Ask five fantasy football experts where you should draft Denver running back Montee Ball and you might get seven different answers. Owners appear just as divided, with Ball going as high as a top three pick overall to an early third-round selection based on the 1,218 mock drafts between Aug. 17 and Aug. 18.
Part of the uncertainty is the Broncos’ starting running back has missed the previous two weeks after undergoing an appendectomy, and it is unclear wether he will get clearance to play in Denver’s third preseason game against Houston.
“I am hoping so,” Ball said. “I’m tired of sitting around.”
Ball had a decent season last year, running the ball 120 times for 554 yards and four touchdowns. But is he worth the gamble as a first-round selection? If not, what’s a fair landing spot?
In John Fox’s offense last season the leading rusher got half of all carries, and if Ball can duplicate his 4.66 yards per rush, he should end up with 240 carries and a 1,100 yard season. Denver has a 2.6 percent touchdown rate in the Peyton Manning era, so we can pencil Ball in for six rushing touchdowns.
Because Manning is the quarterback, Ball is likely to get points from the passing game, but his pass blocking could limit his time on the field. Among the 54 running backs playing at least 25 percent of their team’s passing plays, Ball ranked 41st in PFF’s Pass Blocking Efficiency metric. Knowshon Moreno, now in Miami, was 24th. And Moreno was a much better route runner than Ball.
One optimistic, but plausible, outcome is Ball has the rushing season outlined above and adds 300 yards receiving with two touchdowns for a total of 194 points, good enough for the top ten last season and in line with his selection as the eighth running back overall.
A more likely scenario is he is unable to adequately protect Manning and sees his receiving points reduced by 26 points (200 yards and a touchdown), which would drop him to the 15th most valuable back, which is worthy of a third-round selection in mock drafts.
Recommendation: In a 12-team, non-PPR league, pass on Ball unless he is available late second round or early in the third (17 percent chance this happens as of Aug. 19). In PPR leagues, I would avoid him altogether since Denver has too many reliable passing options to go to if Ball falters in any way.
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