2022 AFC West Preview: Fantasy Football Outlook, Sleepers, and Busts

Adam Sloate breaks down the AFC West from a fantasy football perspective.

2021 Review


Points per Game 19.7 T-23rd
Offensive Snaps 1036 T-27th
2021 Record 7-10 24th
2022 Vegas Win Projection 10 T-4th



The Denver Broncos won only seven games in 2021 and look to surpass that this year. They fell short of the playoffs for the sixth year in a row and landed the ninth overall pick for their troubles; that ninth overall pick would go to Seattle in exchange for QB Russell Wilson. The Broncos, with Wilson under center, are projected to at least be in the playoff hunt this season with a non-Drew Lock-QB and an improved defense.

The Broncos made wholesale changes to their organization, from the top on down. The Broncos will likely have a brand new ownership group for the 2022 season, as the team was sold by Pat Bowlen to the Walton-Penner group for an astonishing $4.65 billion. If the name Walton looks familiar, it’s because the named investor is Walmart heir Rob Walton. It’s unclear how ownership changes will affect the on-field product, given that most NFL owners are more than willing to invest significantly in player payroll, but readers who are familiar with baseball ownership groups, the Cleveland Browns, or Eugene Melnyk will recognize that ownership can make a significant impact on the quality of the organization as a whole.

Prior to the sale, the Broncos fired head coach Vic Fangio and his staff. Fangio, despite being known for his defense, didn’t have a particularly stout defense in his tenure with the Broncos. In his three seasons as head coach, the Broncos ranked no better than 13th in weighted defense DVOA. Looking at the other side of the ball, it’s hard to blame Fangio for his offensive output, considering the QBs he was working with.

The Broncos decided to replace Fangio with former Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. Some applauded his arrival, citing his work with QB Aaron Rodgers, who had talent that was begging to be unlocked in Green Bay. Plus, Hackett has apparently earned a reputation as a “QB whisperer,” dating back to his days with formidable Jaguars QB Blake Bortles. Let’s take a quick look at Hackett’s work over the last decade:


Nathaniel Hackett’s NFL Track Record

QB “whisperer?”

Hackett brought his own set of coaches — whom come from different stops in his coaching career — to Denver:

  • OC Justin Outten, TE Coach with Green Bay from 2019-21
  • DC Ejiro Evero, Secondary Coach and Pass Game Coordinator with the Los Angeles Rams from 2017-2021 (Evero and Hackett were teammates as players at U.C. Davis and were on the Bucs staff together in 2007).

Hackett deserves a slight amount of credit for hiring coordinators without big-name parents in the industry, although Hackett himself is the son of former college football and NFL coach Paul Hackett (yep, he’s a nepotism hire).

The Broncos had some work to do on their defense, which was solid in 2021 but made some changes at the trade deadline and in the offseason. Longtime Bronco Von Miller was dealt to the Rams for picks. Another Bronco mainstay, DE Shelby Harris, was traded to Seattle in the package for Wilson. Together, Miller and Harris had 10.5 sacks for the Broncos in 2021, so the Broncos had to find a way to replace that production. To do so, they grabbed DE Nik Bonitto out of Oklahoma in the draft, signed DL DJ Jones away from San Francisco, and then signed polarizing DE/LB Randy Gregory. Together, they can be expected to recoup some of Miller and Harris’ value, if not surpass it, and put pressure on opposing QBs this season. The Broncos also added LB Alex Singleton for some depth behind newly re-signed Josey Jewell.

In the secondary, the Broncos replaced CB Bryce Callahan, formerly the top nickel CB, with CB K’Waun Williams, formerly of San Francisco. Williams rated slightly higher on PFF’s CB player grades but not by enough for it to be a significant upgrade. At least it won’t be a significant drop-off?

On offense, the most obvious move was trading for QB Russell Wilson, who is an immediate upgrade over Drew Lock or Brett Rypien or Teddy Bridgewater — or whoever else Denver has thrown out there under center over the last few years. The Broncos return all other starters on offense, including RBs Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon and WRs Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, and Tim Patrick. The Broncos added some depth at WR, TE, and OL, drafting WR Montrell Washington, TE Greg Dulcich, OL Luke Wattenberg, and signing OLs Tom Compton (according to PFF, a run block specialist) and Billy Turner. 


Passing Game


Passing Yards per Game 211.4 18th
Passing Touchdowns per Game 1.2 T-25th
Pass Attempts per Game 31.8 25th


The Broncos come into 2022 with a semi-reloaded passing attack. Perhaps you’ve heard they acquired Russell Wilson to be their starting QB?



The phrase, “A rising Russ lifts all boats” is appropriate here, as Russ should be able to connect with Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton in ways that Teddy Bridgewater or Drew Lock never could. Gone are the days of 6 or 7-yard passes! Gone are the days of a wide-open Jerry Jeudy getting over and underthrown!

It’s difficult to tell which receivers are going to become Russ’s favorites in Denver, but it seems safer to bet that Jerry Jeudy will be one of them, given his talent level and production with QBs not named Russell Wilson under center in Denver. Courtland Sutton could challenge for the top option or be a solid WR2 in this offense. And with TE Noah Fant departing via trade, Albert Okwuegbunam could step up and garner meaningful targets, becoming a decent fantasy TE option.


Running Game


Rushing Yard per Game 119.1 13th
Rushing Touchdowns per Game 0.9 14th
Rushing Plays per Game 27 13th


The Broncos ran the ball on 45.7% of their plays, the 11th-highest rate in the NFL. While they likely will not need that kind of rushing focus this season–with defenses needing to respect the pass more–the Broncos could use a little more out of their RBs, who were only 16th in rush DVOA. Melvin Gordon III is back, as is Javonte Williams. Williams looked like the more explosive runner at times last season, though neither was able to get much going on the ground.

The RBs could certainly benefit from some improvement from the offensive line, as the unit placed 18th in Adjusted Line Yards last season. However, the Broncos return most of their offensive line group, with only new acquisition Billy Turner slotting in at right tackle at the moment. They will have to improve as a unit to make any statistical upgrade from last year. With Russ under center, defenses won’t be able to wait for the run or the short passes; perhaps that box won’t be quite so ‘stacked’ against the run as it has in years past.

It looks like, barring an injury, this Broncos’ rushing attack will be frustrating for fantasy investors, who will have to live with both Gordon and Williams seeing reduced workloads once again. Perhaps they can increase their fantasy output on the same amount of work with some upgrades at other positions.




Jerry Jeudy, WR

It seems a little unfair to call Denver’s WR2 a sleeper at this point, but I think Jeudy is in line for a huge increase in fantasy output. Jeudy has languished due to Denver’s heavy rushing style and QBs that couldn’t properly unlock Jeudy’s full arsenal of skills. While Russ isn’t quite the QB he used to be, he should still be able to utilize Jeudy like he did D.K. Metcalf in Seattle. Plus, with TE Noah Fant going the other way in the Russ trade, Jeudy has the opportunity to soak up some of Fant’s old targets and climb up the Denver depth chart.


Deep Sleeper


Albert Okwuegbunam, TE

Albert O showed flashes last season, picking up as many as five targets in a game last season (actually, it was the game Fant was unavailable for), so he’s not a total unknown. However, he has a long way to go before he’s considered an essential part of this offense, and that starts this year. Albert O is the next man up in the TE room after Fant went to Seattle; Fant averaged 5.6 targets per game last season, so if Albert O were to step into those targets, he’d have a fighting chance at solid fantasy production. Fant was TE12 with Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock under center last season; if Albert O is the TE1 in Denver this season and he’s got Russ throwing to him, he has a chance at a finish better than 12th.


Bust Candidate


Melvin Gordon III, RB

Gordon is on a 1-year deal laden with incentives while Javonte Williams is only on the second year of his rookie deal. If Gordon struggles out of the gate, the Broncos may look towards their future at the position and reallocate carries towards Williams, especially since Denver will have very little financial obligation towards Gordon this season. The small financial obligation makes it easy for Denver to cut ties quickly and hand the keys to the Porsche over to Williams.

On a more football-related note, Gordon got a huge chunk of the red zone work last season, tacking on eight touchdowns to Williams’ four. Both players had exactly the same number of carries (203) and almost identical yardage totals (918 for Gordon, 903 for Williams), yet Gordon had double the touchdowns of Williams? I would expect their workloads — especially in the red zone — to trend in opposite directions, especially now that Williams has a year under his belt in the NFL. That could make Gordon a less appealing fantasy option, especially without the extra touchdown points. I’m not calling Gordon an outright bust candidate, but expectations absolutely should be lowered from 2020 and 2021.




Feature image by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter) / Photography by Dustin Bradford, Cliff Welch, Robin Alam + Jeffrey Brown
/ Icon Sportswire

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