Denver Broncos – 2019 A Look Inside

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Contributions from Joshua Hudson, Joe Zollo, & Chris Tyler

The Broncos played the draft board well. Many rumors swirled around the Broncos’ interest in QB Drew Lock, and when they traded back in the first round, many thought they were trying to get better value for a QB in an otherwise uninspiring QB class. Then they drafted TE Noah Fant, and jaws of prognosticators everywhere dropped on command. Risner in the second was a great pick to bookend with former first round pick Garrett Bolles. Then the team gave up some of the draft capital it received in trading down in the first to trade back into the second to draft… Drew Lock. By taking him in the second, there’s less rush for him to turn around the franchise. But by betting on Joe Flacco to lead the 2019 Broncos to the playoffs, they’re going to need Lock sooner rather than later. – The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson

The Broncos 2018 draft looked like a home run. They saw major contributions from some of their rookies on offense, and those same rookies should hopefully take a step forward in Year Two. Phillip Lindsay was undrafted and made the Pro Bowl, Courtland Sutton tied for the team lead in receptions of more than 20 yards, Royce Freeman faced the second highest percentage of 8-man fronts and still averaged 4.0 yards per carry, and DaeSean Hamilton led the team in receiving yards and touchdowns the final four weeks of the season. The hope is that with a former Super Bowl winning QB at the helm, the offense will take a step forward. For their sake, I hope Elway’s flawed logic works. – The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson

The emergence of undrafted free agent Phillip Lindsay basically put the kibosh on any hope I or any other fantasy prognosticator had about Royce Freeman being a standout rookie in 2018. Add in the fact that he missed a few games due to a high ankle sprain, and it just wasn’t meant to be for Freeman last year. When the Broncos brought in Vic Fangio, a former defensive coordinator, to be their new head coach, things started to look up for Freeman’s prospects in 2019.

Freeman didn’t have a ton of production in the passing offense in comparison to Lindsay. A closer look showed it wasn’t for lack of effort. Freeman actually ran 118 pass routes compared to Lindsay’s 185. The outlier is Freeman had the highest drop percentage on the entire team, and had only 14 receptions on 20 targets. There’s no doubt that Lindsay is a more efficient passing down back. One could argue he’s only as good as the offensive line in front of him.

Lindsay is 5’8,” 190 pounds. Freeman is 6’0,” 229 pounds. Freeman saw the second highest percentage of 8-man fronts in the league last year (36.15%) while Lindsay saw a fraction of that (14.06%). Freeman’s 4.0 YPC seems low, but as he was one of only two players in the league to average 4.0 YPC or more when facing 8-man fronts 30+% of the time, it’s fair to say that if he saw even 5% fewer 8-man fronts, his YPC ticks up. When looking in the red zone, you see where Freeman can be effective. Freeman had 8 rushes inside the 10-yard line, and ran four of them in for touchdowns. Inside the 5-yard line, he had four rushes for three touchdowns. Those types of percentages will get him more looks in the red zone if/when new quarterback Joe Flacco can get them there.

I don’t know about you, but when I look at defensive-minded head coaches, I don’t see them deploying scatback-like running backs 300 times a season. They want to ground and pound. Freeman is built for that life. Fangio has the blueprint on how to deploy a bruiser like Freeman and a scatback like Lindsay, as he came from Chicago where Matt Nagy had a similar backfield with Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. I’m not suggesting you’ll see 250 carries for Freeman or 80 receptions for Lindsay, but I don’t believe for a second that Lindsay will out-rush Freeman over 16 games in 2019. At his current ADP of RB39 in the ninth/tenth round, I’ll gladly take him as my fourth RB and get a minimum of FLEX production. – The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson

Last year saw a surprise performance from undrafted rookie free agent Phillip Lindsay. His RB12 finish came out of nowhere, especially after the Broncos spent a third round pick on Royce Freeman to presumably lead their backfield. At 190 pounds, Lindsay isn’t built for a full workload year in and year out. And with a new defensive-minded head coach who will likely want to ground and pound, I think Lindsay is due for a major down-tick in carries as a result.

Looking at Lindsay’s 2018 in a little more depth, you’d see how “lucky” his 5.4 yards per carry average actually was. The Broncos sported the sixth highest run blocking grade in the league last year, according to Pro Football Focus. Any time you get great run blocking, you’re bound to be a successful runner. But while his YPC was tied for the second highest in the league, his yards after contact per attempt wasn’t even in the top 50. Fifty-third to be exact, out of 61 qualified runners. Lindsay had only 29 total forced missed tackles (seven on receptions). Divide that into his total touches (227), and it shows his lack of elusiveness (45th among qualified runners).

I’m not saying Lindsay can’t replicate his 2018 season. What I am saying is that logically speaking, it’s highly improbable. If the Broncos line regresses or comes back to the mean, Lindsay’s production will slip as a result. A healthy Freeman will cut into his 195 carries from a year ago, and I expect his 35 catches will increase. He has the potential to be an RB2 (his current ADP is RB23), but if new HC Vic Fangio sees him more as a Tarik Cohen-type than an Alvin Kamara-type, that upside diminishes exponentially. I’d rather have Lindsay as a FLEX than rely on him as my RB2, which is what he’s being drafted as. Draft with caution. – The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson

When talking about consistency, no one on the Broncos exemplifies it more so than Emmanuel Sanders. Even last year, while missing four games, Sanders finished as WR20. Four of the last five years, Sanders has finished in the top 20 among receivers in Fantasy and had over 70 catches in those same four seasons. So why could he potentially make it five out of six years this season? Let’s learn a little more about his new QB, Joe Flacco.

Aside from poor production since his Super Bowl run in 2012, Flacco is most well-known for the strength of his arm, which should play well in the thin air within Mile High. He also targets the slot and his TEs quite often. Looking at data from 2016 and 2017 (the last two seasons he was fully healthy) 30.9% and 25.1% of his attempts went to pass catchers out of the slot. While targeting tight ends in the slot, 11.6% and 5.6% of his attempts went to TEs running out of the slot. On the flip side, his strong arm hasn’t translated into shots downfield. Fewer than 10% of his pass attempts in 2016 & 2017 went beyond 20 yards.

Sanders has either led the team or tied for the team lead in deep passing receptions and receiving yards. He also ran 59% of his routes last year from the slot. Maybe the thin air helps Flacco take more shots downfield. Maybe not. But Flacco targets his slot receivers often, and Sanders has set up shop in the slot for a long time. Sanders’s current ADP has him at WR44 in the eleventh round. I think it’s okay to draft a consistent WR2 as your fifth WR. – The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson

The Iowa Hawkeyes have had some studs at tight end enter the league over the years- Dallas Clark, George Kittle, and for you historians out there, Marv Cook. Noah Fant will be a household name this upcoming season, especially after Denver picked up Joe Flacco during off-season. He loves to use tight ends, most recently evidenced by Dennis Pitta and his position-leading 86 receptions in 2016. Fant is a big body, strong-gripped, field-stretching beast that, once inside the 30-yard line, becomes an instant mismatch nightmare. Fant’s receiving totals of 1,083 yards on 78 catches in his career are solid, and he probably would have had more impressive numbers had he not had to share time with T.J. Hockenson, Detroit’s first round pick this year. At 6’4”, 249 pounds, Fant has an overall advantage on contested catches. Noah Fant is a star in the making. Once he bulks up and gets used to the playbook, he will be one unstoppable force. – Chris Tyler

I really wish Emmanuel Sanders wasn’t a Bronco, because DaeSean Hamilton has a bright future in this league. A fourth round pick out of Penn State last year, Hamilton didn’t see much playing time until later in the season when Sanders’s season was cut short due to injury. After Sanders went down in Week 13, DaeSean Hamilton had 20 receptions on 30 targets for 133 yards and two touchdowns. This was all throughout the fantasy playoffs, so he provided a boost to teams with deep rosters. I think he could add it again this season. Right now, he is not a stud due to the man ahead of him. With Sanders’ injury history, Hamilton could easily have a spot to be drafted in later rounds and provide a boost to your team later in the year. Keep in mind he is a PPR grab and not a Standard league grab. – Joe Zollo

To save you some time in the front seven, there is nobody to draft. While Von Miller and Bradley Chubb are forces of nature, they are listed as LB’s in most leagues, which does not warrant them to be drafted. Take note- if they are listed as DE’s in your leagues, then look at them as potential low end starters and high end backups. The focus is all in the secondary.

Justin Simmons is entering his fourth year in the league, and every year he has improved his numbers. His tackles and turnovers have all gone up year-over-year, and he made his way into the Top 15 of DB’s in fantasy football last season. Eye Simmons as a high-end backup who has Top 10 potential. The only other Bronco to look at on defense is the newly signed and long-time Texan, Kareem Jackson. The former Alabama star ended last season as DB16, garnering a career high in tackles. If Jackson can duplicate his success from last season, then he is capable of finding a spot on your bench. – Joe Zollo