There's a strong debate regarding which rookie runner should be taken first in 2013 fantasy leagues, with Montee Ball and Le'Veon Bell the leading candidates among a group that could prove highly productive right away. Dalton Del Don prefers Ball, who's in an ideal situation in Denver, whereas Brad Evans loves him some Bell, whose path to a featured role seems easier. Their cases are stated below.
Dalton opens: Montee Ball isn’t a sure thing to be Denver’s starter Week 1, but he should be viewed as the favorite, and even if not, it shouldn’t take long before he takes over the role. We’ll have a clearer picture come August, but that doesn’t mean we can’t prognosticate right now, and there’s a lot to like about Ball, specifically his situation.
The Broncos produced 21 carries inside the five-yard line last season, which tied for the seventh-most in the NFL (Pittsburgh produced just 11 such rushing attempts). With Peyton Manning another year removed from neck surgery and already showing more zip on his passes this summer combined with the addition of Wes Welker, Denver should produce even more scoring opportunities in 2013. This is an absolutely loaded offense, and Manning has never been shy to audible to a run play, especially in the red zone. Ball stands to benefit.
The rookie runner totaled a whopping 61 touchdowns over the past two years, and while Wisconsin doesn’t have the greatest recent history of producing successful NFL backs, it’s hard to argue with those numbers. Ball caught just 10 passes last year, but the season prior saw him gain 306 receiving yards with six TD catches, so it’s not like he’s never shown ability in the passing game. The No. 1 job for the Broncos’ running back is to protect Manning, so Ball will have to prove he’s capable before he’s given the opportunity to be the team’s workhorse. But John Elway has compared him to Terrell Davis, and the team didn’t spend a second round pick (taking him ahead of the generally more highly regarded Eddie Lacy) to have him sit behind pedestrian alternatives.
Willis McGahee has been released, and Ronnie Hillman is best suited for a change of pace role. Knowshon Moreno might very well be the most injury-prone back in football. McGahee and Moreno combined for 1,256 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on just 305 carries last year, and Ball offers a lot more physical upside at this point of their careers. It also doesn’t hurt getting to play the Raiders, Chargers and Chiefs six times. Even if things don’t break perfectly and Ball doesn’t rack up 350 touches this year, the touchdown potential in this offense is huge.
Evans responds: Carve it in stone. The ‘Big Rig’ will be the most sought after rookie RB this fall.
The ex-Spartan embodies characteristics the Steelers typically cherish in a rusher – brawn, toughness, endurance, strong blocking ability and a three-down skill set. Bell isn't particularly flashy. He sports average lateral agility, elusiveness and ran a mediocre 4.60 40-yard dash at the Combine. However, straight-line speed at running back is an overrated trait.
What Bell does best is trample defenders. He's a thundering herd of bison in human form. It would be no surprise if he finished well-inside the top-10 in yards after contact. He’s also a sensational pass-blocker and excellent receiver, an instant upgrade in all facets over flawed options Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman. A blue collar throwback in a timeshare age – he logged 30-plus carries in seven of 13 games at Michigan State last year – he's Steven Jackson in Black and Gold.
Critics will point to the Steelers' horrendous offensive line from a season ago but ravaged by injuries, it will be greatly improved. There’s plenty of talent up front. And keep in mind Pittsburgh's above average passing attack only enhances his statistical upside.
Ball is a talented runner. Still, questions loom about his completeness. He’s solid between the tackles and is a fair receiver, but he was mediocre in blitz pickup at Wisconsin. It’s irresponsible to assume he’ll be the starter Week 1, especially given John Fox’s history with rookies and Peyton Manning’s need for protection. Broncos beat-writers agree. From Paul Klee:
One observer's too-early prediction: Ronnie Hillman is the starter for the season opener. Ball assumes the position by the end of September. We see plenty of Knowshon Moreno, in part because he's their most reliable pass-blocker and protecting Manning is priority No. 1.
Can you say RBBC?
Ball is the flirty new girl in town who could break your heart and steal your wallet (Ball ADP: 33.3, Bell: 41.1). Wait another round or three and slip a ring on the surer thing.