Brought to you in part by: The mean streets of

Submit any blog posts you feel are worthy to
And by worthy.. we mean that they don't suck.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Shanahan Running Back Syndrome: An Explanation?

Presently, fantasy owners tend to stay away from Denver running backs as if they had Ebola. You know, the disease where you bleed from every orifice? Yeah, that one.

This is because in the past few years Mike Shanahan has decided that his team shall use a running back by committee, even when it does not make sense in the way it is being used. To be fair, Shanahan was the trend-setter in regards to the current committee running back situations we’re now faced with. Or shall I say, burdened with. Not that knowing the running back’s backup and backup’s backup is a bad thing. It’s just that if we didn’t need to, we could be spending that research time on other things like you know, our families.

Most of all that is common knowledge. What isn’t, is why it’s all happened in the first place. I’ve never heard an explanation, nor could I find one with specifically phrased searches through Google. So in the interests of fantasy owners who have been met their downfall thanks to a committee backfield in Denver, I embarked on a quest. I did not know where it would take me nor did I know what I would find. I just knew that it was a quest worth taking. I’m not promising an answer to the whole thing but as you’ll find at the end, a logical suggestion.


In the wake of Terrell Davis’ retirement right before the 2002 season, the Denver Broncos became known as a running back factory. It seemed that no matter who the running back was, they would rack up at least 1200 yards and a half dozen TD’s. That stat mark, surprisingly was the minimum for that time and was set by Reuben Droughns in 2004. Yes, you read that correctly. Had you forgotten that Droughns was actually relevant once upon a time? It’s understandable.

Clinton Portis would alter Broncos fans‘ opinions that Davis could not be replaced rather quickly in 2002. At least the opinion that 1508 rushing yards 15 TD’s was a suitable replacement. Portis would follow his breakout rookie season with an even better one in 2003. He would rush for more yards (1591), but one less touchdown (14). Oh yeah, Portis also played in only 13 games in 2003 compared with all 16 the previous year. It puts the whole thing into better perspective, I think.

Following (what would soon come to be) an annual decimation of the team by the Indianapolis Colts 41-10 in the Wild Card round, Portis would be traded to the Washington Redskins straight-up for shut down corner Champ Bailey. The trade made sense because the passing game had needed help, but many wondered how the running game would fare now that Terrell Davis’ worthy successor had been traded away.

The answer to that question would lie in a Broncos fullback named Reuben Droughns. After rushing for 1240 yards and 6 TD’s, many declared Shanahan a genius in his scouting of running backs. Droughns would go onto Cleveland after just one year as a starter in Denver. There, he would put up another respectable season (1232 yards and 2 TD’s) in 2005 and then fall off the face of the earth. At least in terms of being a starting RB.

Once Droughns was shipped to Cleveland, that was it in terms of having just one starting RB. Over the next three years Shanahan’s approach to the running game would shift dramatically. He would use at least two but sometimes three different RB’s throughout the season.


While it’s impossible to pinpoint exactly where Shanahan shifted towards this new mentality, my best guess is Week 1 in 2005 at Dolphins Stadium. Anderson had gotten the start and was likely primed to be the starter for the rest of the year except that he got roughed up, bruised his ribs and effectively changed the landscape of fantasy football for the remainder of time. Way to go, Mike.

Into the game stepped Tatum Bell a rookie out of Oklahoma State. Although the team was shellacked 34-10 by the Dolphins and Bell only rushed for 47 yards on 13 carries with no TD’s, the teams backfield was never quite the same. Bell had to have done something.

Opinions here can vary. Either you can think Shanahan was going to use both Anderson and Bell from the get go or you can think Anderson’s injury and something about Bell’s performance in that game changed his perception somehow. One would make sense while the other would not. At least not as much.

Take into account the rest of what happened. In 2006, with Anderson gone and Bell poised to be the starter, Shanahan would give more than half of Tatum’s carries to an un-drafted rookie free agent named Mike Bell. The fact they both had the last name Bell only proved to further frustrate fantasy owners who had banked on Tatum, but not on this un-drafted Mike character. It was here that the legend of Mike Shanahan not being a big a fan of fantasy football would begin. It would only multiply exponentially in 2007.

With Tatum Bell gone, Mike Shanahan decided not to give his only remaining Bell any shot at the starting job at all. This is because the team had signed free agent Travis Henry and two more un-drafted rookie FA’s Selvin Young and Andre Hall. Hey, I never said this whole thing was going to make sense.

Although Henry and Young would split the majority of the carries, Shanahan designated Hall worthy of his own 44 carries. The ordeal was so traumatizing for some fantasy owners that many swore off Denver Broncos RB’s for the rest of their lives. Many have stayed true to that claim to this very day.


With both Selvin Young and Andre Hall still on the team, Shanahan went ahead and gave the go-ahead to draft another rookie RB in the fifth round of the draft. He was out of Arizona State and his name is Ryan Torain.

Unfortunately for Ryan, he dislocated his elbow, did some ligament damage to it and will likely miss three months minimum. While I would not even think about suggesting that this injury was incurred due to the mass amount of karma directed at the Broncos RB situation from fantasy football owners who had put stake in them, I could go ahead and say that it may have opened up an opportunity for Shanahan to go back to a one-back system.

Or if you’ve already solved the mystery, will realize that 2008 will just become another chapter in the wondrous story that is Mike Shanahan’s running back depth chart management. Here’s a Scooby Snack for you.


When you read the history of the whole ordeal as I have so succinctly put it and then sit back and think about it, it will likely just dawn on you. It’s really the only thing that would make sense next to Mike Shanahan actually trying and enjoying his toying with the game of fantasy football. Since that reason has never really sat right with me, the new one I’ve come up with makes a lot more sense.

Think about it. What other possibility could there be for someone to go all-in on not one, but TWO un-drafted rookie RB’s? And then have it work for them? And THEN proceed to draft another rookie in the fifth round of the very next draft? Why on earth would someone do that? I don’t care how much he dislikes fantasy football, I don’t think he’s going to involve a whole draft selection in order to mess give in to his hatred.

We’ve all come to the conclusion that Mike Shanahan is a supreme evaluator of RB talent. That much is certain. But why would he just not use one back? Why use multiple ones year after year, especially after having had so many successful years with just one starting RB? The answer?

The can of Coke is always hall-full for Mike Shanahan.

He’s an optimist.

An optimist with a Hall of Fame eye for RB talent, but an optimist none-the-less.

No comments:

Website Hit Counters
Web Counter