Broncos re-sign Dayne, who might start in 2006

It's a career course taken by a lot of Denver Broncos tailbacks, from afterthought to starter, and now Ron Dayne seems poised to travel the same path.

The former Heisman Trophy winner, a disappointment for much of his six-year career, has signed a three-year contract to remain in Denver rather than test the unrestricted free agent market. And in re-upping for three more seasons, Dayne is suddenly the favorite to move up to the starting lineup, to replace Mike Anderson, who was released last week for salary cap reasons.

Complete financial details of Dayne's contract were not yet available, but it is believed that he received a signing bonus of about $700,000.

His disappointing resume aside, Denver officials and coaches seem confident that Dayne can handle the starting job in 2006, if the team does not further bolster its tailback depth chart. The former New York Giants' first-round choice, Dayne appeared in only 10 games in 2005, his first with the Broncos, and logged just 53 carries for 270 yards.

But in his brief playing time, as the No. 3 tailback behind Anderson and Tatum Bell, Dayne showed the kind of one-cut running skills critical to the success of the Broncos' ground attack. And his 5.1-yard average per carry was impressive as well.

The Broncos have made a habit of turning low-round draft choices and seeming castoffs into 1,000-yard rushers and Dayne, who won the 1999 Heisman Trophy after a brilliant career at Wisconsin, is the latest candidate for such a career transformation. Bell, who rushed for 921 yards and a 5.3-yard average in '05, will probably be given a chance to compete for the starting job as well. But he failed to take advantage of a similar opportunity in training camp last summer. There is also a chance the Broncos could decide to add another back through free agency or the draft.

For now, though, it looks like Dayne is penciled in atop the depth chart.

Dayne, who will turn 28 on Tuesday, was the Giants' first-round choice in 2000, the 11th player taken overall that year. As he rookie, he rushed for 770 yards and five touchdowns, but never again came close to that kind of production. He started just 14 games in five seasons with the Giants, and garnered very little attention in free agency last spring, and eventually signed a one-year contract with the Broncos.

In six seasons and 72 career appearances, Dayne has 638 rushes for 2,337 yards and 17 touchdowns. Only once in the past 11 seasons has Denver failed to have a 1,000-yard rusher.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.