With Gary Kubiak at the helm, the Denver Broncos are looking to be more of a run-first offense, like the teams he's lead in the past. In 14 of his 20 years as a coach (both head coach and offensive coordinator), his teams have been in the top-10 for rushing yards. In 12 out of his 20 years, his teams were top-10 in rushing attempts. So the focus on the running game is a big part of his coaching style and that won't change in the upcoming year.
The running back position for the Broncos is a good, solidly-deep group. However, there is not much of a battle at the top end. The pecking order is pretty well known at the top, just like the quarterback position. Also, like the quarterback position, the only place with a real battle is for the last running back spot, but it has three players fighting for it, instead of just one.
No.1: C.J. Anderson
The starter at running back will be C.J. Anderson. Anderson came on strong for the Broncos last season after injuries plagued those ahead of him. After getting more than five carries only twice in the first nine games last year, Anderson came in Week 11 with 27 carries for 167 yards.
His following week was impressive as well, with 32 carries for 168 yards. Those were the only two games he went over 100 yards rushing, but ended the season with four games, including playoffs, with 80 or more yards.
Hopes are high for Anderson, but there is no guarantee he plays as well as he did to finish out last year. He has the No. 1 spot set right now, but if he starts to struggle for multiple games in a row, I would expect him to get less carries, while the backups get more, until he bounces back.
Stat Prediction: 200 carries, 1,100 yards and seven touchdowns. 35 receptions, 175 yards and one touchdown.
No. 2: Montee Ball
The second running back will be Montee Ball. Since being drafted in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft, Ball has had some troubles—one of them being holding onto the ball, with three fumbles his rookie year and another one in his second.
Another issue has been weight and injuries. During training camp last year, Ball had an emergency appendectomy and that led to weight gain. He wasn’t his normal self, playing over weight. When he came back from that he suffered a couple of groin injuries that effectively ended his season.
His rookie year, the Broncos ran a zone blocking scheme and Ball was very effective. Then this past season, the Broncos went away from the scheme, using it sparingly. Factoring that and the weight/injury issues, it is no wonder Ball struggled.
He performed in that scheme all through college and was great. Returning to that scheme could be huge for him and could lead to a breakout season, like Denver expected when they drafted him.
Stat Prediction: 100 carries, 450 yards and two touchdowns. 20 receptions, 75 yards.
No. 3: Juwan Thompson
Next up is Juwan Thompson. Thompson is a big running back with a lot of power to his game. He went undrafted last year and the Broncos scooped him up. His rookie year, he was limited primarily to short-yardage situations, though that is not all he did.
Thompson is a power runner, but has deceptive speed to his game. In Kubiak’s offense, Thompson will likely be used in a variety of ways, including at fullback. His versatility is what earns him the third spot.
Stat Prediction: 40 carries, 150 yards and three touchdowns. 15 receptions, 50 yards and two touchdowns.
No. 4: Kapri Bibbs
The final running back on the roster is Kapri Bibbs. Bibbs has everything needed to be successful in a zone blocking offense. Like Thompson, Bibbs went undrafted last year, before getting picked up by the Broncos.
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He spent most of the year on the practice squad, but got called up when a team tried to swoop in and sign him out from under the Broncos. His fit in the offense is great, which is why he beats out Jeremy Stewart and Ronnie Hillman for the final spot.
Stat Prediction: N/A
As for Stewart and Hillman, they don’t make it for a couple of reasons. Stewart is just another running back who does not have a ceiling like the others that make the roster do. As for Hillman, his fit in the offense is not good at all.
Hillman has struggled in practices and has struggled picking up the offense. Add that to his issues of holding onto the ball and he is on his way out. Elway may have traded in the third round a few years back to pick him, but that was with a different coaching staff. All signs are pointing to Hillman being on the outside looking in.
Fullback: James Casey
The fullback on-roster is going to be James Casey. Casey is a tight end/fullback hybrid, who has been his best when at fullback. He has played under Kubiak in the offense before and knows what is asked of him.
He brings good blocking and a good set of hands to be very effective as a fullback in the offense. Don’t be surprised, however, if he also sees snaps as a tight end, or if other tight ends and Juwan Thompson see snaps at fullback. The Broncos are going to use a lot of different players in a variety of personnel groupings.
Stat Prediction: 25 carries, 40 yards. 15 receptions, 60 yards.
Stay tuned, because next up will be the receivers for the Broncos, which is a veritable logjam.
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