In football (and fantasy football) a term commonly thrown around is "next man up." Because of the physical nature of the sport, injuries are prevalent and backups are often forced into action.
In Denver, Ronnie Hillman is the next man up. Willis McGahee is done for the year with a torn medial collateral ligament in his knee and a small fracture in his leg. Well, technically he can return if the Broncos advance as far as the AFC Championship tilt, but he won't be helping your fantasy squad anymore this year. Feel free to drop him in your league.
Hillman now THE man
McGahee probably won't be the same coming back from this injury next season, and at age 31, he can likely kiss goodbye any lead-back role in the future. Enter Hillman, a rookie out of San Diego State University.
He'll be thrust into the limelight as the lead back now as the Broncos seemingly coast to the AFC West division title. He should now be owned in all leagues with the news that McGahee won't be back. However, can he be trusted in your starting lineup right away?
The answer: No. He's received double-digit carries in just three games this season, and two of those came in mop-up duty against the Oakland Raiders and New Orleans Saints. Last week was obvious - he was forced to pick up the slack after McGahee exited. He can't be expected to immediately double that workload in Week 12.
Like most rookie running backs, Hillman isn't a complete package just yet. He lacks the size and strength to be an effective between-the-tackles threat. However, he does have the quickness and burst to do damage on the edge and in space. You've seen that already if you've watched his limited work.
Pass protection is key in Denver's 2012 offense. MVP candidate and crown jewel Peyton Manning must be kept safe. Hillman, for his size (5-foot-9, 200 pounds), has been surprisingly adequate in this arena in his limited opps. However, defenses will likely test him by disguising blitzes, and if he doesn't keep up, he won't be in there.
Fourth-year back Lance Ball will most certainly split the load with Hillman, and he'll initially be the favorite to be more involved in the passing game, making him very intriguing in PPR leagues. Don't sleep on Ball. Most everyone is assuming Hillman is THE guy and will be studly because he'll get first crack at being the new lead back in an offense that's firing on all cylinders.
That's not necessarily the case. While Hillman has plenty more upside than Ball, it's about right now, and if Hillman struggles to adapt, Ball will see more chances. If you're scrounging, Knowshon Moreno's name may pop up, but the odds are against him making an impact strong enough for fantasy purposes. The fact that Denver was working out Steve Slaton this week tells you all you need to know regarding the former Georgia product.
In the big picture, the McGahee injury may be a blessing in disguise for the Broncos. They'll certainly want to win games down the stretch to secure home field advantage in the postseason, but being able to expose Hillman to this kind of work in his maiden voyage will prove priceless heading into next season, where he'll most definitely be counted on for much more.
About Keith Hernandez
Keith, an editor with KFFL, joined the team as a Hot off the Wire analyst in 2008 and has been playing fantasy sports since 2005. He is involved in MLB, NFL and NASCAR content. He graduated from the University of California-San Diego in 2005 with a B.A. in Communications and was a four-year starter as a member of the baseball program.
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