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2014 Draft Prep: Montee Ball ready for star status

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Broncos second-year running back Montee Ball is a somewhat-polarizing player in Fantasy this draft season. If you love him, he's a first-round pick. Otherwise you'll let someone else deal with his perceived flaws.

I'm a believer in Ball, so I would draft him in Round 1. I'm banking on a breakout campaign.

Last year, Ball couldn't hold onto the starting job in the preseason and he was replaced by Knowshon Moreno. Anti-Ball Fantasy owners use that as an argument against him -- that he was beat out by an inferior talent, which is true. He had fumble issues and struggled in pass protection and he clearly wasn't ready for the job.

But he excelled during the season in a reserve role behind Moreno with 120 carries for 559 yards and four touchdowns and 20 catches for 145 yards. Ball played well when he had touches with at least nine Fantasy points in four of the six games he had double digits in carries.

Moreno, however, was dominant in 2013 with 241 carries for 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns and 60 catches for 548 yards and three touchdowns. He had 11 games with double digits in Fantasy points and was the No. 5 Fantasy running back in standard leagues.

That's the hope for Ball this year. In fact, he could have even better stats based on his ability. He also gets an improved offensive line. Ryan Clady is back and Orlando Franklin will move to guard. That should make the Broncos more physical. And if their defense improves as expected with the additions of DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward, we could see them sitting on leads late in games, with Ball earning additional work.

His biggest benefit is playing next to Peyton Manning. In 32 games as the starter for the Broncos in the regular season, Manning has helped Denver's running backs reach double digits in Fantasy points 23 times. Moreno never had extra defenders at the line of scrimmage because of the passing game, and that allows for plenty of open lanes for Ball to exploit.

He's also over his appendectomy in training camp since he played in the third preseason game against Houston.

"I wanted to get hit again and get that tempo back," Ball said in the Denver Post. "It's funny. After my plays, I was talking on the sideline, telling them that the speed of the game is fast right now. I have to get that back. I will be ready to go."

We're not worried about Ball, and neither should you. He's set up for a tremendous year and we're counting on him finishing as one of the elite running backs. Ball is someone to target on Draft Day since he could become a star.

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Player News
Chiefs have no plans to cut ties with ILB Derrick Johnson
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2:18 pm ET) The Chiefs have just $2.8 million of cap space with the NFL draft less than one month away, and while the team needs to find a way to make more room beneath the camp, the Chiefs will not part ways with inside linebacker Derrick Johnson, the Kansas City Star reports.

"Derrick is obviously one of the greatest inside linebackers to ever play for the club and there are some pretty good ones, if you go back in time," team chairman Clark Hunt said. "In terms of the modern era of the Chiefs, it’s hard to think about the club without thinking about Derrick at inside linebacker. He’s a great leader, he’s a tremendous person, represents the club well on and off the field. We’re looking forward to having him back this year, hopefully good as new. You mentioned that his contract is up this year. There will be a point in time where we address that. But it just hasn’t been germane to this point."

Johnson missed last season due to a torn Achilles tendon and has a cap number of $5.2 million this season.


Report: 49ers to sign LB Desmond Bishop
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2:12 pm ET) The 49ers will sign inside linebacker Desmond Bishop, the Sacramento Bee reports.

Bishop joined the 49ers last December and recorded two tackles in two games. He emerged as a starter with the Packers in 2010 and racked up more than 100 tackles for two straight seasons before missing the 2012 season and becoming a free agent. He could win significant playing time in the 49ers' base set after the retirements of Patrick Willis and Chris Borland.


Eagles announce one-year deal with WR Miles Austin
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2:08 pm ET) The Eagles announced Tuesday that they have signed wide receiver Miles Austin to a one-year contract. The deal was reported Monday and became official Tuesday after Austin, who caught 47 passes for 568 yards with two touchdowns in 2014, passed his physical.

Report: Ravens sign QB Matt Schaub
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2:01 pm ET) The Ravens have signed quarterback Matt Schaub, Sports Illustrated reports.

Schaub threw just 10 passes after joining the Raiders before last season but has extensive experience as an NFL starter, having made 90 starts, mostly with the Texans. He's completed 63.9 percent of his passes in his career while racking up 130 touchdowns and 86 interceptions. Schaub will serve as a backup to starter Joe Flacco next season.


Report: Seahawks' Russell Wilson won't land fully-guaranteed deal
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:40 pm ET) Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has been in talks to land a contract extension this offseason, and while a large portion of the deal will be guaranteed, the quarterback will not receive a fully-guaranteed contract, NFL.com reports.

CBSSports.com NFL Insider Jason La Canfora reported on March 21 that Wilson and the Seahawks were not close to an agreement. La Canfora also said during the NFL combine that it's possible Wilson plays out his rookie deal with the team. He has a cap hit a little less than $1.7 million in the last year of his rookie contract.


Report: Stevan Ridley visiting Dolphins Tuesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:57 pm ET) Free-agent running back Stevan Ridley is visiting the Dolphins Tuesday, the Miami Herald reports.

Ridley spent his first four seasons with the Patriots but struggled in 2014, rushing for just 340 yards and two touchdowns on 94 carries. He did rack up a career-high 1,263 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in 2012. The running back underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL in November.


Pagano: Andre Johnson brings a 'big, physical presence' to Colts
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:43 pm ET) Colts coach Chuck Pagano sees wide receiver Andre Johnson as a big presence underneath for the team's offense, adding a complementary piece to the speed of T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief, ESPN.com reports.

"He's a big body guy that can still separate, create separation," Pagano said. "He's got a big catch radius. But again, the contested catches that you see on tape. It's very difficult to match up. There are few corners in the league that have length and size to match up but most are aren't on that size and they get pushed around a little bit. He's going to be able to bring that big, physical presence to us."

Johnson managed just 936 yards and three touchdowns on 85 receptions in 15 games in 2014, marking the first time he's played at least 10 games but not reached 1,000 yards since 2005. However, Pagano doesn't think Johnson has taken a step back.

"You don't see a huge dropoff numbers-wise," Pagano said. "Maybe in touchdowns. But you still see a guy who is more than capable of stretching the defense. Certainly somebody who an opponent can't just line up and say, 'Don't worry about Andre Johnson.' They're still going to have to tend to him if you will. If they choose to double [Hilton] and take him out of the game, you have another guy on the other side, along with the rest of the guys on the roster who can still stretch the defense. He's a big, possession type guy. He makes contested catches in traffic. He's got a big catch radius. A big body. Those guys are hard to defend."


Report: Ravens interested in TE Rob Housler
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:34 pm ET) The Ravens and tight end Rob Housler have mutual interest, the Baltimore Sun reports.

The two sides have held contract discussions and while a deal has yet to be reached, both the Ravens and Housler will continue working toward a compromise. He could serve as an athletic pass-catching tight end in new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman's offense if signed.

Housler posted career lows in 2014, grabbing just nine passes for 129 yards.


Saints to start Jahri Evans, Tim Lelito at guard in 2015
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:29 pm ET) Saints coach Sean Payton said at the annual NFL meeting that he doesn't think the moves the team has made this offseason have opened any holes in the starting lineup, indicating specifically that Tim Lelito would join Jahri Evans as the team's starting guards after the departure of Ben Grubbs, Saints.com reports.

"Those aren’t holes," Payton said about losing Grubbs and middle linebacker Curtis Lofton. "We’re not moving a player if we feel like there’s no…we feel like we have a pretty good idea of how everything is lining up. We’ve got a center we know that starts in this NFL, we’ve got a guard, (Tim) Lelito will play left guard, Jahri Evans is the right guard. The same way at receiver. So we weren’t looking to make a move that created another 'must'."

Lelito played 294 snaps on offense last season, per Pro Football Focus, and graded out positively as a run blocker and negatively as a pass blocker.  He was an undrafted free agent out of Grand Valley State in 2013.


Lions' Caldwell expects Theo Riddick to have large role in 2015
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:19 pm ET) Lions coach Jim Caldwell expects running back Theo Riddick to help boost a rushing attack that ranked 28th in 2014 and cut Reggie Bush after the season, MLive.com reports.

"We try and give (the ball) to the guys who are going to do something with it, and I think he's going to be one of those guys who's going to force us to give him the ball more," Caldwell said last week at the NFL owners meetings. "I think you're really going to see him come along."

Riddick rushed for 51 yards on 20 carries in 2014 and added 316 yards and four touchdowns on 34 catches.

"I can't tell you he's going to carry the ball 50 more times, or I can't tell you he's going to get the ball thrown to him 30 more times, until we have a chance to work through this gauntlet. Know what I mean?" Caldwell said. "When we get to the end of the gauntlet, then maybe I can give you a little more of a view. But I'm never going to tell you, 'Hey, we expect this guy to do this or that.' What role he plays, how much he's going to get it, kind of depends on how well we move the ball and how many opportunities we get, what kind of game it is, are we playing great defense, that kind of thing.

"But I will say that he's going to improve. He has all the qualities. Here's the thing -- if you're smart, if you're tough, if you're disciplined, if you have a great work ethic, there's improvement ahead. And he has all those things. So I think he's going to improve, and I think he's going to force us to get him the ball a little bit more in some situations."


 
 
 
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