State of the 2016 Denver Broncos: Running Backs

Mile High Huddle brings you the "State of the Broncos" series, which will take a look at the roster by position. Join Analyst Will Keys as he evaluates Denver's running backs.

It’s no secret that a Gary Kubiak offense is beholden to a strong running attack.  Despite limping out of the gate in 2015, the running game eventually gathered steam and even flashed dominance late in the season, something the Denver Broncos will try to carry over into the 2016 campaign.

Even the most optimistic of Broncos fans were holding their breath when C.J. Anderson signed an offer sheet with the Miami Dolphins during the infamous free agency period of March 2016, but GM John Elway came through in the eleventh hour and matched a four-year, $18 million deal to keep C.J. in orange and blue.

After retaining Anderson, the Broncos gave speedster Ronnie Hillman a one-year, $2 million deal to stay with the club.  Later, in the draft, the Broncos found incredible value in the fourth round, snatching up Utah’s Devontae Booker

Finally, the Broncos signaled their commitment to the run in the sixth round by making Nebraska Cornhusker Andy Janovich the first fullback off of the board. 

Projected Depth Chart

Running Backs

First String: C.J. Anderson

Second String: Devontae Booker

Third String: Ronnie Hillman

Reserves: Kapri Bibbs, Cyrus Gray


First String: Andy Janovich

Second StringJuwan Thompson

The Broncos didn’t match the Dolphins’ lucrative offer sheet not to give Anderson the bulk of the carries, but Booker will almost certainly push for plenty of touches himself.  In fact, NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah said after the selection of Booker, “I think he’s the best running back on Denver’s roster right now.” Denver’s ground game struggled when Hillman was getting the majority of the carries in 2015, but he still possesses plenty of qualities that make him a worthwhile back to keep on the roster.  He excels when the guards pull and he’s given a chance to work out on the edge on stretch carries, counters, and tosses.  Most of the work in between the tackles should go to Anderson and Booker, however. 

Before the re-signing of Hillman and the selection of Booker, it appeared that former Colorado State Ram Kapri Bibbs might finally get to tote the rock in the regular season, after spending the last two years on the practice squad. 

With the depth chart as crowded as it is after those two moves, Bibbs’ only chance to make the 53-man roster will be to out-perform Hillman and maybe even Juwan Thompson, depending on how many backs the Broncos elect to keep on the roster.  If he’s unable to crack the roster, look for another team to give him a shot after the preseason.

Fifth-year player Cyrus Gray is another running back looking up at the rest of the depth chart.  Gray spent three seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, after lining up behind Ryan Tannehill at Texas A&M.  Despite his experience, Gray is a serious long shot to make the Broncos given the abundance of backs already ahead of him. 

The Broncos briefly employed James Casey as a fullback early last season, but when the offense started to drift back towards Peyton Manning’s wheelhouse, the fullback became expendable.  Now with three spry, mobile quarterbacks vying to start, Kubiak’s signature bootleg offense will finally get a fair shake. Janovich’s experience at the position should give him the edge to start over Thompson, who has seen a few snaps out of the three-point-stance, but is primarily a running back by trade.

The fullback in the Kubiak offense traditionally has a more diverse role than just plugging linebackers and clearing paths in the second level of the defense.  Play-action passes, like waggles and bootlegs, often send the fullback in the flat as a receiver to serve as the quarterback’s quick read if the wide receiver and tight end are blanketed downfield.  Expect Janovich to record double-digit receptions and maybe even find pay dirt once or twice. 

Free Agent Options

The Broncos are most likely happy with the depth they have at running back and full back, but in case disaster (or just injuries) strikes, the free agency cupboard is by no means bare. 

The biggest and most expensive name in free agency is Arian Foster.  If the price tag wasn’t so high, Foster would make the most sense considering the overwhelming success he had in Kubiak’s system with the Houston Texans, making three Pro Bowl squads and leading the NFL in rushing yards in 2010.

The other intriguing name in free agency is also a familiar one.  Knowshon Moreno, only 28-years-old, recently expressed his desire to get back on the field in 2016, and even named the Broncos as a preferred landing spot.  The former first round pick, when healthy, was a reliable receiver and averaged a respectable 4.3 yards per carry during his last season in Denver. 

Plus, who wouldn’t want to see a few more America-sized tears and first-down army crawl celebrations?

RELATEDState of the Broncos: Quarterbacks

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Will Keys is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @WillKeys6.

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