NEW YORK CITY––If Montee Ball of the Denver Broncos had a vote for the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year award, he'd bypass fellow running back Eddie Lacy, not that he has anything against the Packers' workhorse.
"There's a lot (of candidates) out there," said Ball. "I'm going to stay humble with it. I'm not going to pick myself, but if there's one player I would have to pick, it would have to be Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen."
Perhaps Ball was influenced by Allen's performance against the Broncos in the divisional round of the playoffs when he had six catches for 142 yards and two touchdowns in a losing effort. Or maybe it was because of Allen's two-touchdown effort in a Week 15 regular season win over Denver.
Whatever the case, the former Wisconsin Badgers product still considers Lacy and the rest of the rookie class of running backs as friends.
"I'm really good friends with all of them," said Ball. "I had the opportunity to obviously meet them all at the Combine, and we're all really close. But I think I stack up pretty well with them."
Three running backs were selected before Lacy was taken with the 29th pick of the second round of the NFL draft this past season, including Ball, who was taken by the Broncos just three slots ahead of him.
Broncos director of player personnel Matt Russell said in the aftermath of the draft that the team chose Ball ahead of Lacy because of concerns about an existing injury to his big toe, which Lacy had fixed by getting the joint fused. The procedure never seemed to affect Lacy in his first season in the NFL.
Despite Lacy being the fourth running back selected, however, and being arguably the most productive of his class, each of the four has worked out well in their own respective ways.
The first running back off the board with the fifth pick of the second round and 37th overall was Giovani Bernard of the Cincinnati Bengals, who led all rookies at his position with 56 receptions for 514 yards and three receiving touchdowns.
Next was Le'Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers, scooped up with the 16th pick of the second round, 48th overall. After overcoming an early injury and missing the first three games of the year, Bell finished his season with 860 yards and eight touchdowns.
Ball was grabbed next, and now finds himself in position to potentially win a Super Bowl in just his first year in NFL, sharing a backfield with Knowshon Moreno but still rushing for 559 yards and four touchdowns.
Had Ball been the starter in Denver and gotten as many carries as guys like Lacy, he believes he could be in Rookie of the Year contention too.
"I think so," said Ball, "but I'm really glad how everything happened because I think me and Knowshon contribute to the table in our own ways, but all in a great way for our offense."
Lacy ended up leading all rookies in rushing with 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns. He's already been named the league's Rookie of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America and will be looking to add another trophy for his mantelpiece on Saturday.
Lacy is scheduled to appear at the Third Annual NFL Honors awards show at Radio City Music Hall in New York City on Feb. 1 when the Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year and the overall Pepsi Next Rookie of the Year voted upon by fans are handed out.
Television coverage of the event will air at 7:00 p.m. CT on Fox.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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