Back in March, ex-Denver Broncos’ running back Knowshon Moreno left the frigid air of the Rocky Mountains for the opportunity to spend this season in sunny South Beach, and believe me, he’s not crying about it. His one-year deal didn’t take over the media the way another famous athlete did when he left a championship runner-up so he could play in Miami, but it did make his former backup with the Broncos a hot commodity in fantasy football drafts.
Despite gaining just 559 yards on 120 carries in 2013, Montee Ball was the 10th overall player taken in this year’s drafts (according to ADP). The volume wasn’t there for the rookie out of Wisconsin (Moreno excelled as Peyton Manning‘s go-to back), but you could feel the electricity with Ball. He had some early-season fumble issues in goal line situations (two in his first three games), but his 4.7 yards per carry was definitely something he could build on. Manning and the Broncos broke nearly every offensive record last year, and that’s a big reason why the second-year pro became such a popular draft pick — but Ball’s season is going down the drain faster than a goldfish with an irresponsible four-year-old for a parent.
Not only had Ball been downright awful in his first three games (165 yards, 3.37 YPC), but he left Sunday’s contest vs. the Cardinals with a groin strain. News broke that the injury was “a significant one”, but that was later changed to a “two-week timetable”. Based on what I’ve seen from injuries like this before, as well as his current conditioning (he missed nearly all of training camp after an emergency appendectomy), this has the makings of a much longer absence than what the Broncos are letting on.
So what do you do if you’re a Ball owner?
The first thing would be to add either Ronnie Hillman or C.J. Anderson. Even Juwan Thompson is worth a look in much deeper leagues. In relief of Ball on Sunday, Hillman had 15 carries for 64 yards, and Thompson, an undrafted rookie from Duke, ran the ball three times for 15 yards and a score. Anderson was inactive for the game, but only because he doesn’t play on special teams, so you shouldn’t necessarily use that as a gauge of who will be on the receiving end of the bulk of the carries. Hillman should be given first crack to lead the rushing attack, but Anderson might be the better overall back in the long term. While Hillman is still just 23 years old, he’s looked rather unimpressive when given opportunities in the past, so aside from having more experience than the other two, there isn’t much that stands out. Hillman is the top add here due to his position on the depth chart, but if he’s not available, I’d definitely make a claim for Anderson. Thompson is a guy you may be able to grab once the waiver period has passed. It can’t hurt to stash him on your roster if you have a backup tight end you can drop. John Fox isn’t Mike Shanahan, but Denver has a serious history of making stars out of rookie running backs.
Be aware that the above statement applies almost exclusively to Ball owners. If you are just looking for running backs in general, Week 5 breakout backs like Branden Oliver, Andre Williams, and Storm Johnson would be higher on my free agent priority list.
For Ball owners, though, after you’ve grabbed one of those Broncos’ backs, you now have to decide where that puts Ball in terms of rosterability. Since the Broncos already had their bye, you won’t get any free weeks to see how things sort out. You obviously can’t drop him now, and trading him would net you close to nothing. In nearly all cases, you’re gonna have to wait. More news is sure to come out by Thursday and we will almost definitely hear an update in terms of the next step in his recovery by Wednesday of next week. He’ll be out a minimum of two games — that is something you should count on — and it will probably be more than that, too. But don’t get all drop happy or start shipping off players in a moment of desperation. Many owners are already in freakout mode. I see the questions flying around Twitter, “I’m 2-3 and just lost X player to injury, should I trade Y for Z?” The 1-4 owners have far more reason to push the panic button, but if you’re 2-3 or better, remember, we’re barely halfway into Week 6. There’s still a long way to go, and making an impulsive trade probably won’t help things at all. In a best-case scenario, let’s say Ball misses three weeks and is back on the field in Week 9, his first two matchups will be vs. the Patriots and Raiders — owners of the eighth and 11th-worst defenses against RBs in fantasy football.
Montee Ball’s owners will be put to a decision in the next couple of weeks. Will they stay the course with their first-round draft pick or will they flee like a dog smelling his own fart? One way or another, how they choose to respond to this crisis could help shape their team’s outcome for the rest of their season.
Follow SethDaSportsMan on Twitter at, you guessed it, @SethDaSportsMan, for quality fantasy sports advice and the deepest veneration of all things Nicolas Cage