Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 1/16/13
2013 Denver Broncos Offseason analysis: Running BacksPart 2 of a 9 Part Series Willis McGahee, 2013 base salary: $2.5 million: The 31 year old veteran was ready to go had the Broncos advanced to the AFC Championship game. His effectiveness would have most likely been limited. The 9th year pro out of the University of Miami will have some more time to rehab his torn MCL and the compression fracture in his right knee.McGahee showed the same consistent power back skills that he showed in 2011, when he rushed for 1,199 yards and was the main engine in the Broncos rushing attack. While McGahee can still an asset at age 31, he is most likely done being the Broncos featured back going into 2013.Should the Broncos deem his health satisfactory along with his salary, he should be expected tocompete to be a part of a running attack by committee next season. Status: Retained, depending on his progress in the off-season, McGahee should continue to shoulder a portion of the rushing attack, his featured back days are most likely done. Knowshon Moreno, 2013 base salary: $1.7 million: Moreno stepped up heroically for the Broncos this season, running the ball like it was 2008 again, when he was a Heisman candidate at Georgia. His versatility (excluding his health) is an asset as he can be a three down back.Moreno doesn’t have the speed to be a star in the NFL, but he has shown the skills to be an effective stop-gap option and primary backup. The 25 year old hasn’t shown the ability to stay healthy for a full season, which limits his future prospects at starting.With Ronnie Hillman fully expected to have a bigger share of the workload next season, Moreno could be trade bait heading into the 2013 NFL Draft. He could be swapped for a bigger back, which John Fox prefers, or possibly a late round pick if Denver sees someone they like still on the board. If not, he should enter training camp yet again, third on the depth chart. Status: Moreno’s trade value is at an all-time high. Look for him to be traded to a running back/ third down back needy team before the start of the preseason. Ronnie Hillman, 2013 base salary: $515,000: Hillman disappointed high expectations set by John Fox going into the preseason, but did occasionally show flashes of why Denver traded up into the third round to nab him. Hillman played like a rookie all year without ever really turning the developmental corner at any point.His speedy running style was shut down by defenses while he only had two runs of 20 yards or more the whole season. He looked over matched at times, which limited his carries. It is safe to say that Hillman is the most talented back on the roster. If he can translate the power, speed, and elusiveness he used to dominate at San Diego State, he could be a star.He is the future of the Broncos attack. Status: Will compete to start and should be a primary option in the run game.Jacob Hester, 2013 base salary: $715,000: The Broncos might have a potential dark horse starter for 2013 already on their roster. The 235-pounder is everything John Fox wants in a back; size, third down ability, and versatility. Hester was caught in a talent laden backfield in San Diego and found little carries as Norv Turner wanted him to be a true fullback.Similar to Peyton Hillis, Hester can be a bruising back and after only a few weeks with the team, he became a favorite of the coaching staff. Status: Dark horse starter at best, third down back at worst. He will contribute more next season.Lance Ball, 2013 base salary: Restricted free agent: Ball has been one of the better special team players the last three seasons. He has showed versatility to be the third down back and a guy you can go to in the pinch. He is less than spectacular but you will most likely see him sign elsewhere to be a core special teamer. Mike McCoy and the Chargers could attempt to sign him given Ball’s experience in his offense. Future: Will sign elsewhere to provide special team help and depth.Jeremiah Johnson, 2013 base salary: free agent:  Johnson has been stashed mainly on the practice squad and was on the active roster for the second half of the 2011 season. He has great speed but the team showed when they signed Jacob Hester off the street instead of him, that he isn’t worthy of a roster spot. Future: Should attend training camp with the Broncos, but don’t look for him to make the 53 man roster in September.Chris Gronkowski, 2013 base salary: Ristricted free agent: This Gronkowski brother is the only true fullback on the team and one of its core special teams players. Through rarely used on offense, the new offensive coordinator could implement a John Fox supported power running game out of the "I" formation. Manning could have it at his disposal. Future: Retained. Gronkowski should be back on a one year tender for under $1 million. Overview: The Broncos’ running game was smack dab in the middle of the pack this year, ranking 16th in the league while averaging 114.5 yards a game.Of course Peyton Manning’s dominance through the air took a lot of carries away from the backfield. The Broncos need to start thinking how to fully solidify the running back position. Doing this will give Manning a much needed ally who can take some of the pressure off of him, similar to his days with Edgerrin James (or more importantly like Terrell Davis with John Elway).Moving forward McGahee is nearing the end and can’t be relied upon at age 32 to continue to take the pounding of a featured back. Moreno can’t stay healthy for an entire season and lacks the consistency needed to have the coaching staff’s full confidence in him to start.The two most important backs going into next season that John Fox will attempt to use in a committee approach is Ronnie Hillman and Jacob Hester-a speed and power combination that is both young and versatile.The Broncos will surely look into signing a veteran power back for cheap to compete for carries under a new offensive coordinator. Backs that John Fox would be interested in include Tampa Bay’s LeGarrette Blount, Oakland’s Mike Goodsen (drafted by Fox in Carolina), Jacksonville’s Rashad Jennings, and San Diego’s Ronnie Brown.Outside possibilities involve a trade for either of Carolina’s high priced starter worthy backs Jonathan Stewert or DeAngelo Williams, both whom John Fox used to lead his rushing attack. It was briefey discussed last year.Acquiring Stewert or Williams would give the Broncos a true featured back that could in theory (without injuries) be the piece that the offense needs to make another run at Super Bowl glory.
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