Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire
Each week, our writers will take a look at the fantasy-relevant things to watch for in every upcoming game. Today, it’s the Thursday night Week 7 matchup between the Denver Broncos and the Arizona Cardinals.
The Broncos enter week 7 riding a 4 game losing streak that has erased a promising 2-0 start, leaving them with a 2-4 record overall. They will be a desperate team on the road on Thursday Night Football against the 1-5 Arizona Cardinals. With one of the lowest over/under totals of the week, fantasy production may be hard to find in this game.
How will the Broncos use their running backs this week?
If the game goes according to plan, expect the Broncos to heavily feature the running game against a Cardinals defense that has allowed the 2nd most rushing yards per game and the 2nd most fantasy points to running backs per game in 2018. The problem for fantasy purposes is that the Broncos have a near even 3-way timeshare at running back. Another problem is the reshuffled offensive line due to an injury to Denver’s left guard Ronald Leary and the continued absence of tackle Jared Veldheer.
Phillip Lindsay is the most explosive option for the Broncos, yet only saw 30% of Denver’s offensive snaps last week. His passing game usage was encouraging, setting career highs with 6 catches for 48 yards last week. Unfortunately, he only received 4 carries on the day, as the Rams held a significant time of possession advantage and lead throughout the game. Lindsay can probably be counted on for 10-15 touches and does see red zone work, so he is definitely a fantasy option this week in a good matchup. But his lack of snaps can cause disappointing weeks, and probably caps his upside as well. He’s an RB2/Flex option in most leagues.
Royce Freeman led the Broncos running backs in snaps last week with 38%, but with under 10 carries in each of the last 3 games and a lack of passing game involvement, Freeman’s fantasy stock has plummeted recently. He can’t even be counted on for a touchdown most weeks, as he has been sharing red zone work on a struggling offense. A matchup this week against the league’s 2nd worst run defense could certainly turn things around. With the Broncos playing on the road, however, it isn’t a guarantee that they can grab the lead, and Freeman doesn’t get the pass game work to excel when Denver trails. Freeman is a playable option in a good matchup this week, but hopefully you have more exciting running backs to choose from.
Passing game running back Devontae Booker is seeing almost as many snaps as Freeman and Lindsay, but generally receives 5 touches or less per week. He will only be playable in games the Broncos project to get blown out in, and even then he will be a borderline flex option.
How will Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson limit the Broncos passing game?
Look for Emmanuel Sanders to see the most usage in Denver’s passing game against the Cardinals. He posted 7 catches for 115 yards and a touchdown last week against the Rams and should avoid most of Patrick Peterson‘s attention while playing in the slot this week. After showing no signs of red zone usage early in the year, Sanders has become a featured target over the last 2 weeks. Play Sanders with confidence this week.
Demaryius Thomas will likely see a lot of Peterson when he lines up on the outside, a bad matchup for the veteran receiver. After starting the season with two double-digit target games, Thomas has seen 5,7,6, and 4 targets the last 4 weeks. He has bailed out fantasy owners with late touchdowns the last two weeks, but eventually, the luck will run out. Until his target volume rebounds, Thomas is best viewed as a touchdown-dependent bye week fill in.
Courtland Sutton is a promising rookie wide receiver but seems to have settled into 3-6 targets a game, not enough to be a fantasy starter. He has shown big-play potential, and will likely have some relatively big weeks going forward. But predicting those weeks will be nearly impossible.
Are there any other fantasy options on the Broncos this week?
Case Keenum has struggled at times this year, and if the Broncos have their way they will be running early and often. While any quarterback has the ability to put up points in today’s NFL, there should be better options than Keenum this week, on the road against a Cardinals defense that has given up the 5th fewest fantasy points to the QB position this year.
Tight end Jeff Heuerman is seeing a healthy amount of targets, as well as red zone targets, but has yet to turn them into meaningful fantasy production. You would have to be a deep league to consider starting him, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see him post 50 yards and a touchdown one of these weeks. The Rams have been fairly middle of the pack so far against tight ends.
The Denver D projects as a startable fantasy option, although mainly due to their opponent, as the Cardinals have allowed 10+ fantasy points to opposing defenses in 4 of 6 weeks. The Denver defense has not been impressive from a fantasy perspective, although they had an encouraging 5 sacks last week.
Brandon McManus hasn’t missed a kick on the year and looks like a back-end top 10 kicking option this week.
Boom: Emmanuel Sanders
Bust: Demaryius Thomas
Sleeper: Courtland Sutton
Thursday Night Football produces its fair share of anomalies. The short week effects both game planning and health, often resulting in obscure lines. See last week: the Eagles completely dominate the Giants, but Saquon Barkley posts nearly 230 yards of all around offense. Last week’s competition also works as a perfect segue into this week’s outlook for the Cardinals, who should also be looking to force feed their best player. Mike McCoy’s job may actually be on the line against a Broncos’ defense struggling against the run. Please Mike, please be at least somewhat creative and give David Johnson a chance.
Will Mike McCoy give David Johnson a chance?
What can be expected from this offense?
Josh Rosen’s stats have been far from extraordinary through his first three starts, but he’s show that he’s not the wildcard he sometimes was in college. He’s patients and doesn’t force many throws. Willing to look underneath, receivers like Larry Fitzgerald, Ricky Seals-Jones, and Johnson should all find opportunities to make a play after the catch. While the mindset is good, Rosen’s lack of time to throw often results in rushed or simply misplaced throws that create danger in otherwise safe situations.
The big play ability is less tied to the players mentioned above, and more to the likes of Christian Kirk. Rookie from Texas A&M, Kirk has become a consistent weapon with Rosen. Cherry picking stats, he has recorded at least 77 yards in three of the four games in which Rosen has played, including a 75-yard touchdown against the 49ers in Week 5.
Denver has done well to limit opposing receivers for much of the season, capping any expected production from this passing game. BUT. With a lot of focus expected to be on the run game, it would not be surprising to see Rosen take a couple shots off the play action. All of that is dependent on Johnson finally finding room to run. Denver has allowed an astonishing 677 yards over the past three weeks. The Broncos surrendered more ground yards in Week 5 than Johnson has on the season. Despite elite talent, poor play-calling and missed opportunities leave him at 3.2 yards per carry. With his value carried almost entirely by touchdowns this season, Thursday is the perfect time for things to turn around.
Can the defense keep it up?
Arizona has forced seven turnovers and scored two touchdowns over the past two weeks. While the monstrous performance against the 49ers is unreliable, last week’s effort against the Vikings lends to a more aggressive projection for this unit. Denver has allowed an average of 3.25 sacks over the past four weeks including an interception in every game from Case Keenum. Emmanuel Sanders spoke out about fans not supporting the signal caller, but he’s been too inconsistent to warrant much better. Despite the turnovers, Keenum is riding back-to-back 300 yard passing games and four touchdowns. Denver is more likely to focus their efforts to the ground against this worrisome run defense, but Keenum will have his chances. It’s difficult to recommend defenses on a short-week, making Arizona more of a hold for owners looking ahead to next week’s matchup with the Niners after dropping one of the four defenses on bye this week.
Boom: David Johnson.
It’s uncreative, but this is among the best matchups Johnson will find all season, it will be hard for even Mike McCoy to screw it up.
Bust: The Defense?
Honestly, there is no one in this offense expected to do much other than Johnson. More people are turning their attention to this defense because of the media overstating some of Keenum’s struggles and the relevance to fantasy.
Sleeper: Ricky Seals-Jones.
An unlikely starter in most leagues due to the Thursday kickoff, Seals-Jones has surpassed 50 yards or scored a touchdown in half of his games. Denver was gashed by the tight end position against Seattle and Kansas City, but they’ve tightened things up the past couple weeks.