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Brad Evans

First Down: Moreno 'dinged,' Hillis' legend primed to grow

Brad Evans
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Attention current and future Broncos backs, the injury imp has established permanent residence in the Mile High City.

After a year in which seven different rushers were deployed due to an onslaught of physical ailments, Denver still can't avoid RB misfortune. Overshadowed somewhat by Kyle Orton's(notes) sterling three-pick performance, prized first round selection Knowshon Moreno(notes) limped off to the sideline Friday after being violently undercut by corner Marcus Hudson(notes). Diagnosed with a mild MCL sprain, fantasy's highest drafted rookie runner is expected to miss roughly two preseason contests. Now, Josh McDaniels can surely empathize with Lucifer Shanahan's backfield torment from a season ago.

Due to an extended holdout, the Georgia product entered last week No. 4 on the Broncos' initial depth chart. Though arguably the most talented back Denver has ever drafted, his previous limited practice time, unfamiliarity with the offense and current injury complications place him in a very disadvantageous position. But understand once he returns to full strength and is completely acclimated to McDaniels' system, he will be the unquestioned starter. His massive potential was evident against the Niners. Totaling 18 yards on just three carries, he showcased terrific explosion and fearlessness, bursting between the hashmarks for gains of 9, 5 and 4 yards (Highlights via NFL.com here).

Bottom line: on a team with overwhelming defensive needs, you don't spend a top 12 pick on a rusher with designs of implementing a 50-50 committee. Then again, the prepubescent did trade away Jay Cutler(notes).

From an ADP perspective, Moreno should hold steady around pick 50 overall. Inevitably, he'll develop into a top-flight RB2 in deeper formats, especially PPR, no later than midseason.

In the meantime, it's certainly possible McDaniels, who is destined to be nicknamed McDevil by the fantasy masses, may employ an unpredictable RB rotation to start the regular season, a philosophy he notoriously followed in New England. Of the numerous plowshares on Denver's roster someone from the three-headed mongoose of Correll Buckhalter(notes), LaMont Jordan(notes) or Peyton Hillis(notes) will likely be flex useful in deeper formats, at least initially. The Broncos' incredibly friendly September slate (at Cincinnati, Cleveland, at Oakland) practically guarantees it.

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For now, the Noise's money is on Hillis. The bulldozing fullback, who totaled 67 yards against the Niners' second stringers (4.9 ypc), has the brawn, hands and experience to again shock the virtual sports world. Remember, before shredding his hamstring Week 14 last season he averaged 96 total yards per game and splashed pay-dirt six times in five starts. Suffice to say, we were completely enchanted with his puissant package and fashionable sideburns. McDaniels too fell head over heels for the youngster in mini-camp. Here's what the coach professed back in June:

"We're going to use every skill he has. He does a lot of things well. He can run the ball as a single back or he can catch the ball out of the backfield. He can block in two-back sets or he can split out wide. He's got great hands and he's a very tough runner to bring down when you give him the ball. So he'll do a lot of different things for us...As we tell our players, they all create their own roles. And he's certainly done a good job of taking what we're giving him and doing it very well."

Unbelievably, Mr. Multitasker is going largely undrafted in 12-team leagues. Currently, he's 86 percent available in Y! formats. Though he may not start, Hillis definitely has the necessary tools to victimize AFC opponents out of the gate. Expect him to be one of the most heavily added rushers post-Week 1.

What are your expectations for Moreno this season? Of the three healthy Broncos backs, who tickles your fancy most? Which Mile High rusher will total the most TDs in '09? Discuss below.

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Images courtesy of US Presswire and AP

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