Jan 19, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) does a shuffle pass in the second half against the New England Patriots during the 2013 AFC championship playoff football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Fantasy Friday: Denver Broncos Fantasy Outlook, Year in Review

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The Denver Broncos were special on offense in 2013. There is no way to work around it. They scored more points, had more touchdowns and threw for more yards than any team in NFL history. Their special season does not only apply to the NFL record books, it also goes down as the best offensive season by a team in Fantasy Football history. Let’s take a look at what made this team so special.

Quarterback:

Peyton Manning was the player to own in 2013. If you had him, you likely rode his historic season to a fantasy championship. If you didn’t, then you were probably looking up in the standings at the team that did.

The scary thing about his season is that Manning missed 4 quarters throughout the season when games were already in hand. In his absence, Brock Osweiler stepped in and put up decent numbers. On the year, Denver Broncos quarterbacks completed 461 of 675 pass attempts, good for a 68.3% completion rate. Those passes went for 5,572 yards and a gaudy 55 touchdowns, against a mere 10 interceptions. Bronco QBs also took 20 sacks on the year, a stat that is expected to go down this year with the return of Ryan Clady, and Orlando Franklin’s move inside to replace the line’s week link, Zane Beadles.

When looking at the Bronco schedule this upcoming season, my expectation is for most games to be hard fought and for the Broncos to be fighting for playoff positioning down to the wire during week 17. Considering this, I expect Manning will have very little, if any, time this upcoming season. Last season Manning scored 416.88 points in standard leagues through the air. He also had a rushing TD, giving him a total of 422.98 points on the year, a number unheard of in the fantasy world for QBs. My initial reaction is to temper expectations.

How can Manning possibly duplicate this season? He was great in his first season with the Broncos and probably should have won his 5th MVP then, but he had to wait until 2013 to grab grab it while showcasing the best QB play in the history of the game. He has gotten stronger each year, and all reports from Broncos team activities suggest that his arm is at its strongest since his neck surgeries.

 

“Ronnie’s made the biggest strides from last year in my opinion, somebody in his position, he could have tucked his tail between his legs, sat down and said it’s over. But he came back, and he’s competing extremely hard right now.” – Montee Ball

Running Back:

Running Backs in Manning led offenses often have great fantasy value, and that held true this past season. Knowshon Moreno had a career year as the prototype Manning back, rushing for 1,038 yards, on 241 carries, with 10 TDs, all without losing a fumble. He also pitched in 60 receptions for 548 yards and an additional 3 TDs. In total he accounted for 236.6 points in standard leagues and was the 5th highest scoring RB on the year. Pretty good for a player who went undrafted in the majority of leagues. Both of his backups had up and down seasons, but both are expected to play a huge role in the offense this season.

Montee Ball ran for 559 yards on 120 carries, with 4 TDs, and 2 lost fumbles. He pitched in an additional 145 yards on 20 receptions. On the season, Ball contributed a modest 90.4 fantasy points, while struggling with ball control and his hands, in the receiving game, although Ball played great down the stretch, outplaying Moreno. Ball is the unquestioned starter and leader in the backfield, he also believes in his potential backup, Ronnie Hillman.

Hillman is no lock to make the team after a tumultuous sophomore season. If he does, he is the clear cut change of pace option. Hillman has great speed and hands out of the backfield, but his vision and ball security are in question. During Ronnie’s’ first two seasons, he was one of the youngest players in the league and it showed. He ran for 218 yards, on 55 totes, with 1 TD and 1 fumble lost. He also caught 12 balls, for 119 yards, for a total of 37.7 fantasy points. If he can rebound in the manner that Knowshon Moreno was able to, then he can have a Darren Sproles-esque season, filling a similar role in the Bronco offense. Keep an eye on Hillman. If he makes the team, he will have a role in the offense.

 

Wide Receivers:

For the second year in a row, the Broncos had two 1,000 yard receivers. In addition, they had four 10 touchdown receivers, which was a feat that has never been accomplished in the history of the NFL. On the year, the Broncos had the 2nd, 8th and 21st highest scoring receivers fantasy football.

Demaryius Thomas had an unreal season, as the 2nd highest tallying 1,430 yards, on 92 receptions  and leading the position with 14 TDs for 227 fantasy points. In addition, Thomas is still an unfinished product, (you read that right) with plenty of room for growth. I fully expect him to eclipse 100 receptions this season, while maintaining his 15.4 career yards per reception.

His close friend, Eric Decker, also produced a great season, pulling in 87 balls, for 1,288 yards and 11 TDs, with 1 fumble, for a total of 196.8 fantasy points. Any Bronco fan will tell you that the curious case of Eric Decker was infuriating. Decker was nagged by the turf monster in the open field and disappeared for stretches of games, including a stretch spanning multiple games at one point during the season.

In his place the Broncos brought in speedster, Emmanuel Sanders, who spent that past few seasons catching passes from Ben Roethlisberger. Rookie Cody Latimer, is a player much like Decker in size, and route running ability. Latimer is also considered to have some of the best hands from the 2014 draft. I am tempering my expectations with Latimer because the Broncos have so many weapons, but I do expect Sanders to have a big year.

Sanders has put up mediocre numbers thus far, but he has also never had the luxury of catching passes from Peyton Manning. For his part, Sanders wanted to be here. He also fits the bill as an unselfish receiver. This past season, Sanders recorded 67 receptions, for 740 yards and 6 TDs, for 110 fantasy points. Soon after signing with Denver, Sanders was invited to the Duke passing sessions that the Manning brothers hold annually for their wide receivers. Many believe, as do I, that Sanders can step into Decker’s vacated role in the offense and produce bigger numbers and more consistently than the former Bronco.

Rounding out Manning’s main targets is the slot machine, Wes Welker. Welker quickly built chemistry with Manning and became a favorite of his in the red zone, as well as on third down. In his first season with Denver, Welker recorded 73 receptions for 778 yards and 10 TDs, while missing 3 games due to injury. It marked the first time in his career that he recorded more than 10 TDs in a season. Just imagine what he could have done if he had remained healthy. Can we expect this group to duplicate their season? It’s hard to say, but Manning now has more weapons, as well as some new toys to work with and he loves spreading the ball around.

Tight Ends:

Julius Thomas burst onto the scene last season as the 3rd highest fantasy scorer among TEs, with 65 receptions, 788 yards and 12 TDs, while missing 2 games. Thomas was part of John Elway’s original draft class. Thomas was drafted in the model of Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham He is a basketball player turned tight end. Thomas spent the majority of his first 2 seasons fighting ankle issues, but was able to deliver on his potential last season, as he was finally healthy. “O.J.” is just scratching the surface on what he can do in this league.

Behind him the Broncos have Jacob Tamme, Joel Dreessen, Virgil Green and WR turned TE, Gerell Robinson. I like Robinson as a potential sleeper if he makes the team out of camp, as he has great speed for the TE position, with the weight he added to make the switch and could present huge match up problems. I would also advise to temper expectation.  The team has 3 veterans behind Thomas and as a result, Robinson may find it difficult to see the field. I fully expect Julius Thomas to match his 2013 output and possibly exceed it if he can remain healthy.

 

Defense/ST:

Although the Broncos defense looked awful for the majority of the season, they were still able to finish 14th in scoring among the position, with 119 points. The team was missing contributors on each level of the defense throughout the season, losing 6 starters, or key contributors, for extended parts of the season.

If they can return to their 2012 form, where they scored 150 fantasy points and were the 3rd highest scoring defense, then they will be highly sought after. After an offseason where they were able to add DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward and Bradley Roby, the expectations for this unit should be sky high. In terms of special teams, the team loses a bit of its boom potential with the departure of Trindon Holliday, but they do have players that can step into his position and contribute. For now they are flying under the fantasy radar and may turn out to be a draft day steal.

Kicker:

My analysis here is very simple: DRAFT Matt Prater. He is tied to a high powered offense and is the most accurate long ball kicker in the history of the NFL. He finished last season with 169 fantasy points, second only to Stephen Gostkowski. He hit all 8 of his kicks from 40-49 yards and was 6/7 on kicks of 50 yards plus, to go along with 75 extra points.

It’s pretty simple when it comes to the Denver Broncos. They have a player that can start at every position on your roster, and multiple players when it comes to their WRs. Peyton Manning, Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Julius Thomas and Matt Prater are all held in high esteem throughout the fantasy community, while Montee Ball is expected to go between the 2nd and 3rd rounds in standard 10 team leagues. Your sleepers include Emmanuel Sanders, Ronnie Hillman and the Broncos D/ST. If you come away from your draft with multiple Broncos on your roster, chances are you’ll have a pretty good year.

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Tags: Broncos Cody Latimer Demaryius Thomas Denver Broncos Emmanuel Sanders Fantasy Football Julius Thomas Matt Prater Montee Ball Peyton Manning Ronnie Hillman Wes Welker

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