Is It Time to Worry About Montee Ball?

It has been a rough start for the Broncos lead back, but are better days ahead?

If you drafted second-year running back Montee Ball this year in fantasy football, chances are you're a bit worried he may not live up to the preseason’s lofty expectations. Perhaps memories of last year's underwhelming sophomore class keeps flashing through your mind. Remember Doug Martin, Trent Richardson, David Wilson and Lamar Miller? There were incredibly high expectations for each as second year players, yet the results were extremely disappointing.

Is Ball just another sophomore struggling to live up to the hype?

The 2014 Numbers

Through three games, Ball is averaging only 3.4 yards per carry while struggling to protect Peyton Manning in pass protection. His inconsistency has led many to question his fantasy value going forward, begging the question of whether or not his owners should be worried about his slow start.

While the opportunity to be the lead back in a Peyton Manning offense has turned even mediocre talents into valuable fantasy commodities (Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai, anyone?), through three contests, we have yet to see anything that would lead us to believe a breakthrough is on the horizon for Ball. Even more concerning has been relative success that backup CJ Anderson has seen in limited action, posting a rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) total that's 4.32 points higher than Ball. And while the coaching staff hasn't given us any indication that a change is likely, it's simply another indicator that the sophomore running back may not have the season many expected.

Oh, and he fumbled on his first carry against the Seahawks.

Even worse, his schedule will not be getting easier after the bye, with the Cardinals, Jets and 49ers on tap. Based on our metrics, those are three of the top 10 defenses against the run. And while the schedule does get better after that, will the Broncos be patient enough to allow Ball the opportunity to produce through his struggles? Failing to put up numbers against a bottom tier defense in Indianapolis (27th against the run) is never a good sign.

There’s also the possibility that Ball simply isn't that good. Or at least not talented enough to be dominant player many drafted him to be. His Rushing NEP sits at -5.96, which puts him in the same range as Bernard Pierce and CJ Spiller. In short, it's been a rough start, and far from what owners drafted him to be.

According to local columnist David Ramsey with the Colorado Springs Gazette, "He's struggled to find open space outside. He's struggled to power to tough yards inside. He's struggled with pass protection. He's struggled to keep a grip on the football. He's struggled, period."

That seems to sum things up.

Ball's Fantasy Value

The silver lining in all of this is that Peyton Manning and this entire offense have yet to really hit their stride. Perhaps that's not comforting to owners who expected each member of this offense to put up the historical numbers they did in 2013, but that simply hasn't happened to this point. At his current pace, Manning will see his passing yards drop by 1,100, his touchdowns by 13 and the Broncos will average almost 13 points fewer per game versus 2013. So perhaps the explosion is on its way, with an increase in production from Ball a result of an improved passing game.

Regardless, the fact is that Montee Ball may not be a special talent, but he is in a special situation. The results may not mirror the expectations, but in a Peyton Manning-led offense, we should still expect Ball to be a a top-20 running back. Unfortunately, that's much more mediocre than most drafted him to be. Still, anytime you can roster the lead back on one of the league's best offenses, valuable contributions are likely to follow.

He may not have the explosive games that single handily win you your league, but that's what Larry Donnell is for.