2017 Broncos Season, Running Backs
Training Camp has begun, and the first official game of the 2017 season, the Hall of Fame game, we're tantalizingly close to football. In the meantime, I'll be deep diving through position groups. I've already looked at wide receivers, defensive line, and quarterbacks. Today it's time to look at those who are charged with carrying the rock. In this case, I'm lumping tailbacks and fullbacks together.
On The Roster:
* CJ Anderson
* Jamaal Charles
* Devontae Booker
* DeAngelo Henderson (Rookie)
* Juwan Thompson
* Andy Janovich
* Stevan Ridley
A Look at 2016: By any metric, the Broncos' ground game was lacking in 2016. As a team, the Broncos ran for 1,484 yards, 11 TDs and a 3.6 yard per carry average. That wasn't sufficient to be a solid offense. What made it worse was the promise this time last year. Anderson came in off a big free agent contract, and Booker was a hot and promising rookie. Anderson played lights out in the premier, but suffered a season-ending knee injury in game seven. He finished with 437 yards rushing and four touchdowns, averaging 4.0 YPC for the season. He added 16 receptions for 127 yards and a touchdown. Then the reins got handed to Booker, who had shown flashes of promise. But he started just six games, ending up being supplanted by Justin Forsett, a veteran signed off the street after being cut by two teams. Booker finished as the leading rusher, but his 16-game total was hardly impressive. He tallied 612 yards and four touchdowns, averaging only 3.5 YPC. He added 31 receptions for 265 yards and a touchdown. Now, the offensive line deserves a share of the blame for the running situation, but the backs have to be better and more consistent, too.
Changes in 2017: Anderson and Booker are back, and Anderson is healthy. Booker has a wrist injury and is now out six to eight weeks, meaning he'll miss all of camp and likely be out the first couple weeks of the regular season. That's a blow, but Booker still figures to be a part of this season and the Broncos' long-term future. But it also means more opportunity for a pair of newcomers, veteran Charles, formerly of the Chiefs, and rookie Henderson. Charles was, a times, one of the best backs in the game. He boasts five 1,000-yard-plus seasons, including three straight from 2012-2014. But the past two years he's played just eight games, ending both seasons with knee injuries. In fact, he's not had three major knee injuries in his career. And in three games last year, he carried just 12 times for 40 yards and a touchdown, catching two passes for 14 yards. Still, he's on a cap-friendly one-year deal, and if there's still some tread on the tires he could be a situational weapon. Henderson, a sixth round pick, lit it up at Coastal Carolina. He posted three straight 1,000 yard seasons, averaging more than six YPC and 100 yards a game each of those seasons. In nine games in 2016, Henderson posted 1,156 yards, 6.3 YPC, and 16 TDs. He has a chance to be a special player. The Broncos have also added veteran bodies in Pierce and Ridley, too.
Projecting the Roster: The Broncos can't keep them all, and there will be some tough decisions in this position group, as in all the position groups. My belief is that the Broncos will keep four tailbacks and one fullback. Now, with Booker's health situation, this could be a little in flux. But my belief is he remains on the active roster at the start of the season rather than PUP, which would leave him out at least six weeks. I believe Anderson, Booker, Henderson and Charles will be kept at tailback. I still believe in Anderson as the starter, and I like the potential compliments in these other guys. While the Broncos' rushing philosophy and scheme will change, I think Janovich will remain on the active roster, too. I figured that Ridley and Pierce were likely cuts, but that would leave Thompson on the outside looking in, too. But, this is the time of year when tough cuts are made everywhere. This group will be no exception.