Broncos RB: Ronnie Hillman & Montee Ball
Ronnie Hillman is shining in his second chance as the feature back. Last season he fumbled the role away and became a third-string, and sometimes deactivated backup. This time around, in the absence of first round pick Montee Ball, Hllman is running away as Peyton Manning’s flanker in the backfield.
Let me put it this way, Ball was highly touted and is still expected to have a productive career, but the fit isn’t right. Hillman is a decisive speed back that contributes in the passing game. He is more than a dump-off or safety valve, but even on those plays he can take those for big gains. On the ground, he’s gone up the middle for chunks and beaten linebackers around the edge. Before Ball got hurt, Hillman was coming in on passing downs because he is a better receiver and blocker. Well, Denver has rediscovered their best every down back in Hillman. When Ball suits up, he should get some short-yardage and goal line work, just not his starting gig back.
Saints RB: Mark Ingram
Another example of not being the right fit, first round pick Mark Ingram with the New Orleans Saints. Both are workhorse backs with a bright future. Ingram is closer to seeing the light, as the Saints are struggling and he just returned form injury. He comes back when Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas go down. New Orleans should begin to realize that the offense, after losing good linemen to big contracts in free agency, is not what it used to be to protect Drew Brees.
Unlike the rest of the world, I do point the blame to Brees and head coach, Sean Payton. The times they have struggled ovet the years, they have been pretty bad. They are reluctantly to play towards their talent, and stubborn to fit the players into a passing system. Ingram is the man they need to feed going forward, if they want any chance at turning the season around. Only then, will Jimmy Graham get the help he needs from the supporting cast through the air. Can you imagine Brees throwing off of play action? Committing to the run will force defenses to suck up, and if they’re still doubling Graham, that’s when the speed of Kenny Stills and Brandin Cooks gets behind the defense. That’s not even mentioning the reliable possession receiver, Marques Colston. Whether Ingram sticks around after this contract year or not, he will tote the rock the rest of the way and for someone that wants him beyond 2014.
49ers RB: Frank Gore & Carlos Hyde
For some reason, San Francisco seems intent on moving on form Frank Gore. The two games they’ve really featured him, like old times, he’s popped over the century mark twice and both games resulted in wins. Second round pick, Carlos Hyde, is the inevitable starter waiting for his chance. This reminds me of when Adrian Peterson got drafted, and Chester Taylor was coming off a 1,300 yard season for the Vikings. They believed they had someone younger, with more upside. Of course, the statement is correct for both teams, so Hyde is expected to get close to an even timeshare coming out of their bye week. Coaches have already stated that they wanted to keep Gore fresh with limited touches, and Colin Kaepernick is having his best season throwing to his wide array of targets.
Gore is simply falling down the ladder after earning his spot to stay on the roster, not by his own doing whatsoever. I think he gets let free after the season, and some team will find true value by adding Gore in 2015. Hyde will get more snaps and touches the rest of the season, but still the lesser side of a 60-40 timeshare.
Chargers RB: Ryan Mathews, Branden Oliver, & Donald Brown
Ryan Mathews got hurt again, the difference is that this is the final year of his deal. He will get the bulk of the timeshare, as he did before injury with Danny Woodhead, before his season-ending injury. The Chargers have been getting positive production from Branden Oliver, any struggles that have taken place can be pointed at the offensive line and play-calling. Oliver is picking up five yards per draw up the middle, but I see a team that won’t call many plays for him to bounce outside off the tackle and guards. Granted, the O-line is still undermanned.
Donald Brown is a favorite of GM Tom Telesco, his concussion symptoms have lingered for awhile now. Maybe there’s room for concern there, as there hasn’t been much talk about it. When healthy, he was the team’s third back and emergency plan. Brown is only a solid runner, but a dependable receiver and blocker out of the backfield. He played well for the Colts, perhaps he needs more time to get acquainted with a different scheme. Moving forward, the undrafted rookie should stay integrated in this offense. After all, the only woes this team has really had, has come within the division. They lost to the Chiefs and Broncos, after kicking a field goal to beat the Raiders. In Oliver’s defense, after a pair of triple-digit performances, Kansas City had the ball for 40 minutes and Denver game planned to stop the run. Yes, they wanted Philip Rivers to throw as much as possible, so Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware can race to the quarterback. It worked.
Expect Mathews to be reinserted as he was, with Oliver playing the Woodhead role. The thing is, they don’t seem to trust Oliver in pass protection, although he’s looked good to me, so Brown may be involved on third downs as well.