Dolphins Sign Knowshon Moreno
The former first-round running back had been a disappointment in Denver for much of his career. He barely cracked 4.0 yards per carry for his career heading into 2013, and he seemed to be buried on the depth chart heading into camp. Perhaps we should have put more stock into the way he finished 2012, however — 471 total yards and three touchdowns over his final four games — in order to project his 2013 season.
To wit, Moreno earned the starting gig in the preseason and had a career year, coming in fifth in the league in total yards (1,586) and tied for third in touchdowns (13). He was the Yin to Manning’s Yang in a record-breaking offense, often trusted to deliver in big game situations.
Despite the great season, Moreno was given little more than a pat on the back and a thank you note on his way out of Denver. The Broncos made no attempt to keep him in the fold with the younger Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman ready to take bigger roles, and Moreno found himself floundering in a weak running back market.
The Miami Dolphins finally threw him a lifeline last week, however, inking Moreno to a one-year, $3 million deal. The Dolphins needed an upgrade to their backfield, and they got one in the 26-year-old back. Of course, any car seems like an upgrade when you drive a Pinto.
Miami boasted the 26th-ranked rushing offense last season. Lamar Miller disappointed in his second season, averaging just 4.0 yards per carry (YPC), and Daniel Thomas was his usual plodding self, though his 3.7 YPC was a career high. Neither was particularly palatable as a blocker or pass-catcher, which is a big reason why Moreno was brought on board. But how much can we trust his numbers from last season?
It’s no small coincidence that Moreno’s fantastic year came when defenses had to account for a balefire passing offense.
192 of Knowshon Moreno’s 242 carries last year came with 6 men or fewer in the box.
— Christopher Harris (@CHarrisESPN) March 27, 2014
It’s safe to say opposing defenses won’t be nearly as scared of Ryan Tannehill, even if he continues to improve in his third season. Moreno averaged just 4.3 YPC — decent, but not great — despite facing short-man fronts on most running plays. He has seen his overall PFF rating improve each of the past four seasons, culminating in the 15th-best rating in the NFL last season (+9.9). But his 23.6 elusive rating and 25.0 breakaway percentage are pedestrian numbers, and he managed just 2.0 yards after contact per carry, among the worst in the league.
Then there is the fact the Dolphins utilized their running backs like a politician making promises last season — that is to say, there was no telling when Miller or Thomas would get more playing time and touches in a game. Twenty-two carries against the New York Jets in Week 13 gave way to just six against the Pittsburgh Steelers the following week for Miller, for example.
Of course, Mike Sherman — Miami’s offensive architect of failure over the past two seasons — is gone, replaced by offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. He comes from the Philadelphia Eagles, a team that led the league in rushing last season. Of course, it helps having one of the best running backs in the league anchoring the run game. Moreno is no LeSean McCoy.
Quality of running back notwithstanding, the Eagles were a far more balanced team than the Dolphins last season. Philadelphia almost had an even 50-50 split between passing and rushing attempts, while Miami had the fourth-highest pass-to-run ratio at 37 percent. More balance means more rushing attempts to split. With Moreno’s pass-blocking abilities surpassing both Thomas’ and Miller’s, he figures to get the most playing time in Miami. He is also adept at catching the ball out of the backfield, as evidenced by his 60 receptions last season.
All that to say, Moreno is a safe bet to lead Miami in touches next season, barring injury of course. Opportunity is key to fantasy value, but so is reality — Moreno is not a top running back, despite what his 2013 statistics might say. Perhaps of equal importance, even an improved offense in Miami is still far worse than the one from whence he came.
A statistical regression is coming for him. Beware.