Of the non-scoring plays that really stood out in the Denver Broncos’ domination of the Oakland Raiders, the dump-off pass to rookie running back Ronnie Hillman that found him slipping through the Oakland secondary had to be toward the top.
Does Knowshon Moreno fit in the Denver Broncos running game? (personal photo)
Why? Because it finally allowed Hillman to showcase the type of sleek running the Broncos and their faithful had hoped to see from the rookie. Barring injuries or an utter meltdown by Hillman, that single play could have also cemented Knowshon Moreno’s fate as a “bust.”
Broncos country has struggled with Moreno. The 2009 first-round draft pick has shown flourishes. Moreno seems to be someone fans and the organization have wanted to support, but have never had much of an opportunity to do so.
That kind of situation, whatever the reason, usually leads to frustration. ”We’re ready to love you. We want you to be a star, but you’re always hurt. When you aren’t hurt you’re recovering from being hurt, or just not providing much of an impact.”
The difficulty with Moreno is he hasn’t been terrible, just naggingly unavailable.
Consider some other running backs in his draft class: Donald Brown of the Indianapolis Colts, Beanie Wells of the Arizona Cardinals,the Philadelphia Eagles’ LeSean McCoy, and Shonn Greene of the New York Jets. These were the top five running backs selected in 2009, with Moreno being the first off the board. Going off statistics available at Pro-Football-Reference.com, take a look at the percent of offensive production (rushing and receiving) each has been responsible for from the time they were drafted through Week 4:
Yardage: 23%, Touchdowns: 25%
Yardage: 17%, Touchdowns: 9%
Yardage: 16%, Touchdowns: 18%
Yardage: 12%, Touchdowns: 9%
Just to make sure we’re clear, this means LeSean McCoy, for instance, has provided 23% of the Eagles’ total yardage during the time he’s been on the team, and has essentially scored a quarter of the Eagles’ offensive touchdowns during that time. Brown, having been relegated to a “pass first and pass often” offense during that same period has only generated 12% of the Colts’ total offensive yardage, and less than a tenth of the team’s touchdowns.
So how does Knowshon Moreno rate in all of this?
Yardage: 15%, Touchdowns: 17%
Based solely on these figures, a Broncos-Cardinals swap of Kownshon for Beanie would basically leave each team with the same level of offensive production they had at running back before trading. The real crux is that while both men have been in the league for an equal amount of time, Wells has played in 8 more regular season contests than Moreno. It’s fair to assume that with half-a-season more output, Moreno would be truly identical to, if not several percentage points ahead of Wells.
Yet there’s a good chance Broncos fans would support a Wells-for-Moreno trade wholeheartedly.
What the Knowshon Moreno saga continues to be about is potential. The fact that Moreno has been unavailable for nearly a quarter of the games the Broncos have played since drafting him matters. It also matters that he joined this team as a top 15 draft pick, and signed a contract for top 15 money, yet guys who went off the board a round later have made greater impacts.
Had the Broncos gone back to the free agency well in an effort to bolster the backfield, Moreno could still have the benefit of being the running back with potential. That card was removed from his hand when Ronnie Hillman scampered through the Raiders defense. If Denver continues to activate Willis McGahee, Lance Ball, and Hillman there’s probably not much left for Moreno in Denver. No more talk about how this must be the breakout season.
Fair or not, he’s had three seasons to make his case, and what we know about Knowshon likely isn’t going to change at this point.