The Broncos released veteran RB Travis Henry on Monday, opening up the competition at running back for the team. That's all well and good, but what are the Fantasy implications?
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With Henry gone, Selvin Young appears to be the most likely person to start. Young ran well last season but couldn't find the end zone more than once despite totaling close to 1,000 yards. Furthermore, Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said earlier this offseason that he didn't envision Young as anything more than a 15-carry-per-game guy. So you can eliminate any visions of him being the proverbial Broncos stud RB from your head -- especially since he's built for goal-line carries like I'm built for body building.
Newly signed veteran Michael Pittman is in line to at least begin training camp as the third-down back. This is a job Pittman has excelled at for years and should be functional at immediately. That means he'll not only be blocking pass rushers on third down, but he'll also be catching the ball out of the backfield and even running the occasional draw. The likelihood is that he'll finish with around 500 total yards.
Andre Hall, last year's surprise runner who posted a big week at Chicago, will compete to be at least a change-of-pace running back. Before Henry's release, I figured Hall would be cut come late August. It's still a possibility, but without Henry there, it's not as likely. I don't expect Hall to get many yards unless it's as a replacement for Young.
The guy I think who will be the star of the Denver run game before the season is over is Ryan Torain, a fifth-round pick out of Arizona State. Although Torain was injury prone in college, he ran in a one-cut system nearly identical to what the Broncos use in their run attack. Torain is a physical back who is best built for goal-line carries from all of the players listed above, and can be effective on first and second downs, too. I could easily see a scenario where Young gets hurt or plays poorly, and Torain comes in and doesn't let up on the job. But even if Young does a nice job, Torain could get the touchdowns at the goal line and also fill in on shorter first and second downs.
So, how does a Fantasy drafter try to maximize his or her value with the Broncos' running backs?
I think if you're going to go after Young, you've got to get Torain, too, and it will mean drafting both fairly early. Young is now going to be drafted between late Round 5 and Round 7; Torain no later than Round 9. I'd suggest getting Young as late as you can (early Round 7?), then come back and take Torain with your next pick. While that will hurt to do come Draft Day, you will lock up the Broncos' backs, which is a valuable commodity in Fantasy. Moreover, if you pick your WRs and QB early in drafts (which we're recommending this year), you'll be happy to aim for this combo in Rounds 7 and 8 (or 6 and 7 if your league is deep or RB-intensive).
Now then, what about Travis Henry? Is he useless? As of now, I'd say no. I think Henry will find a place to work out this summer and try to make a club on a one-year deal. Is he good for 1,000 yards and six touchdowns? I doubt it. His legs are beat up, as is his reputation after last year's positive drug test that got, uh, overturned. Might he be a good bye-week replacement once he gets a job in the NFL? Probably so.
Just one last thing: Never rule out Mike Shanahan finding someone on the waiver wire or the street to come in and compete ... and completely mess up this whole rigamarole. LaMont Jordan, Shaun Alexander ... the league has plenty of re-treads that might be useful for the Broncos, if only for a year.
Shanahan's firm grip on Fantasy Football continues to pinch owners everywhere.