up in the slot.

These are definitely not all of the possibilities, but they are some to think about. Much of this will change once training camp begins.

Although I did not include college running backs because they have no experience in the NFL, Denver could definitely go that route as well. I haven't watched much college football and offenses in college do not necessarily translate to the NFL. If you have any suggestions for college free-agents, feel free to add them in the comment section.

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