In the wake of Willis McGahee’s release by the Denver Broncos, there was some question about the reason. Initially, some thought that it was McGahee’s reluctance to attend the voluntary workout that contributed to the decision. However, the Colorado Springs Gazette has cleared this up:
“He’s not healthy. I have it on good authority that’s what the Broncos believe. It’s why McGahee was afforded only limited carries in the mandatory minicamp. It’s the No. 1 reason he’s on the job market for a new gig….I believe John Fox when he says McGahee’s decision to play hooky from their voluntary OTAs was not the motivation behind cutting the running back from the team in June.”
Nevertheless, McGahee was a strong RB, managing four 1000+ yard seasons thus far in his career, and leaves a hole in the Broncos offense coming into the 2013 season. To fill this hole, the Broncos currently have seven RB;s, but there are really only three that are truly competing for the starting spot: Knowshon Moreno, Ronnie Hillman, and Montee Ball.
Starting with the (relatively) old guy, Moreno is going into his fifth season in the NFL, all with the Broncos. Moreno got the starting job as a rookie back in 2009 and was just short of 1000 yards, but since then has not come close. Starting during the 2011 season, Moreno was splitting time with McGahee, however, and then tore his ACL, which ultimately resulted in his losing the starting job to McGahee. Last season he posted just 3.8 yards per carry on 138 carries.
Next is Hillman who was a rookie last season with the Broncos and was the youngest player in the league. Hillman managed 3.9 yards per carry, but had fewer carries than even Moreno at just 85. Some contributing factors that plagued Hillman’s season were a pulled hamstring during camp as well as weight loss during the season (magnified by his already small stature). This season Hillman is doing everything he can to get that starting slot with McGahee gone, including gaining fifteen pounds in an effort to better be able to deal with blitzers and linebackers.
Finally, there is Montee Ball, star running back out of Wisconsin and 58th overall pick in the 2013 draft. An incredibly dynamic RB in the NCAA managing near two-thousand yards his junior year on 307 carries (6.3 yards per carry) and 1830 yards his senior year on 356 carries (5.3 yards per carry). Additionally, he has another 15 pounds on Hillman even after Ronnie put on that extra muscle. Ball was also a decent receiver in college which plays to the advantage of Peyton Manning as well.
So, realistically, will Moreno or Hillman be the starter? No, but regardless of who starts, I anticipate that both Moreno and Hillman will not only remain on the roster, but also make contributions of their own in the backfield during the season. All three backs compliment each other and make for a dangerous RB corp alongside Peyton Manning’s passing attack and WR’s.