With the NBA and NHL Drafts now a few days behind us, there’s only one draft in sight worth looking forward to; you guessed it, your fantasy football draft. Every year we put countless hours doing mock drafts and conducting research in an attempt to sharpen our knowledge as we’re always looking for that leg up in our respective league. We do the work so you don’t have to. The kickoff of the regular season is still a mere 2+ months away, so we’re kicking off our fantasy football previews for all 32 teams. Who better to start with than the World Champion Denver Broncos?
My, how the tables have turned for the Denver Broncos. A team that has marched to two Super Bowls in the past three seasons now has a completely different blueprint – particularly at the QB position. Behind the tutelage of Peyton Manning, the Broncos have bolstered one of the most explosive offenses for fantasy owners to rely on over the past few years. However, this is a team that is no longer on their 2013 level where they ranked 1st in the league in total yards, and may not even be able to match their 2015 production where they were middle of the pack in total yards.
There won’t be a Peyton Manning under center as he rode off into the sunset, or even Brock Osweiler as he jumped ship and took his talent to Houston. This leaves a huge downgrade at the QB position as Mark Sanchez will more than likely be the man to succeed the Manning/Osweiler tandem for the Super Bowl champions, unless Trevor Siemian can overtake him this preseason. Sanchez doesn’t offer much from a fantasy perspective. However, he’s a guy who could fill in as a worst case scenario starter one week this year, depending on the matchup. Put him up against a poor pass defense, and Sanchez has potential to turn in a productive game – especially with what quite possibly could be the best supporting cast he’s had during his entire career. For instance, he threw for 199 yards with a pair of TDs and no INTs last season against the Lions, good for 19 fantasy points. Not an ideal QB for your team, but someone who holds upside based on the matchup.
In dynasty leagues, Paxton Lynch is certainly worth an early pick. While he’s not going to start week 1, he surely can see some playing time under center during his rookie campaign if he continues to make fast impressions. Known for his mammoth size at 6’7”, Lynch is also known for his readiness to start in the NFL, or lack thereof. While very raw, Lynch has elite arm talent and plus athleticism which will make him a great fantasy option. I give him no more than two years before he becomes the full-time starter in Denver and sees success, especially if Denver can retain their weapons on the offense.
The other guy worth a look in dynasty leagues is fellow draftee Devontae Booker. Drafted in the 4th round out of Utah, Booker was a workhorse for the Utes and was arguably the most decorated running back in the Pac-12. It’ll be interesting to see how Booker factors into the backfield, especially in the early weeks. The Broncos made efforts to bring back both C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman over the offseason, so you know they’ll get the bulk of the carries. However, Booker is bigger than both and runs as hard as they come which should bode well in the more physical football games Denver finds themselves in. Remember, both Anderson and Hillman got off to a slow start last season; if that happens again, Booker will benefit. I expect a steady increased workload as the season goes on. Right now I have Booker as my 4th ranked rookie RB.
Now we get into the meat and potatoes of the Denver Broncos fantasy football options. Demaryius Thomas is the highest rated player on the squad. Despite the flip-flop at the QB position last season, Thomas still accumulated over 100 catches on the year and finished just outside of the top 10 among fantasy WRs as his ‘lack’ of TDs (6) kept him out of the top 10 as all but two WRs in that group hauled in double-digit TDs on the year.
Looking at this season, you would have to think Thomas is in for one of the worst years of his career, not to his fault, however. You never know what you’re going to get from Mark Sanchez under center. Quite frankly, I don’t think Thomas can be a trusted WR1 this season. He’ll remain the #1 target on the offense and will see his fair share of 100 yard games on the season, but the inconsistency of a guy like Sanchez will result in inconsistent production from Thomas. His ADP right now is 3.05 which I think is fair – shouldn’t go any earlier than the 3rd round.
The other guy in the WR corps to look at is Emmanuel Sanders. Last season he too finished as a top 20 WR and I don’t think he’ll be too far behind Thomas this season. To put it in perspective, he finished only 16 fantasy points behind Thomas last season, on nearly 30 less catches. Still under 30 years old, Sanders is a guy who can stretch the field or make plays with the ball in his hands on short routes which could fit Sanchez’s playing style better. His ADP is currently late 5th round which doesn’t do him justice at all. His production won’t be too far off from that of Thomas, and I even think he can finish with more fantasy points this season. Would be great value in the 4th round vicinity.
After Thomas and Sanders, someone is bound to step up the production and emerge as a viable 3rd option in the WR corps. Bennie Fowler, Cody Latimer, Jordan Norwood and Jordan Taylor are all guys in the mix. Latimer was a guy poised for a breakout season in 2015, but disappointed as he’s caught only 8 passes throughout his first two years in the NFL. If I had to put my money on it, Norwood is in the best situation to produce. With Thomas and Sanders on the outside, Norwood serves as the best slot receiver and outperformed both Fowler and Latimer last season. Worth a late round stash in deeper leagues.
At tight end, Virgil Green and Jeff Heuerman will see the majority of the snaps. Green is a guy who has been anticipating a breakout season for years now, but hasn’t been able to put it together. Still presents upside, but he doesn’t look too promising. Heuerman is the more intriguing option at TE. While he missed his entire rookie season with a knee injury, the former Buckeye and 3rd round pick is a vertical pass-catching TE who could prove to be a reliable target for Sanchez. Has the size and frame to be lethal in the redzone. Garrett Graham is a deep sleeper at the position, a slippery receiving threat if he catches on in the offense.
Now we shift our focus to the backfield. We’ve already mentioned both C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman a bit, but now we dive into their respective fantasy outlooks. Anderson proved to be one of the biggest disappointments of the 2015 season. After a breakout 2014 campaign, he was one of the top running backs taken in drafts at this time just a year ago. His early sturggles last season opened the door for Ronnie Hillman who finished as the 19th RB compared to Anderson who was 31st. While he started slow, Anderson put a nice final stretch together at the end of the season as he finished with 4 of his 5 TDs in the final five weeks. He was good in the playoffs and even scored on the game’s biggest stage. His ADP is 4.04 which I feel is too high. With a downgrade at QB, teams can shift even more focus on the running game which doesn’t bode well for the inconsistent Anderson. I wouldn’t take him over guys like Jeremy Langford or Jonathan Stewart,
As for Ronnie Hillman, his ADP is all the way in the 13th round which is quite criminal. I mean, he did finish with more fantasy points than Anderson last season. While he’s not going to be a reliable RB2 or maybe even FLEX, he’s the next man up if Anderson doesn’t prove to be the feature back which Denver is hoping for. Hillman is on a one year deal so the Broncos wouldn’t mind milking Hillman for all he’s worth and giving him a big workload if he can be a steady producer. He’s a guy who could have a big week at some point then allow you to sell high and get some value in return.
The Broncos aren’t the fantasy football juggernaut like we’ve seen in years past. It’s rare to see a Super Bowl champion enter somewhat of a ‘rebuilding mode’. I don’t expect 100+/1,300+ production from Thomas with Sanchez serving as the gunslinger of the offense, although I think Sanders will have a great season and very well could out-produce his counterpart along with his late 5th round ADP. Be cautious with C.J. Anderson, I don’t think he can be trusted as an RB2 at this point. Hillman should not last until the 13th round and is well worth a flyer that late. Jordan Norwood is a sleeper to watch for.
*All ADP according to fantasyfootballcalculator.com and 12 team standard format