By Cole Hoopingarner (with Contributions from Joe Zollo and Chris Tyler)
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CLE, NYG, IND, HOU, NYJ, TB, CHI, OAK, SF, MIA, CIN, WAS, GB, ARI, BAL, LAC, DAL, SEA, DET, BUF, TEN, KC, ATL, JAX, CAR, NO, LAR, PIT, MIN, NE, PHI.
If you’ve followed our Look Inside series chronologically, you’ve noticed that the first teams we’ve previewed were among the worst of the 2017 season. That’s because we’re discussing teams based on the inverse order of standings from last year. This means our 2017 recaps can be a little depressing. Enter the Denver Broncos.
Much like the Cleveland Browns, there’s really not much positive to say about the Denver Broncos’ fantasy production last year. Two years removed from Peyton Manning’s final season, the Broncos continued to lack consistency and production at the QB position, leading to the offseason signing of Case Keenum. Only two Broncos finished in the top 20 at their position and they barely did pull that off: C.J. Anderson finished as RB19 and Demaryius Thomas finished as WR20. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders dropped all the way to WR56. And no Bronco tight end finished in the top 50.
Let’s get this over with…
|(Projected Starting Lineup)|
|QB1||Case Keenum (w/ MIN)||274.32||QB14|
|RB2||(R) Royce Freeman||N/A||N/A|
|RB4||(R) Phillip Lindsay||N/A||N/A|
|WR4||(R) Courtland Sutton||N/A||N/A|
Rookies and Undrafted Free Agents to Watch: RB Royce Freeman, WR DaeSean Hamilton, & TE Troy Fumagalli.
Despite a few underperformers and injuries that plagued the position last year, the quarterback position looks to be the deepest it’s been in years as we approach the 2018 fantasy football season. Allow me to save you some time: there’s no quarterback on the Denver Broncos worth starting in 2018. Free agent Case Keenum had the best year of his career in Minnesota in 2017 but it was also his only good year. Denver’s also Keenum’s third team in three years. The Broncos thought Paxton Lynch could follow in Manning’s footsteps but that clearly hasn’t happened. Let both of these quarterbacks ride the waiver wire. They may be useful if you find yourself in a bye week pinch; otherwise, they shouldn’t be on your roster.
Look, I understand the appeal of sleepers. You fall in love with a guy during the offseason. You know he’s likely to fly under the radar during your draft and fall into your lap. Then, when the draft comes around, you panic and take him a round or two earlier than you wanted. That’s ok, though.. He’s your sleeper! He’s gonna wake up and cause nightmares for your opponents!
Except…he doesn’t wake up. He averages 3.6 yards per carry. He fumbles 6 times over just 253 touches. And he doesn’t produce when the starting running back goes down with an injury. Next thing you know, his team adds three running backs in the offseason, two via the draft.
This is the Devontae Booker story. Lots of hype among public bettors. But sharps knew not to invest much in an unproven running back with potential. With the departure of C.J. Anderson, Booker’s the resident veteran in the Bronco backfield. Thing is, he’s only been in the league two years, and during that time he hasn’t proven he can be a starter for your fantasy team. He’s worth a late round draft pick as a potential FLEX play, but nothing more.
The Broncos drafted Oregon standout Royce Freeman in the third round of the 2018 draft and they made no bones about the fact that he’s going to contribute immediately in the Denver backfield. There’s a lot to like about Freeman: he’s got the most rushing touchdowns in Pac-12 history (60), rushed for the second-most yards in Pac-12 history, and averaged almost 10.5 yards per reception. Freeman isn’t a sleeper candidate – he’s a candidate to supplant Booker and start in Week 1. I have Freeman ranked higher than Booker, and so should you. By the end of the year, I project he’ll be a sure-fire weekly FLEX play and could very easily finish in the top 20 at his position.
The Broncos’ wide receivers intrigue me in 2018, mostly because I believe they’re going to fall under the radar. I’ve always been a huge Demaryius Thomas fan. As we detailed last year, from 2012 – 2016, Thomas ranked second in the NFL in targets, receptions, and yards, behind Antonio Brown in all categories. He also ranked fourth during that same time period in receiving touchdowns. It’s foolish to think that DT will return to his 2012 – 2016 form with Case Keenum as his QB, but a stark improvement from his 2017 WR20 campaign is in order. Keenum won’t produce Peyton’s numbers, but he proved last year that he’s leaps and bounds better than Paxton Lynch and second year QB Chad Kelly. I expect WR15 numbers from Thomas. Scoop him up and you’ll likely get one of the steals of the 2018 season.
Emmanuel Sanders fared far worse in 2017 than his counterpart Thomas finishing as WR56. Granted, he only played 12 games, but his numbers projected out over a full season would have equaled 63 catches for 740 yards and two touchdowns. Like Thomas, he’s bound to see an improvement with Keenum under center. Also like Thomas, there’s no way he’s returning to the level of productivity he enjoyed when Manning was his QB. He also has rookie Courtland Sutton to compete with. All that said, you can safely draft Sanders as a WR3 or FLEX this season.
The aforementioned Sutton is starting to gain traction on that dreaded sleeper list. I think his prospects for success are greater than Booker’s were when he was in the same position, though. Defenses will likely force Keenum to look Sutton’s way as they blanket DT and Sanders. It wouldn’t shock me if Sutton ends up in the top 35 at his position, worth a late round pick in standard leagues and a definite stash in dynasty formats.
Denver’s four tight ends last year combined to catch 50 passes. The Broncos drafted Jake Butt in 2017 but elected to keep him on injured reserve while he recovered from the torn ACL he suffered in the last game of his college career. Maybe he’ll be the spark at the position the Broncos need, but I didn’t win two leagues last year by drafting players who could “maybe” provide sparks. Avoid Denver tight ends at all costs.
Rookie to Watch
If you didn’t know Royce Freeman could run the ball well, just watch his tape at Oregon. 947 carries for 5,621 yards in his career, averaging 5.9 yards a carry. Where he’ll really stand out is his ability in the passing game. He had 79 receptions for 814 yards in college. Look for Case Keenum to use Freeman often with some short dink and dunks to keep the offense moving.
Courtland Sutton has not played a single snap in the NFL, but he is the sleeper on Denver’s roster. Drafted 40th overall, he is put in a great position behind Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Both of these guys will attract the attention, letting Sutton receive one-on-one coverage against the 3rd DB. He won’t burn NFL secondaries but has the size at 6’3” to battle in the air both downfield and in the red zone.
2018 Loose Ends
The Broncos don’t have to face that nasty Chargers’ defense during the fantasy playoffs. With their own formidable defense, I believe the Broncos will be in contention for a wild card spot at the end of the year. Both great pieces of news for us fantasy owners. If Keenum goes down or severely regresses, though, it could be a long season for those who invest in DT, Sanders, or Freeman, because Paxton Lynch just isn’t the answer right now.
|10||** BYE WEEK **|