2018 Fantasy Football Team Preview: Denver Broncos

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Last year was a down year for the Denver Broncos. They were in year two of the Paxton Lynch experiment. They had a new head coach. The offense had a merry-go-round of quarterbacks. Every fantasy relevant player on the team took a step backward. This year is looking a little more exciting. The addition of a stable QB in Case Keenum has given the Broncos an identity on offense. The Broncos have a full offseason with their new offensive coordinator, Bill Musgrave. The offensive line improved with the addition of RT Jared Veldheer. John Elway emphasized offensive playmakers in the draft, taking five skill position players with their 10 draft picks. The team is trending up. Let’s take a look at how the team stacks up in terms of fantasy potential.

Case Keenum (QB)

More than likely, you are not drafting Case Keenum unless you are in a two QB league. I have little to say that could sway you to think otherwise. Bill Musgrave focuses on the running game. Going back to 2011, Musgrave has only one season where his team was in the top 15 in passing yards. In that same time span, his teams have had top 10 finishes in rushing yards four times. Case Keenum was a journeyman quarterback until he was given the opportunity to start last year for the Minnesota Vikings. He finished as QB14 last year. In a standard league, that’s a streamer at best. Keenum’s weapons have also taken a downgrade. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen were incredible targets at wide receiver last year and TE Kyle Rudolph was about as reliable as they come. Keenum’s new targets include Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, who are both in their thirties. To go along with those two, the Broncos have a pair of rookie wide receivers in Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton. There’s nothing to say that this group of guys won’t be successful, but the odds are pretty low that they’ll be able to match the production put up by Keenum’s former teammates in Minnesota. As it stands now, Keenum is a streaming option in the right situations or a bye week fill-in if you’re getting desperate.

Royce Freeman (RB)

I’ve written about Royce Freeman before. In case you missed it, I’m really high on him this year. You could say I’m Mile High on him. Most people will be quick to point out that rookies are a highly combustible fantasy asset and for the most part, I’d say you’re right. Freeman is different though. He’s currently trending to winning the starting job in Denver, out-performing Devontae Booker by a fairly large margin. In his three preseason games, Freeman has three touchdowns and 84 yards on the ground. He’s the one getting the red zone touches. Freeman was extremely productive in college. He has great speed and agility scores (86th percentile and 83rd percentile, respectively). His tape shows great vision and an eye for the end zone. Outside of Saquon Barkley, I’d say that Royce Freeman is the safest rookie RB in fantasy. His ADP has been sky-rocketing (currently RB22 in PPR formats), but I think that’s still a relatively safe position to be in. Last year, C.J. Anderson finished as RB17, while only scoring two touchdowns. Given the Broncos’ modest improvements to their offense and a renewed emphasis in running the ball, I think it’s safe to assume that Freeman could improve on Anderson’s numbers from last year. I’d put him as a high-end RB2 if he’s able to land that starting job.

Devontae Booker (RB)

If you had just read my previous paragraph about Royce Freeman, you might be able to guess that I’m not the biggest fan of Devontae Booker. Really, the only thing that he has going for him is that he is still technically listed as the starter, even though he split first-team carries with Freeman in the last preseason game. There is speculation that his placement on the depth chart is just a nod to the veteran on the team, but we’ll know more as the season approaches. If Denver elects to use a committee at running back, you can expect Booker to be the primary receiving back. That should give him a slight boost in PPR formats. Booker is currently being drafted as RB43. At that stage in the draft, you are looking for diamonds in the rough. Booker could fit that description if Freeman gets hurt or if Booker continues to see the pass-catching opportunities.

Demaryius Thomas (WR)

Demaryius Thomas used to be one of the most consistent, high-scoring receivers in fantasy football. That was when Peyton Manning was throwing him the ball. Unfortunately for him, Manning has retired and Thomas has been trending in the wrong direction ever since. The trend is mostly due to poor play at the quarterback position for the Broncos. Now that the team has signed a seemingly stable quarterback, we have to wonder if Thomas’s best days are behind him. He is currently being drafted as the WR21. That is a good area for him. At this draft position, he can provide a little more stability than some of the wide receivers who are being drafted in the same area. Last year, despite Denver’s awful quarterback situation, Thomas quietly became the tenth most targeted wide receiver in the league. He was 51 yards short of having a 1,000-yard season, which would’ve been his fifth straight. Gone are the days when he would consistently finish inside the top 12, but he should continue to produce inside the top 24 this year. He is a large-bodied receiver on a team looking for a red zone weapon and should be a target monster for Case Keenum. As it stands now, I wouldn’t feel good if you were banking on Thomas being your WR1, but if you’re looking for a safer, second wide receiver option in the fourth or fifth round, you could do a lot worse than Demaryius Thomas.

Emmanuel Sanders (WR)

Sanders struggled through injuries and poor quarterback play all of last year. Now, at the ripe age of 31, Sanders is looking to re-emerge as one of the better wide receivers in the league. After helping Adam Thielen break out, Keenum should do wonders for an already established receiver like Sanders. Primarily working out of the slot, Sanders will see a ton of targets. I’m anticipating back into the 130s. That’s not a crazy number, seeing how Keenum loved feeding the slot receivers in Minnesota, and Sanders averaged nearly 138 in the previous three years before last year. Sanders is also showing his connection with Keenum in the preseason. He’s been targeted a team-high 15 times through 2 games. Sanders is currently being drafted as the WR29, which puts him in WR3 territory. His upside is capped due to his lack of touchdowns, but Sanders could still vault into the low-end WR2 numbers based purely on volume. You should draft Sanders if you’ve been risky with your previous picks and would like a high-floor receiver to fall back on if things go poorly.

Courtland Sutton (WR)

It’s really hard to figure out where Courtland Sutton will end up by the end of the year. He’s a rookie, but he’s quickly won the respect of much of the coaching staff. He’s locked down the third starting spot for the Broncos. He’ll usually line up on the opposite side of the field as Demaryius Thomas with Emmanuel Sanders in the slot. It’s a potent wide receiver trio. Unfortunately for Sutton’s fantasy potential, he’s likely lining up in third in terms of receptions. That being said, Sutton is a physical beast. He’s 6’3″ and weighs 218 lbs. His speed score is in the 83rd percentile for a player his size. His agility is in the 97th percentile, and his catch radius is in the 90th percentile. He’s a freak on the football field and should be a reliable weapon if Keenum looks his direction. His frame should allow him to be a red zone target even if a large portion of the targets aren’t going his direction. He’s being drafted as the WR67. He must be owned in all dynasty formats and is definitely worth a flier late in the draft if you’re looking for upside.

Jeff Heuerman & Jake Butt (TE)

As it stands right now, you probably shouldn’t draft a tight end from Denver. If you are a glutton for punishment, the Broncos have two options for you: Jeff Heuerman or Jake Butt. Heuerman has been getting first-team reps this preseason. He’s from Ohio State and if you are unfamiliar with his work, it’s probably because he’s missed nearly 50% of his possible starts due to injuries. When he’s not injured, he’s usually impressing coaches with his play. As it stands right now, Jeff Heuerman should be getting the starting nod at the beginning of the season. If you are in a dynasty league or are making a team based around funny names, then Jake Butt is your guy. At one time in college, Butt was touted as one of the best tight end prospects. That was before he tore his ACL in the 2017 Orange Bowl. His draft stock plummeted. The Broncos took a chance on the talented tight end and it’s looking like that risk might finally start to pay off. Although Butt starts the season as the second tight end on the depth chart, he could work his way into the starting lineup sooner than later. At this point, Butt has the higher upside based on his tape in college and pass catching abilities. He’s worth stashing on a watch-list, but I wouldn’t draft either tight end in Denver right now.

Defense

The Denver Broncos still have one of the better defenses in the league. The “No Fly Zone” did lose an important member in Aqib Talib. Stepping in to replace Talib is the very talented Bradley Roby. In the draft, the Broncos added pass-rusher, Bradley Chubb to compliment Von Miller on the outside. They finished as DST16 last year, but we can anticipate a higher sack total with the addition of Chubb and a healthy Shane Ray. The offense put the defense in a lot of bad spots last year. Hopefully, Keenum is able to keep his defense off the field and minimize the turnovers. If you can give this Broncos team room to blitz, they will make you pay. I anticipate a modest improvement from last year and see no reason why this defense couldn’t sneak into the top 10 by the end of the year.

The Others

I want to add a few players that you should add to your watch list as the season progresses. RB Phillip Lindsay is quickly making a name for himself this preseason. He’s a do-it-all back that has seen plenty of success in college and throughout training camp. He was an undrafted free agent but has quickly made his name known amongst the Broncos’ training staff. This preseason he’s been a dominant runner and pass-catcher for the second string offense. If he continues to grow into this role, I anticipate him taking over the third-down duties for Devontae Booker. This gives Lindsay slight value in PPR formats if he ends up winning that job. Another name to watch out for is WR DaeSean Hamilton. He’s a crisp route-runner and a perfect target for Keenum. He’s more of a stash for dynasty leagues at this point, but if any injuries were to hit the Broncos’ receiving group, Hamilton is an easy fit into that offense. Neither player I’ve listed here is worth drafting, but they are definitely worth paying attention to as the season progresses.

Conclusion

Last year was a terrible year for the Broncos and as a result, their fantasy production. I anticipate that this year will be much different. Adding a stable quarterback to the roster will help both the running and passing game. While there may not be any top-end talent in terms of fantasy production, the Broncos have plenty of stable weapons that will bolster any fantasy team.

Nick Light

Fan of the Denver Broncos and Iowa Hawkeyes. Horror movie aficionado. Writer of short fiction in his spare time.

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