In the second of Thin Air’s series on previewing 2017’s training camp for the Broncos is a look at running backs.
It’s clear that the running game needs to improve for the Broncos’ offense in 2017, and while a running back’s production is limited by the line in front of him, the position itself still needs to step up from last season.
Anderson played less than half of the season in 2016 before a meniscus injury sidelined him. But even when he was healthy, he was able to only put up 437 yards on 110 carries–barely less than 4 yards per carry. While there may be a chicken/egg argument between Anderson’s own performance and that of the offensive line, that number has to improve for Anderson.
The good news for Anderson is that while he hasn’t played directly under Mike McCoy, he has shown proven performance under a relative of his offense with Adam Gase. He’s also just 26 years old, so he should have much left on the chains. The presumption should be for 2017 that Anderson will remain the Broncos’ starting running back.
It will be quite the mystery as to how much Charles has left to give to football. However, because the maximum he can earn is $2.5 million in 2017, the odds are closer to the Neil Smith scenario than the Dale Carter scenario. If Charles is truly done, it will cost the Broncos little.
But if he can still pull off some of the Jamaal Charles production of old, that would provide great benefit for the Denver offense. In particular, it would be nice if Charles could return as a threat in the receiving game, something that has rarely been Anderson’s strong suit. (Although, this was awesome.) It’s unrealistic to expect Charles to have a piano loader role; a complimentary role to Anderson and other running backs should be the reasonable expectation set, with anything beyond that as gravy.
Booker has his own set of mysteries despite being on the opposite end of the age spectrum from Charles. When he was called upon to start in 2016 after Anderson went down for the year, Booker struggled, gaining a measly 3.5 yards per carry. Again, the chicken/egg argument with the offensive line rears its ugly head again, but Booker will not last long in the league if he carries that kind of number on his performance repeatedly.
On the surface, one concern is that Booker was acquired while Gary Kubiak was the head coach, and the prevailing wisdom may have been that he was better suited for a zone blocking system. But Booker himself has said that he feels more at home in the gap scheme that McCoy will institute. Time will tell if he’s right in that prognostication ahead of training camp. The team should be counting on Booker to provide some contribution should injuries arise again, or if Charles just can’t contribute from what he was once capable of.
Sixth round rookies are not a guarantee to make the roster, so Henderson will have to work hard to earn that spot. Like many rookies with a low amount of draft capital invested in them, contribution on special teams will likely be a requirement on some level.
However, similar to the quarterback position, there is enough uncertainty at running back that it may warrant carrying four of them on the active roster. That may bode well for Henderson’s chances to carve out a role somewhere on the team. Even if Henderson does not make the active roster, at the least his favored base should be the practice squad should he not find an active roster job elsewhere.
Thompson should be considered a long shot to make the roster, and with three accrued seasons, he is also no longer practice squad eligible, so this is a key training camp for him in Denver. If there’s one silver lining for Thompson’s chances, he did make the roster his rookie season under Gase’s offense, so he may have a little familiarity with what McCoy’s playbook will throw at him.
Like Thompson, Pierce is also a long shot, and unlike Thompson, he was out of football in 2016 and has more of a connection to Kubiak, having played under him in Baltimore in 2014. Never say never, of course, but unlike with younger players Pierce’s ceiling may be more well defined at this point.
Last but certainly not least, a mention must be made of Janovich, likely the only player to make the roster as a fullback. A transition from a Kubiak/Dennison offense to a McCoy offense likely means sending out far more 1# personnel than 2# personnel. That was indeed the case in 2016, as the Chargers under McCoy were in 2# personnel only 11% of the time, while the Broncos were at 20% (and that percentage would likely have been higher had Janovich not been injured).
However, offenses under McCoy have carried a fullback every season except for 2015. So there is likely a role for Janovich to be had on the 2017 Broncos, even if it likely won’t be as big of a role that was planned for him in 2016.