“That’s because, as time progresses, the more it looks to me like the catalyst to Denver’s newfound running attack happens to be a man who plays the game the same way as Daniel Fells. I’m talking about the Broncos’ other-other tight end: Virgil Green.”
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Skill position players who are rostered for their blocking ability just don’t get the credit they deserve.
Everyone knows about Terrell Davis’s 2,000 yard season, and his 1,700 yard season the year before. Olandis Gary then went off for 1,100 yards, then Mike Anderson collected 1,400 yards in 2,000.
This is all very familiar to Broncos fans, but how often do you think about the man who ran through the hole first for all of them; Mr. Howard Griffith?
When Daniel Fells came to Denver, his claim to fame in the NFL was as a blocking tight end. He was supposed to change things up here. He was to be an all-purpose tight end. But he didn’t catch many passes and soon fans tired of Fells and he was sent on down the road.
How long ago was that? It feels like forever ago that he was in Denver. In fact, it was 2011 and people were talking about the poor guy like he was at the end of his rope. But Fells is still in the NFL today, playing for the New York Giants at age 31. From that standpoint, perhaps Denver could’ve used the veteran tight end on their own roster this season.
That’s because, as time progresses, the more it looks to me like the catalyst to Denver’s newfound running attack happens to be a man who plays the game the same way as Daniel Fells. I’m talking about the Broncos’ other-other tight end: Virgil Green.
Green, for all his lack of bravado, was actually drafted in 2011 in the same class as Denver’s more famous tight end, Julius Thomas. He was taken in the seventh round and has played in far more games than Thomas during his career with the Broncos. In fact, Green had played 27 games for Denver before Julius’s breakout season in 2013; yet going into that year there was no shortage of fans or media members that thought Green might not even crack the final 53-man roster.
The notion was completely ridiculous of course, since the Broncos don’t have another tight end on the roster that does what Green does (more on that in a moment), but it just goes to show how underappreciated the life of a blocking back/tight end can be.
But sometimes you don’t know a good thing until it’s gone.
Denver’s running game opened up the 2014 campaign leaving plenty to be desired, but things didn’t get truly anemic until Green’s absence for a three week span against New England, Oakland and St. Louis. During those three weeks, Denver ran the ball 54 times for 189 yards, an average of 3.5 yards per carry on 18 carries per game. Throw out the game against Oakland (aka the worst team in football) and those numbers dip to 27 carries for 71 yards, or 2.6 yards per carry on about 14 carries per game.
Since Green’s return it has been a totally different attack for the Broncos. Denver has run the ball 80 times over the past two weeks for 415 yards, or 40 attempts a week with a 5.2 yards per carry average.
Obviously some of this success on the ground is due to other factors. Both Miami and Kansas City are easier to run on than pass. C.J. Anderson has a running style that seems to fit the Broncos’ offense better than Montee Ball or Ronnie Hillman. But it cannot be ignored that the success of Denver’s running attack is tied to Green.
This makes it all the more inexplicable that Denver doesn’t have a true backup for their blocking tight end. Thomas’s problems blocking have been well-documented this season, and Jacob Tamme, although much better than Thomas, is still more of a pass-catcher than a premier blocker. Is Green’s position so dismissible that Denver can justify not even keeping a backup?
The obvious answer should be no, given the team’s lack of any discernible running game in the absence of Virgil. But such is the life of an elite blocker at a position where people think of production in terms of tangible numbers.
If you’re looking for the Broncos’ unsung hero this season, go ahead and cast my vote for Virgil Green. I’d love for him to see the credit that he deserves.