The Denver Broncos have a pretty good offense (outside of February). There’s your newsflash for the day. The interesting thing about this for fantasy football is that the team is moving from Knowshon Moreno to Montee Ball this offseason. We know that Denver Running Back has value because Denver Quarterback is a Hall of Famer. How do you value Ball and Moreno?
To get a sense of this, I took a look back through football history to find other situations where one of the top offensive teams replaced its running back permanently (as opposed to the starter getting hurt). Here’s every case since 1978 where a team that finished in the top 6 in scoring replaced a running back who finished in the top 12 in individual fantasy point scoring.
2006 Indianapolis Colts, replaced Edgerrin James with Joseph Addai
Peyton Manning’s been here before, as the Colts let long-time backfield mate James go to Arizona, and drafted Addai. Indianapolis went with more of a committee approach after Edge left, as Dominic Rhodes also got 187 carries. Addai still finished 11th in fantasy scoring, ahead of James despite over 100 fewer touches.
Addai: 226 rush, 1081 yards, 40 rec, 325 rec yards, 8 TDs (189 fantasy points)
James: 337 rush, 1159 yards, 38 rec, 217 rec yards, 6 TDs (174 fantasy points)
1995 San Francisco 49ers, replaced Ricky Watters with Derek Loville
In 1995, Ricky Watters went to Philadelphia, “for who, for what”? San Francisco replaced him with journeyman Derek Loville. While Watters was the far greater talent, Loville matched him the next year in numbers playing in the 49ers offense.
Loville: 218 rush, 723 yards, 87 rec, 662 rec yards, 13 TDs (219 fantasy points)
James: 337 rush, 1273 yards, 62 rec, 434 rec yards, 12 TDs (243 fantasy points
2001 Minnesota Vikings, replaced Robert Smith with Michael Bennett
Robert Smith walked away from football after the 2000 season, and Minnesota went with speedster Michael Bennett out of Wisconsin as his replacement. Bennett was not very good at the running thing, and battled injuries during his rookie year.
Bennett: 172 rush, 682 yards, 2 rec, 29 rec yards, 3 TDs (108 fantasy points)
1990 Los Angeles Rams, replaced Greg Bell with Cleveland Gary
Greg Bell experienced a career revival in Los Angeles, and the Rams had reached the conference championship game the year before, the team went younger at running back. Bell faded away as a backup across town with the Raiders, while Gary still put up big numbers despite the Rams’ falling back in the win column.
Gary: 204 rush, 808 yards, 30 rec, 150 rec yards, 15 TDs (185 fantasy points)
Bell: 47 rush, 164 yards, 1 rec, 7 rec yards, 1 TD (23 fantasy points)
1985 San Diego Chargers, replaced Earnest Jackson with committee including Lionel James
Earnest Jackson is probably the closest comp to Knowshon Moreno age-wise and skill-wise. He moved on to Philadelphia, while Lionel “Little Train” James had a monster year playing with Dan Fouts.
James: 105 rush, 516 yards, 80 rec, 1027 rec yards, 8 TDs (202 fantasy points)
Jackson: 282 rush, 1028 yards, 10 rec, 126 rec yards, 6 TDs (151 fantasy points)
2001 San Francisco 49ers, replaced Charlie Garner with Garrison Hearst
Hearst had torn up his knee two years earlier and had not played football. Garner had emerged as his replacement, but moved across the Bay to Oakland for the 2001 season. Hearst put together a miraculous season considering where he had to come from.
Hearst: 252 rush, 1206 yards, 41 rec, 347 rec yards, 5 TDs (185 fantasy points)
Garner: 211 rush, 839 yards, 72 rec, 578 rec yards, 3 TDs (159 fantasy points)
2006 Denver Broncos, replaced Mike Anderson with Tatum Bell
Mike Anderson put up big numbers with Mike Shanahan, five years apart, including at age 32 when he platooned with rookie Tatum Bell. The next year, Anderson moved to Baltimore, and Tatum Bell and Mike Bell were the backs in Denver. Tatum never really panned out or duplicated the success of earlier Denver backs.
Bell: 233 rush, 1025 yards, 24 rec, 115 rec yards, 2 TDs (126 fantasy points)
Anderson: 39 rush, 183 yards, 9 rec, 54 rec yards, 1 TD (29 fantasy points)
I don’t think it would be controversial to say that Montee Ball should be valued highly, and Knowshon Moreno should not. The other replacement backs weren’t exactly loaded with Hall of Famers, and they still performed pretty well as a group.
The previous year’s starter averaged 227 fantasy points. The replacement averaged 175 fantasy points. Yeah, that’s a drop off, but it is in line with what one running back would be expected to drop off on average the next season.
You are probably just as well just pretending that Montee Ball put up those “Knowshon Moreno” numbers last year as your starting point, and then projecting off that. Ball put up pretty good numbers as the backup last year and the issue is going to be just what percentage he gets, likely based on not just his running but his pass protection and growth as a receiver. If he gets over 75% of the touches, then he’s going to be a fantasy monster. If he gets two-thirds, he will still put up pretty good numbers and is worth a late first round pick.
The backs that moved on, meanwhile, were a mixed bag. Moreno is younger than some, but last year says very little about how he will do in a new situation. Better to keep an eye on the news out of Miami to assess how Lamar Miller and Knowshon Moreno will be used, and wipe out of your mind last year’s numbers in Denver.
Related: An Early Look at the Top 6 Backs