The Broncos got their back. But it wasn't the guy anyone expected. For months now - ever since Denver lost to Baltimore in the playoffs - we've been reading in the DP that the Broncos wanted a bigger running back.
With the 58th pick in the draft, Denver took 5-11, 214 lb. Badgers running back Montee Ball, who ran an uninspiring 4.66-second 40-yard dash at the combine.
A consensus All-American in each of the past two seasons, Ball's 83 touchdowns from scrimmage are the most in Division I history.
Ball had a monster 2011 season, with 2,229 yards from scrimmage on 331 touches, for an average of 6.73 yards per touch and 39 total touchdowns, and was a Heisman finalist for his efforts.
But after surprisingly returning to Madison for his senior season, Ball's efficiency dropped in a big way, as he totaled 1,902 yards on 366 touches, for an average of 5.20 yards, and 22 touchdowns.
The graduation of QB Russell Wilson and WR Nick Toon loomed large in that falloff, as the productivity of the Badgers offense plummeted from 469.9 yards and 44.1 points per game in 2011, to 393.3 yards and 29.6 points per game in 2012.
Led by Wilson in 2011, the Badgers had 34 passing touchdowns (including one by Ball) and just 5 interceptions, while in 2012, a revolving group of quarterbacks combined for just 15 touchdowns against 6 interceptions.
Prior to his senior season, Ball was assaulted off campus by five men, in what was deemed an unprovoked attack. He suffered a concussion and some facial injuries, but spent only two hours in the hospital.
As Denver's pick approached Friday night, only Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell had gone off the board (to Pittsburgh at #48), as far as backs linked to the Broncos went.
Eddie Lacy and Christine Michael remained; each enters the NFL with far more tread left on their tires, and each was picked just minutes after Denver selected Ball.
Lacy (390 touches) went three picks later to Green Bay, while Michael (573 touches) was taken by Seattle with the very next selection after that.
To put Ball's 983 career touches in perspective, Denver's Knowshon Moreno has 1,253 touches across six seasons at Georgia and in the NFL, so Montee joins the Broncos with just 270 fewer touches than a player who's also only three years his senior.
Over the entirety of his Badgers career, Ball had 924 carries and 59 receptions for 5,738 yards (5.84 per touch) and 83 total scores.
But John Brenkus says we don't have to worry about Montee's durability; we're starting to get the sense that the Denver front office relied upon ESPN's Sport Science to handle its scouting duties:
To that end, it is worth noting that history is filled with workhorse college backs who went on to have prolific and lengthy NFL careers, including some of the game's greats. And for his part, Ball started all 28 games over his last two seasons, after taking over as Wisconsin's starter late in his sophomore season.
The Wentzville, MO native says he grew up a Broncos fan and idolized legendary Denver back Terrell Davis; a wall in his apartment even sports a wooden Bronco head.
John Fox describes Ball as a "three-down back," while John Elway says the choice of Montee over Lacy "was a close call" which "came down to the medical" reports on the two players.
It remains to be seen how the addition of Ball affects the Broncos' incumbent running backs, but it can't be good news for them.
Willis McGahee is coming off a significant knee/leg injury which ended his 2012 season ten games into it, he turns 32 in October, and is due to make a $2.5M salary. Should McGahee not make the team, he'll count for $1M in dead money against Denver's cap, which should hardly be a factor in any decision on him. Were Denver to cut him, they'd save the $2.5M in cash, while also clearing up $2M in cap space.
Moreno is coming off a far less serious knee injury and will turn 26 in July, and cutting him wouldn't help Denver's cause much as far as the cap is concerned. He's due to make a $1.7M salary in the final year of his rookie contract, and cutting him would save just $945K against the cap.
Denver holds an option on Knowshon for 2014, but reports vary on how much that would cost them. If Rotoworld has it correctly pegged at $5.08M, then there's zero chance the Broncos will elect to trigger it.
Ronnie Hillman was selected in the third round of the 2012 Draft and was the league's youngest player. Along with Ball, he's the only back guaranteed to be with the Broncos this season.
As TJ alluded to last night, the selection of Montee could signal the end for Denver's other Ball, Lance. Although he was retained as a restricted free agent on a $1.323M contract, none of that is guaranteed, and cutting him will leave not a cent of dead money.
Jacob Hester, Mario Fannin, and Jeremiah Johnson are also on the roster, but it's hard to picture any of them sticking, unless Fannin somehow beats out both McGahee and Lance Ball for a spot.
We're guessing that Montee Ball, Hillman, and Moreno will stick, with McGahee and Lance Ball fighting for a fourth slot, and Fannin having to impress mightily to remain.
- College Stats
- NFL draft profile
- CBS draft profile
- Wisconsin Badgers page
- NFP analysis of pick
- Andrew Mason
- Mike Klis
- Associated Press
- Jonathan Bales
- Stuart Zaas collates reaction to the pick
- NFL.com draft profile
- NFL Films profile
- First Draft profile for NFL.com
- Combine workout
- Patriots.com profile
- 2012 highlights
- vs Purdue, Minnesota (2012)
- 2011 highlights
- vs UNLV, Nebraska, Ohio State, Penn State (2011)
- vs Iowa (2010)
- Ball's first 78 touchdowns at Wisconsin
Updated 11:40am ET