The Curious Case of Miami Dolphins RB Knowshon Moreno

BJ Kissel@bkissel7Contributor IJune 25, 2014

The Miami Dolphins are hoping to solve the curious case of sixth-year NFL veteran running back Knowshon Moreno, who's looking to build off an impressive 2013 season.

Moreno posted career bests in rushing yards (1,038), receiving yards (548), targets (74), receptions (60) and touchdowns (13) last season in Denver. 

But after signing this offseason with the Dolphins, Moreno will carry the weight of backing up those numbers and that kind of production with a new team—a team without Peyton Manning at quarterback.

That's going to be the struggle for Moreno this season with the Dolphins, even though they have a good young quarterback in Ryan Tannehill. 

At this point, Moreno isn't even guaranteed a starting position either.

He's competing against Lamar Miller, who led the team with 177 carries and 709 yards last season, as well as Daniel Thomas, who had over 100 carries for the Dolphins in 2013. 

Moreno finished with 241 carries for 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing last season, accumulating 30 percent of his career rushing yards in his fifth NFL season. 

In the two years before last season, Moreno played in just 15 games combined due to injuries. In those two years, he carried the ball 175 times for 704 yards and four touchdowns. 

After a knee injury during OTAs, Moreno will be out for the next four to five weeks after arthroscopic knee surgery, via Adam Schefter of ESPN

Moreno was a fantasy football steal for anyone last year who took a chance on him after back-to-back seasons with poor numbers. 

But heading into this season with the Dolphins, fans will want to know if Moreno's breakout season was a product of Manning's dominance in Denver, or if he just finally stayed healthy and was able to be on the field. 

To help answer this curious dilemma, let's take a closer look at some of the more in-depth stats of Moreno's five-year career, via Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

Knowshon Moreno's year-by-year numbers in Denver (NFL rank)
YearCarriesYDS After ContactElusive RatingBreakaway %Forced MT
20132412.023.6 (86)25.0 (53)24
20121382.118.9 (98)26.1 (52)13
2011372.761.9 (13)25.7 (54)7
20101822.536.4 (39)19.0 (65)26
20092472.424.9 (69)14.3 (88)23
Pro Football Focus

Based on these numbers from Pro Football Focus, there's nothing Moreno did last season that was significantly better than his previous years, other than simply being on the field. 

Moreno's yards after contact (2.0) were even a little bit lower than what we've seen from him throughout his career.

He's never been mistaken for a physically dominating running back, having never finished higher than No. 36 in the NFL in average yards after contact in his career. 

In regards to his elusive rating, which PFF defines as "a runner's success beyond the point of being helped by his blockers," Moreno didn't impress in 2013 either. 

He finished No. 86 (includes all running backs) in the NFL in this category last season, which was the best season of his career, yet it was his second-worst in regards to this ranking. 

Their formula for determining "elusive rating" is (missed tackles forced) / (carries + receptions) * (yards after contact per attempt) * 100.

His breakaway percentage, which PFF defines as the "percentage of their yardage on big plays (any runs of 15 yards or more)," didn't look much different his previous two seasons either. 

But with a new scheme and different personnel around him in Miami, it's hard to say any of these numbers will correlate to what he's going to be able to do with the Dolphins. 

The only thing we know for sure is that his career in Miami has started poorly with the news of a recent knee injury, which will force him to miss at least the start of training camp. 

Assuming he can stay healthy and get on the field for the Dolphins at some point, let's see what Moreno's able to bring to the table. 

Here's a look at three plays from Moreno last season for the Broncos

This first play is from an area Moreno should be able to contribute to right away for the Dolphins, and that's in the passing game. Whether it's as an every-down back or in a third-down role. 

Only five running backs had more receptions than Moreno last season. 

On this play against Washington, Moreno takes a screen pass for 35 yards and a touchdown.

Right off the snap, Moreno does a great job of selling the screen, hiding behind the left guard and then quickly getting his head around with his hands up to catch the pass. 

Simply stated, this is what it's supposed to look like.

Moreno made a couple of nice moves in the open field on this play, but none were better than his final cut back when two Washington defenders got caught over-pursuing.

This allowed Moreno to cut back and pick up the final 10 yards for the touchdown.  

With Moreno's current left knee injury, this last cut is the kind of move in the open field that he'll have to prove he can still make when he comes back from surgery. 

Along those same lines, this next play is also the kind of run Moreno will need to show to prove to everyone that he is in fact back and healthy.   

Moreno takes the handoff on the inside run and immediately cuts to his right and accelerates.

It's not a highlight-reel move, but if he doesn't fully trust his left knee in this scenario, a false step or a couple of quick chops to change direction and gather his momentum provides enough time for the defense to close the lane and stop this for no gain. 

Instead, he bursts through the line, and when he sees a defender approaching he lowers his shoulder and drives through for a couple more yards.

Again, Moreno's trust in his knee allowed him to quickly make that initial cut but also to lower his shoulder and use his legs to accelerate through the contact and attempted tackle.

Here's one more look at Moreno making a play in the run game.

He sees the cutback lane and window to the second level and has the athleticism to break this for a big gain. The margin of error on these runs, and the timing to get into space for running backs, is shorter than some might think.

Hesitancy, either by athletic ability or a mental block due to overcoming an injury, is enough to ruin these plays. They still might gain a few yards, but when talking about the difference between a starting running back in the NFL and one who's just hoping to make a contribution, this is the difference. 

The jury is going to be out on Moreno for a while simply because of the injury, which could be the primary reason he just got a one-year deal with the Dolphins this offseason, coming off the best season of his career at just 26 years old. 

So while he's busy trying to prove to everyone that he's healthy and that last year wasn't a fluke, the bigger picture for the Dolphins is proving that Ryan Tannehill is the young quarterback that's going to ultimately lead them to the playoffs and beyond. 

A healthy Moreno could be a big part in helping answer that question for Miami.

But until he proves he can stay on the field and contribute as he did last season, we'll just have to wait and be curious. 


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