ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — It didn’t take long for the injury bug to plague backfields across the entire NFL. The season isn’t even a month old, and the Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings have suffered blows to their respective running back groups.
During Week 4, the Seahawks lost starting running back Chris Carson to the injured reserve with a leg fracture, the Packers lost their top two backs—starting running back Ty Montgomery to multiple broken ribs as well as backup Jamaal Williams—and the Vikings lost starter Dalvin Cook for the season with a torn ACL.
Conversely, the Denver Broncos appear to be sitting in a wealth of talent in the backfield. Starter C.J. Anderson currently has the fourth-most rushing yards in the league, Jamaal Charles’ 5.3 yards-per-carry average in 2017 is not far off from his NFL-record 5.5 career average, and the Broncos have three young backs—Devontae Booker, De’Angelo Henderson and practice squad back Jonathan Williams—in which they are high on.
If any of the three teams hit the panic button in search of a running back—whether it be for depth purposes or a starter—Denver would likely land at the top of the list of potential trade partners due to their health and wealth at the position.
So, why would the Broncos be interested in trading away a valuable asset? The two reasons are simple: to find an immediate starter or impact player, or accumulate draft capital for the future by using their wealth of riches in the backfield to do so.
Through the first four games of the season, Denver has only activated three running backs a game, leaving one back inactive and essentially useless on game day—Booker Weeks 1-3 and Henderson Week 4. As it currently stands, the Broncos have more running backs than they can use, so trading one for another position, or draft pick, would make sense.
The reason the Broncos wouldn’t be interested in trading any of their running backs dates back just to last year. In 2016, Denver saw their backfield quickly deplete when they lost Anderson and Kapri Bibbs for the season and had to pick up Justin Forsett off the street to start the teams final three games of the season.
If they were to make a move, here’s what the Broncos have to offer:
Based on the circumstances, if the Broncos were to move one of their running backs, Booker may be the most likely candidate.
In the first three games of the season, which Booker missed due to injury, Anderson and Charles’ one-two punch in the ground game helped lead Denver to one of the best rushing attacks in the league. When Booker returned in Week 4, he only saw action in 12.5 percent of the team’s offensive snaps, carrying the ball three times for 14 yards.
If a team were to like Booker’s upside, what the Broncos would be offered for him in return may be more valuable than his current value is with the team. The Broncos could replace Booker with practice squad running back Williams. It is clear Denver is high on Williams as they are paying him $30,000 per week to be on the practice squad—over four times the mandated minimum.
Booker’s return would likely look similar to what the New England Patriots got for A.J. Derby when they traded him to the Broncos last year. Derby, a sixth-round pick in 2015, was traded to the Broncos in the middle of last season for a fifth-round pick. If the Broncos were to trade Booker—a fourth-round pick in 2016—they may look to get a third-round draft pick back—one round higher than they selected him.
It seems crazy to even think about the Broncos shipping their “bell cow” and leading rusher in 2017, but if they want a big return, they would have to give up a valuable asset such as Anderson.
At 26 years old and in the prime of his career, C.J. could draw a high draft pick or even a starter, specifically at right tackle to replace Menelik Watson. The closest comparison for a trade much as this would be in 2013 when the Cleveland Browns sent second-year running back Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for a first-round pick after the second week of the season.
With Anderson’s injury history, Denver might not be able to garnish a first-round pick like the Browns were able to, but if desperation sets in for Seattle or Minnesota—both teams trying to make a playoff push—there’s no saying how far they would be willing to go to get a top-end running back.
With the emergence of Charles, and Booker finally returning to game action against the Oakland Raiders, Denver may have enough confidence in the group to move on from Anderson in a “sell high” type of deal.
Additionally, if Denver were to receive a player in exchange for C.J., there may be no better time than during the team’s Week 5 bye week, where the new player could have a few extra days to get in the building and start learning the team’s system.
Of the running backs Denver could trade, Charles may be the most difficult and make the least amount of sense. Not only was Charles a free agent just a few months ago—meaning any team had the opportunity to pick him up—he’s 30 years old and coming off serious knee surgery.
However, through the first four games of 2017, Charles has shown flashes of his old Pro Bowl self—rushing for over five yards per carry in three of his four games while showing the burst he had in his prime with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Jamaal would be appealing to a championship contender because he would likely be viewed as an “all or nothing” type of player with a high ceiling but also likely a higher chance of injury. Charles one-year, $2.5 million contract is relatively inexpensive for a player with his ceiling.
For the Broncos, moving on from Charles would only make sense if the offer was too good to pass up. In 2004, the Raiders traded wide receiver Jerry Rice to the Seahawks for a conditional seventh-round pick. Rice, however, was in the final year of his career—much as Charles could be now—but was barely productive before being traded. Additionally, the Seahawks were in a position of strength as Rice asked for a trade. In Charles’ case, Denver holds all of the power.
It’s difficult to put a value on Charles, but unless a team becomes very desperate, Denver likely wouldn’t draw enough return to move on from the future Hall of Famer.
If they did, however, they would immediately have his replacement, Henderson waiting to fill his spot as a fast, big play potential running back.