The Denver Broncos in 2011 had the number one running game in the NFL. Thanks to the strong running play of free-agent signing Willis McGahee who ended up becoming a Pro Bowl back, the Broncos were able to win games by safe conservative executed football.
Peyton Manning's best years statistically in his career came when he threw the least amount of passes in his career. The best season Manning had was 2004 where he threw 497 passes, his second lowest amount of passes in a season. That equals out to 31 passes a game.
I do not expect the Broncos to have the number one running game again in the NFL for multiple reasons, but I still expect it to be top 15 not because it will be worse, but because it will not be relied on as much. In 2004, the Colts ran the ball 46% of the time and had the number fifteen ranked rushing game in the NFL. You start to hear today that running backs are not as large as a commodity as they use to be, and to some point, it is true, but also, it is hard to win without being able to run the ball.
It is hard to do Colts and Broncos comparisons because it is two different teams but we can still do Peyton Manning studies because it still is him. We have seen several QBs put up good numbers at Manning's age.
If what I said above doesn't show how important a running game is to Peyton Manning, this will show the other side of it. In 2010, Peyton Manning threw a career high in passes of 679! That is an average of 42 per game, about 11 more than his 2004. The difference in yards? 143yards was the difference in 182 extra passes. The Colts also were the 29th ranked run game. In 2010, Manning also threw an interception 2.5% of passes compared to 2004s 2.0%. 2004s yards per completion was 13.4 compared to 2010s 10.4. Huge difference considering Manning completed an extra 1.3% of his passes in 2004.
So who will be the Broncos running backs to guide Peyton Manning back to his top form?
WILLIS MCGAHEE - Without a doubt, McGahee goes into camp as the starting running back. He came off a 1200 yard season looking younger than the 29 years old he was. McGahee was explosive and was able to take a large work load after Knowshon Moreno went down to injury. I worry about McGahee being able to take the load that he had last year. He had 249 attempts last season and I could see that coming down this season to around 200 assuming he plays every game.
RONNIE HILLMAN - The Broncos did not draft Hillman to not use him. As the season goes on, I think Hillman will start to take at least half the carries depending on if McGahee wears down. Hillman has just as good of an ability to catch the ball as Moreno so he could be the third down check down target for Manning or perfect for screens. He could create some big plays for the team and I am excited to see him.
ON THE BUBBLE
KNOWSHON MORENO - I have been a huge supporter of Moreno since he was drafted in 2009 but through 3 seasons, Knowshon Moreno has always had injury troubles. In the first two training camps, he got injured early and last year he finally made it through and was looking to be the real deal, he had a season ending knee injury. Then in the off-season, Moreno was arrested for DUI. Moreno does have a nose for the end zone so it may be worth keeping him around but I do not see him as first down running back anymore. He is the best blocking back we have and receiving back so time will tell. The way I see it, if Moreno makes the team, he will easily be running back two but he is on a thin leash due to the legal problems. I have heard though that his rehab is coming along really good.
LANCE BALL - Lance Ball has been with the Broncos for two seasons now and last year had his first impact year. He played in all 16 games being the second running back for the second half of the season. He had times where he looked explosive but he is definitely replaceable. His only high number game was against Kansas City where he got 30 rushes for 96 yards. I think one Ball or Moreno will make the team.
PRACTICE SQUAD POSSIBILITY
MARIO FANNIN - Mario Fannin was an undrafted free agent signing who apparently looked pretty good in camp. He was fast and explosive before injuring his knee and being out for the year. I think if he can impress again, he will be on the practice squad roster and be the first one called up if someone goes down.
JEREMIAH JOHNSON - Jeremiah Johnson played a few games with the Broncos last season after the Moreno injury. He did not have a lot of work only getting 14 carries but had a few decent carries. At best, he would be on the practice squad but chances are he does not make it.
AUSTIN SYLVESTER - Sylvester could be practice squad bound because of the large amount of tight ends we have. If Sylvester was to make the team, it would be because he developed as a full back because of his large 245 pound figure.
XAVIER OMEN - Omen has been on several NFL squads in the past three years not getting much playing time only making one squad and only having 6 carries in his career. Do not know a lot about him and will compete for spot in final pre-season game probably.
I do not mind our group thanks to the Hillman pick. If we can go with a 50/50 offensive with five percent give or take either way, I like the looks of our offense. I do not think we have the group at either receiver or running back to play heavily on one side of the ball.
What do you think? Any surprises? Which running backs will make the roster? See anyone you like?