You won't pick up a single NFL season preview this year without reading about the man of the hour on the Denver Broncos' offense, Montee Ball. However, as the interlude was titled on Wu-Tang's Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), "Can it be all so simple." How soon we forget 2013 and Ronnie Hillman, who was named Denver's starting running back going into training camp and remained the starter until there was just no excuse to keep him there (just prior to the fourth week of the preseason).
No one knows anything other than the fact that the Broncos are stingy in letting guys go that they have drafted, even to the point where it can be borderline self-destructive. Hillman is of course the most experienced running back currently on the roster, despite not being active for seven regular season games last season.
Then there is the people's champ from last preseason, C.J. Anderson. Anderson played in one preseason game, had 15 rushes for 69 yards and an average of 4.6 yards against the San Francisco 49ers. He would go on to have 38 yards on seven rushes for the season in five active games.
The knock on Ball amongst people who have neither competed nor coached at either the collegiate nor NFL level is his blocking. Similarly this was the knock on Hillman going into the preseason last year, but as most fans will remember fumbles were the Achilles heel of the two youngsters. That can be fixed or coached, apparently.
The Broncos made little effort to sign a veteran free agent, neither did they make a known effort to trade for a veteran at the running back position. That kind of says the most, because there was some talent to be had at running back this offseason.Where Denver did focus at running back was just following the draft in the college free agent department.
Kapri Bibbs (#5 for Colorado State, above) a local Colorado legend after burning three 200+ rushing yards games last season (one for 201 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns, one for 312 yards rushing and 4 touchdowns and one for 291 yards and six touchdowns) on his way to 1,741 yards on 281 carries and 31 touchdowns on the season. A junior college transfer to CSU, Bibbs left after his Junior year, but not before becoming only the third NCAA running back in history to run for 30 touchdowns in a season (joining Barry Sanders and Montee Ball).
Duke's Juwan Thompson, Oklahoma's Brennan Clay will join Bibbs and future prospect contract award winner Jerodis Williams in their quest to make the final squad.
How many will make the team?
The Broncos have carried five running backs on their 53-man under the John Fox regime, and this year should be no different. This is a good year to be a college free agent running back for Denver as two will likely make the team.
This is a very short list for roster locks at this position and it seems like Ball may be the only surefire guarantee. The absence of Knowshon Moreno isn't something that even the most Sophomoric of analysts would point out and that is largely due to the fact that Ball is practically an equal if not better back, even last season.
Forget that Hillman had a minor controversy just before the Super Bowl or that he was inactive for more than a handful of games, he just flat out has not been on the level of a starting running back in the NFL. As most fans are aware at this point Hillman is only 22-years old and is now a three year NFL vet, so he has years of football ahead of him. His cap hit this season would be $345,416 in dead money if he were cut and would cost only $807,708 against the cap if he remains on the roster.
Anderson went down in Week One of the preseason last year, but Denver kept a spot for him on the 53 man roster when they could have easily placed him on injured reserve or stashed him away on the practice squad. Anderson returned healthy early in the season, but was given most of his rushing opportunities during garbage time during the Super Bowl, unfortunately.
We have learned one thing about John Elway's philosophy on running backs, he wants them young and with as much tread as possible on their tires. Bibbs fits this mold perfectly, if he can manage even 50% of his Junior year season in the NFL, he will quickly become a household name.
Thompson may or may not have been a direct recruit of Peyton Manning, he came out of Manning's former quarterback coach David Cutcliffe's Duke running back by committee system. At this point in my opinion running backs on the Broncos roster need only be not the worst or second worst back in the stable and they will likely have a place on the roster.
Clay spent time at running back, wide receiver, gunner and kick returner in college. This alone could carve out a spot for him on the roster as special teams is just as important as the offense or defense to this team. Clay is an astute receiver out of the backfield, but does not have the bulk of Thompson. Also, here is a video that he probably wishes was not on the internet.
Williams is another special teams running back hybrid, he was picked up by the Minnesota Vikings following the 2013 draft. Williams is a product of Furman where he was more or less a stud, but has yet to show much outside of the Viking's 2013 training camp.
Who's playing fullback?
The fullback position has all but disappeared for the Denver Broncos. When needed, the Broncos have lined up the likes of TE Virgil Green and even DT Mitch Unrein at the position. We don't expect the Broncos will keep a full-time fullback on the roster in 2014.
"Any time an offense is balanced, it means they’re running the ball pretty well and that’s a focus for us this year." - Louis Vasquez, Broncos guard, on Denver's efforts to become a more balanced offense this season.