Montee Ball: 2014 Fantasy Football Profile and Projection

If someone had told you 12 months ago that the Broncos would have a top-four scorer among fantasy running backs last year and that his name wasn't Montee, you would have scoffed at such a laughable statement.

After all, the Broncos used an early pick (a second-rounder) to draft Montee Ball out of Wisconsin and there was plenty of optimism this time last year for his perceived opportunity in the then-upcoming season.

As we look back at the 2013 season, however, we know that it was Knowshon Moreno, not Ball, that finished fourth at the position in fantasy scoring. By posting career-best numbers, he finished ahead of guys like Marshawn Lynch, Eddie Lacy and Adrian Peterson in fantasy points.

While Moreno was a fantasy stud and Ball got off to a slow(ish) start in 2013, he finished the season strong with the opportunity to build upon that momentum. Going into the 2014 season, Ball has the featured gig all to himself while the rest of the team's backs fight for the right to back him up.

Carrying the ball 68 times over his first 10 games, Ball gained 222 yards for an average of 3.26 yards per carry. As a comparison, Ball carried the ball 52 times for 337 yards — or an average of 6.48 yards per carry — in his final six regular-season games.

Not only did the Broncos allow Moreno to leave via free agency, but they did not draft a running back or sign a free-agent running back of note. Instead they signed Colorado State's Kapri Bibbs as an undrafted rookie free agent to compete with C.J. Anderson, perhaps the most likely to back up Ball, and Ronnie Hillman.

One of the most prolific rushers in college football history (5,140 yards and 77 touchdowns), Ball has reportedly made some significant improvements as a receiver out of the backfield. Fifteen of Ball's 20 receptions last season came during that final six-game stretch.

"He has consistently shown he’s ready to participate in long-yardage situations as a receiver, even having snared an over-the-shoulder scoring grab or two in red zone drills," ESPN's Jeff Legwold wrote recently. "And while the jury remains out in pass protection until they put the full gear on, he’s shown better footwork in the workouts and has positioned himself where he needs to be."

Meanwhile, the team's offensive coordinator Adam Gase has recently talked about Ball making as big of an improvement as anyone else on offense.

"He made big strides," Gase said of Ball (via Troy Renck of the Denver Post). "He'd probably be the one guy who made the most improvement. And to see him make the next jump in his second year, we're looking forward to that. We do have a lot of confidence in him. He brings that full package of a good running back. Running the ball, catching the ball out of the backfield, and protecting."

If there is anything that will help keep him on the field for three downs, it's his continued improvement in pass protection. Per PFF, Ball graded as the 26th-best pass-blocking running back last year out of the 55 running backs that played in at least one-quarter of their team's offensive snaps. In fact, Ball graded out higher than Moreno (30th).

The high-octane passing offense led by Peyton Manning with talented pass-catchers such as Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas will certainly help to open up running lanes for Ball and the team's backs. That said, Manning's ability to read defenses and adjust before the snap is equally as important to the offense being able to rev on all cylinders.

With Moreno producing elite fantasy numbers last year despite his pedestrian talent, the ceiling for Ball is at least as high as what Moreno did last season. Much of that expected success is already priced into Ball's late first-round (1.12) ADP (via Fantasy Football Calculator), which is unfortunate for fantasy owners hoping for a draft-day bargain.

2014 Fantasy Strength of Schedule

Based on the cumulative fantasy points allowed last year of their opponents this year, the Broncos running backs have the second-most difficult fantasy schedule. Only the Falcons have a more difficult SOS.

In the fantasy postseason (Weeks 14 to 16), their schedule gets progressively more difficult each week: Bills (128.9 rush yards per game allowed), Chargers (107.8) and Bengals (96.5).

- Resources: Fantasy Football RB Strength of Schedule | 2014 Broncos Team Schedule

2014 Stat Projection: (Rushing) 246 carries, 1,156 yards, 8 TDs; (Receiving) 46 receptions, 391 yards, 1 TD

- More: 2014 Fantasy Football Profiles | 2014 Fantasy Football Projections

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