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Willis McGahee Paves the Way for Broncos Turnaround

Willis McGahee is all smiles as the Broncos continue to roll into the playoffs. (REUTERS/Dave Kaup)

A top 5 pick who was one game away from his team winning the national championship, Willis McGahee caught a screen pass from Ken Dorsey and turned up field.

His life changed forever. (*** graphic video ***)

In a split second, McGahee destroyed his ACL, PCL and MCL. But, the Miami born running back wasn’t going to let that stop him.

McGahee decided to enter the 2003 NFL Draft, where teams — for good reason — were cautious about his injury. Heading into April, teams knew that it may take a year or even longer for McGahee to ever play again.

The Buffalo Bills took a gamble on McGahee and selected him 23rd overall. After sitting out his entire rookie season, McGahee was back.

From 2004-2006, McGahee started in 40 games, rushed for 3,365 yards and scored 24 touchdowns. The Bills were finally cashing in on their investment. However, following the 2006 season the relationship quickly became sour.

“I couldn’t wait to get out of there,” McGahee said about Buffalo.

The Bills traded McGahee to the Baltimore Ravens for three draft picks (2007: 3rd and 7th, 2008: 3rd).

In his first season in Baltimore — i.e. the year before Ray Rice joined — McGahee averaged 4.1 yards per carry to tune of 1,207 yards and seven touchdowns. With the emergence of Rice — a quicker, younger back, who could also catch the ball out of the backfield — McGahee’s role decreased.

Over the following three seasons (2008-2010), McGahee started in 11 games and averaged 532 yards per season. After brief success as the Ravens short yardage back in 2009 (he scored 12 touchdowns), McGahee left Baltimore like Buffalo — a disappointment.

When the NFL lockout was lifted, McGahee signed a 4-year $9.5. million contract with the Denver Broncos to spell running back Knowshon Moreno. The beginning of the 2011 season looked like how the 2010 campaign ended for McGahee.

McGahee carried the ball four times for three yards in the Broncos 23-20 loss to the Oakland Raiders.

But, McGahee was about to catch his big break.

McGahee entered into the starting lineup after Moreno strained his hamstring in the Week 1 game against Oakland. All McGahee did was produce.

In six games this season he has rushed for over 100 yards — including a two touchdown, 163 yard performance against the Raiders on Nov. 6. Led by McGahee’s charge, the Broncos boast the No. 1 rushing team in the NFL (156.2 per game) and have won six games in a row.

Not bad for a 30-year-old running back, who has seen his productivity decline since 2007.

To put in perspective McGahee’s remarkable turnaround, consider this: McGahee rushed for 924 yards combined in the previous two seasons. With three games to go in 2011, McGahee has 920.

A lot of people point to Tim Tebow for the success of the Broncos this season , but even Tebow will admit — this team wouldn’t be where it is today if it wasn’t for McGahee.

Who would have thought?

About Matthew Marcantonio - @M_Marcantonio

Matthew Marcantonio is the Patriots and college football editor at Sports of Boston. Marcantonio has contributed for two newspapers; the Sentinel & Enterprise (Leominster, Mass) and The Advocate (Baton Rouge, La) and held internships with The Bleacher Report and Sports Illustrated.

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