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Spotlight - RB Tatum Bell, Denver Broncos

Jason Wood's mug

Jason Wood's Thoughts

Yet another year when Mike "Skeletor" Shanahan is doing fantasy pundits no favors. I long for the days when we knew it was going to be Terrell Davis or Clinton Portis carrying the ball with abandon. But for the 2nd straight year, it's anybody's guess how the running workload is going to be parsed out in Denver.

One thing is certain, Shanahan prefers to have one lead back. A year ago, he had every reason in the world to split carries. Quentin Griffin, Mike Anderson, Tatum Bell and Reuben Droughns all arguably brought different abilities to the table. Yet, Griffin got the majority of carries until he fumbled his way out of the role. Then, surprisingly, Reuben Droughns was given the rock to the tune of 22 times per game once he got the starting role.

We also know that whoever gets the ball, they're going to be in position to produce solid fantasy stats. Terrell Davis, Clinton Portis, Mike Anderson, Olandis Gary and Reuben Droughns have all had solid years in the last decade. Now all but Anderson are gone from the group...but Denver's zone blocking scheme and Shanahan's ability to pick backs who fit the system remains.

Ultimately, that should lead you to the following conclusion. Whoever gets the rock is going to have fantasy value. Tatum Bell is the odds on favorite according to most projections. Yet some have argued that since he might not be the starter (Mike Anderson has been atop the depth chart all preseason), you could be wasting an early pick (3rd round most likely) on someone who's going to disappoint. Well, that MAY be true, however, I would have to seriously consider Bell in the 3rd round IF I had two solid RBs ahead of him. As my RB2? I'd be less comfortable.

But what about Anderson?

Some would think Mike Anderson is a logical fit to start in Denver. After all, as a rookie he ran for 1,487 yards and 15 TDs on his way to a 4th place fantasy finish. But that was four years ago and his role has steadily diminished to the point where he played fullback for a time. If Anderson was really that good, why hasn't he beaten out the last few RBs including Reuben Droughns a season ago? I'm not sure I have the answer to that, but I can say that IF Shanahan is serious about Anderson starting this year, he's worth quite a bit more than his current ADP suggests.

Most likely Anderson's place atop the depth chart is merely a tool to light a fire under Tatum Bell. Remember people argued that Clinton Portis wasn't the clear cut starter in Denver and then he ended up with 1,508 yards as a rookie.


  • Bell was very productive running behind the same zone blocking scheme at Oklahoma State
  • In limited action last year, he averaged a solid 5.3 YPC
  • It's difficult to envision Mike Anderson holding him at bay given Anderson's ever-decreasing role with the team over the last few seasons


  • Bell must prove capable of handling a heavy workload and staying healthy
  • Mike Anderson has been ranked atop the depth chart all preseason
  • Bell has problems with fumbles in college at times, and that's the surest way to find yourself on the bench in Denver (just as Q. Griffin)

Final Thoughts

Tatum Bell could be the next uber-back in Denver. Or he could be a 3rd round bust who loses out to veteran Mike Anderson. Since you have to pay a hefty price for Bell's services on draft day, I'm not going to passionately argue that he's worth it. That said, IF he does start the majority of the year, he's more than worth a 3rd round draft choice. If it were me, I would take him only as my RB3...I realize that probably means I won't roster him too often this season and that's OK. Better to be disciplined in your assessment than to reach in the first few rounds.

Bob Henry's Thoughts

Every year one of the Denver Broncos running backs usually becomes among the most productive fantasy backs in the league. Last year more than any other year proved that it need not be the starter, or even the backup, or his backup. Why not the fullback? Reuben Droughns gives hope to everyone who cares to roll the dice on a Bronco back in the last round of a draft. Someone like Ron Dayne could somehow catch a breeze to his back and become a 1,000 yard rusher. Why not? Droughns did. So did Mike Anderson, the current starter according to Mike Shanahanís depth chart. Thatís where the Shanahan factor comes into play. Itís impossible having a conversation about the Broncos RBs without including Shanny.

Mike Anderson ran for nearly 1,500 yards in 2000 in less than 14 starts while scoring 15 TDs. Heíll be 32 in September and has two serious knee injuries in the past few years. If he holds up thereís absolutely no question he could be a very productive fantasy back. So why isnít he going in the first or second round? Yeh, thatís where Shanahan comes back into the picture. Shanahanís ego is difficult to overlook. After all, he did draft Tatum Bell higher than he did Clinton Portis. And we all know what happened when Portis was undervalued before his rookie season.

Bell has elite speed (4.34 40) and appeared well on his way toward becoming a breakout player in 2005 with the toughness and big play ability he flashed down the stretch last year. All signs would point toward Bell having a breakout year, except Shanahan has Anderson #1 on the depth chart. Anderson may start the season, but whoís to say Bell doesnít start the next 15 and dominate? Bellís a fumbler and hardly proven as a durable feature back Ė yet. Griffin had his shot last year and fumbled it away Ė literally. Dayneís never been productive and his career numbers bear that out. Yet heís looked good in camp and even his name screams to be selected in the last rounds of drafts.


  • Broncos RBs averaged 4.5, 4.7 and 4.7 rushing yds/carry the last three years with 53 total TDs
  • Offensive line is among the most efficient and best run blocking units in the league
  • The Broncos offensive surrounding talent is extremely favorable to great rushing numbers across the board
  • Because thereís considerable doubt about who will start, whoever guesses right will have exceptional value in the draft


  • If you draft Bell in the 2nd or 3rd round you better be right or waste roster spots and more draft picks to secure your Broncos goldmine.
  • Shanahan plays Jedi mind tricks with fantasy owners. Good luck playing that game.
  • While the Broncos generally havenít used a goal-line back in the past, Anderson could easily win that job while Bell becomes a yardage machine Ė each limiting the otherís ceiling.

Final Thoughts

Thereís absolutely no question the Denver Broncos will produce strong stats across the board with their running game in 2005. From one game to the next, however, it might be difficult to read Shanahan if there are injuries, fumbling or even poor play. Heís shown a willingness to switch horses midstream, which makes drafting any Broncos RB an interesting dilemma. If we could get a true read on what Shanahan will do it promises to include Mike Anderson as long as heís healthy, willing and able. If he doesnít deliver Tatum Bell may grab the rock and never look back. Heís the home run of the bunch, but not from a perspective of draft value. Heís an incredible risk that could bring solid rewards, but not as embarrassingly rich as drafting Ron Dayne in round 20 and see him blow up in the 2nd half of the season Ė as shocking and unbelievable as that may sound. The same would be said for Maurice Clarett. Where there is opportunity in Denver the result is almost always gold. Just hope your pick isnít foolís gold.

Quotations from the Message Board Thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

The topic has been debated extensively in multiple threads and it boils down to risk vs. reward. Everyone knows the reward in having the #1 rb in Denver but there is a risk in picking the right guy and not overpaying for a guy that may not win the starting job.

I've got a hunch Shanny gets it in his head to let Mike Anderson run with the ball until he loses the #1 RB job due to poor performance, fumbles or injury...with Tatum Bell waiting in the wings. Anderson appears to be motivated to keep the job that's tenuously his in camp.

Joe T:
I think it's impossible to predict. But if I had to take a stance... which if you draft at this point in the year then you do, I would stay as far away from Bell as possible given where he is currently being drafted.

Tatum Bell Projections

Jason Wood23511207252501
Bob Henry24011307272302
Message Board Consensus23410948231562

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