Montee Ball has simply been getting it done his entire life. There hasn't been a team in Ball's football career that he has not been the go-to guy for. Sure, he has taken his turn sitting as a freshman in college, and as a rookie in the NFL; but he has always turned that into something special moving forward.
At his Missouri high school Wentzville Timberland High School, Ball holds school and district records for carries (995), rushing yards (8222), touchdowns (107), and yards per carry (8.26). Ball's sophomore, junior, and senior years in high school were spent as team captain, where he also won team MVP honors in each of the three years. During those three seasons, Ball also was awarded with the distinction of first-team all-district, all-conference honors; in his junior and senior years he earned all-state and all-metro honors as well.
After being rated the fourth best player in all of Missouri, Ball took his talents to Wisconsin to play college ball, where he played four seasons for the Badgers. The McPherson, Kansas-born running back played in 9 of 13 games in his rookie season, finishing second on the team in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. Ball's second season was when he established a name for himself. After running in the shadow of John Clay during his freshman season, he was able to break out as a big part of Wisconsin's offense in 2010, with Clay battling multiple injuries. Ball was third on the team in rushing yards, first in rushing touchdowns (18). Ball's performance earned him honors as a consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten.
Ball became an absolutely dominant force in his junior season with Wisconsin, showing the true potential that he had not been given the chance to showcase in his first two college seasons. In 2011, Ball showed off a true nose for the end zone, his 39 touchdowns (33 rushing, 6 receiving were enough to tie Barry Sanders' record for most touchdowns in a single FBS season. In addition to that record, Ball also broke the Big-Ten record for most single-season touchdowns, became just the fifth player in FBS history with over 30 touchdowns, and broke Wisconsin's scoring record for most points in a single season. Ball logged nearly 2000 yards on the ground, and over 300 receiving; his play earned him selection to First Team All-Big Ten, as well as the Big Ten's offensive player and running back of the year awards. The junior back was voted a First Team All-American and ranked fourth in Heisman voting, and was one of five finalists for the prestigious award with Andrew Luck (IND), Robert Griffin III (WAS), Tyrann Mathieu (ARI) , and Trent Richardson (IND). Although he could have likely been drafted high in the 2011 draft, Ball chose to return to Wisconsin for his senior season.
In 2012, Ball rushed for 1830 yards and 22 touchdowns, leaving him with college career totals of 77 rushing touchdowns, 6 receiving touchdowns, 5,140 rushing yards, and 598 receiving yards. Ball's 79th total touchdown, in a game against Penn State, broke the NCAA FBS record for most touchdowns scored in an NCAA career. In addition to this Ball broke Wisconsin and Big-Ten records for most career touchdowns and was named the nation's best running back, earning him the Doak Walker Award.
Flash forward a couple years to yesterday, when it was announced that Broncos free agent running back, Knowshon Moreno had been signed by the Miami Dolphins. People began to worry; began to doubt the Broncos' running attack with Ball at the forefront. Yes, there are recognizable depth issues within the backfield, as CJ Anderson and Ronnie Hillman are both question marks at the moment; however, here are three big reasons why Broncos fans do not need to worry about Montee Ball carrying the load.
1. Ball showed talent in minimal 2013 role
We have not seen Montee Ball get a ton of snaps in the NFL yet, due to the fact that Knowshon Moreno was the feature back in the Broncos' offense last year. However, what we did see from Ball was no less than impressive. There were fumble issues early in the season, which saw Ball benched for a short period of time, but he bounced right back and made it back into the lineup, where he cemented himself for the rest of the year. As Patrick Smyth, Broncos PR manager tweeted yesterday, not a single player in the NFL other than Jamaal Charles had more yards per carry than Ball. Yes, that Jamaal Charles, the one who some thought was worthy of consideration for league MVP. Ball put up 655 yards on just 148 attempts in 2013, including 4 touchdowns. Ball's best game came in Week 13 against the Chiefs, where he showed Denver fans his big-play potential, racking up 117 yards on just 9 carries. The young back gave us a mere peek at the type of player he could turn into in the NFL, and he shows all the signs of being able to translate that into a full season of work in 2014.
Over the final 6 wks of 2013, only Jamaal Charles (6.6) averaged more yards per carry than Broncos RB Montee Ball (6.5, 52-337).— Patrick Smyth (@psmyth12) March 27, 2014
In addition to this, Ball showed some talent in areas that fans might not be as aware of.
Elusive rating: Ball's elusive rating, which gives a number to the back's ability to run once he is past the point of being helped by his blockers, was 43.7. This was right behind Giovani Bernard (44.0) and right ahead of Jamaal Charles (42.4), two running backs who are known for being elusive in the open field.
Breakaway percentage: Ball earned 25.0% of his yards on gains of 15 yards+; this was the exact same percentage that Knowshon Moreno had, which tells you that we're getting a similar runner in Ball, who will bang it out between the tackles, but can turn the afterburners on when he gets the chance.
2. The pass blocking issue is over-rated
Some fans claim to be worried about Montee Ball's ability to block defenders who are rushing Peyton Manning. There are two reasons that this issue is completely overblown. For one, Montee Ball was nearly identical in his pass blocking statistics as Moreno, and he got better and better as the year went along; Ball's overall pass blocking efficiency was 90.9, while Moreno's was 93.1. Ball was in pass blocking situations on 25% of his snaps in 2013, where he gained valuable experience. With another year under his belt in Peyton Manning's complicated offense, Ball will be an even better pass-blocking asset. Secondly, pass blocking in Manning's offense is not nearly as important, especially from a running back, as it is in other offenses. Manning gets the ball out quicker than any other quarterback in the league and he is the best quarterback in the league at identifying and marking out blitzing defenders. With Manning at the helm, it's tough to worry about any running back's blocking ability because it is rare that they will have to hold their blocks for a great deal of time. Ball has shown that he can pass block if needed, better than most people give him credit for, and the fact is that in the Broncos offense his pass blocking will not be the focal point of his play.
3. He's been doing it his entire life, and he's ready
As was mentioned above, Montee Ball has always been the go-to guy. He carried his high school team, averaging over 300 carries per season in his final three years of high school football. In college, Ball racked up nearly 1000 carries over four years, finishing in Wisconsin with 924 carries. And despite all of this pressure and the heavy workload, Ball has not crumbled. Ball averaged a massive 8.2 yards per carry in his last three years of high school, 5.6 yards per carry in college, and as mentioned earlier, 6.5 per carry in the last six weeks of the 2013 season. Ball has been a workhorse in the past, and he can do it again. The Broncos are looking to balance their attack in 2013 with more running plays, something that John Fox spoke to at the league meetings; Ball is the perfect candidate to step into this position and thrive. His nose for the end zone was clear last year, finding the way to get the tough yards in close to the goal line, and Ball's college track record speaks for itself; the guy can score.
Fear not, Broncos fans. Losing Knowshon Moreno lowers overall depth at the running back position, and we're losing a player with grit and heart, who was a fan-favorite; however, Montee Ball is about to become a fan-favorite in Denver with his hard-nosed running style and his ability to put the ball in the endzone. The running back position is in good hands, we're ready to get the Ball rolling in Denver, and so is he.
Lets go to work.— Montee Ball (@ballrb28) March 27, 2014