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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
Report: Antonio Cromartie avoids ACL tear
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:47 pm ET) The Cardinals received some good news on cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who left Sunday's game against the 49ers due to a knee injury, according to FOX Sports 910 AM. Cromartie avoided an ACL tear, and has been diagnosed with a hyperextended knee and bone bruise.

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(12:44 pm ET) Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Monday running back Jonathan Stewart and fullback Mike Tolbert will each get an MRI after suffering leg injuries Sunday against the Steelers.

Stephen Tulloch out for season due to knee injury
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:28 pm ET) Lions coach Jim Caldwell announced Monday linebacker Stephen Tulloch will be placed on injured reserve after suffering a torn ACL Sunday against the Packers. Tulloch was injured during a post-play celebration.

Sources: Jason Kelce likely needs surgery for sports hernia
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:18 pm ET) Eagles center Jason Kelce has a sports hernia injury and likely needs surgery, NFL sources told The Philadelphia Inquirer. Kelce could miss up to two months or more, but additional tests will help determine the length of his absence.

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by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:54 am ET) Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey extended his streak of consecutive field goals made to 28 during a 34-31 win Week 3 at St. Louis, which set a new franchise record. The previous mark was set by his former kicking coach, Chris Boniol, in 1996. 

"Knowing him, I know he’ll be happy for me, but he’ll also be telling me to keep stringing 'em together," Bailey said, per ESPN.


Report: Bears optimistic injured WRs play Monday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:46 am ET) The Bears remain optimistic wide receivers Alshon Jeffery (hamstring) and Brandon Marshall (ankle) will play Monday against the Jets, barring any surprise setbacks, according to The Chicago Tribune. Both players are listed as questionable for Week 3.

Trent Richardson's playing time eclipses Ahmad Bradshaw's
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(11:43 am ET) For the first time all season, Trent Richardson saw the field more than Ahmad Bradshaw in Week 3 against the Jaguars, according to StampedeBlue.com, a Colts blog.

Richardson has shown signs of life over the last few games, and the team rewarded him with 38 of the team's 74 offensive plays. Bradshaw, on the other hand, was limited to just 25 snaps, despite averaging more yards per rush and reception. Entering Week 3, Bradshaw had played 29 more snaps than Richardson through the first two games.

The Colts are heavily invested in Richardson finding his way, and if Sunday's game is any reflection, the team is starting to reflect that in the workload. Keep an eye on this moving forward, Fantasy owners.  


Andrew Hawkins nearing a breakout
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(11:33 am ET) Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins is still unowned in 45 percent of CBSSports.com Fantasy leagues heading into Week 4, and that number needs to shrink.

Fantasy production is all about opportunities, and few receivers have had as many as Hawkins this season. He is currently in a three-way tie for third place in the NFL with 33 targets, and Hawkins has hauled in 63.6 percent of the passes thrown his way thus far. He has yet to find the end zone, but that should come with time -- he scored once every 20 targets in 2012, the only season he received anything like a full workload. He has already been pulled down five times in the red zone this season. 

The Browns have a decidedly vanilla offense, but Hawkins has earned the trust of quarterback Brian Hoyer, who has thrown 34.7 percent of his passes Hawkins' way. His massive workload should pay dividends soon enough, and you will want to be there when Hawkins starts finding the end zone. 


Report: Lions ready to make a change at kicker
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:22 am ET) The Lions are going to make a change at kicker, according to the Detroit Free Press. Detroit is planning to sign former Eagles kicker Alex Henery after kicker Nate Freese missed another field goal attempt Week 3.

Freese has converted just 43 percent of his field goal attempts (3 for 7) through three games. All four of his misses have come from 40-49 yards.


Niles Paul taking advantage of Jordan Reed's absence
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(11:20 am ET) Redskins tight end Niles Paul entered this season with 14 receptions through his first 44 NFL games, so his ascension to the top of the tight end ranks has been a huge surprise, to say the least. Can he keep it up?

Washington has thrown the ball around a ton this season, as the team's 121 passing attempts through three games ranks fifth in the NFL. 24 of those passes have gone Paul's way, and he has hauled in 18 of them for 253 yards, landing him squarely in the top-10 in receiving yards so far. Only Jimmy Graham has more yards than Paul, among tight ends.

Unfortunately, one player looms large with the potential to derail Paul's breakout season. Fellow tight end Jordan Reed has not played or practiced since leaving Week 1's game with a hamstring injury, but he was supposed to be the team's big breakout candidate this season. If he gets back to health, Paul's time in the spotlight could come to an end.

Fortunately for Paul's Fantasy owners, Reed's recovery from his injury has been extremely slow. Paul looks like a must-start Fantasy option, at least as long as Reed is out, so watch those practice reports. 


 
 
 
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