Written by Shane Reincke, AFC West Beat Writer, goes by @coloradostinkfinger on the Fantasy Life App
The World Champion Denver Broncos have had some of the most turmoil of any team following a Super Bowl Win. On the defensive side of the ball Danny Trevathan and Malik Jackson have moved on to the Bears and the Jaguars respectively, while everyone knows QB Peyton Manning has retired after a very poor year and backup turned mid-season starter QB Osweiler has signed with the Texans. This does not mean they are a team bereft of talent and promise though.
Broncos 2016 Fantasy Assets
I'm going to start from the top on this one. The Denver Broncos figure to fully implement the Kubiak offense this year with Peyton retiring. One of the mainstays of a Kubiak offense is the ground game and Kubiak has a history of making the most of whatever RB he has. Last year CJ struggled in the first half of the season to the tune of 315 yards in 88 attempts for only 3.6 yard per carry (YPC), 28 long plays, and one TD. He definitely turned it around in the second half of the season with 405 yards in 64 attempts for an impressive 6.3 YPC, 48 long plays and four TDs.
So what gives with this split? CJ was battling foot and ankle injuries and a week seven bye seems to have helped him regain his step. He really game alive in the playoffs and Super Bowl matching and then beating his highest attempts from the regular season. He isn't super involved in the passing game posting only 59 receptions the past two years but he's going to see a lot of carries in 2016 so long as he can stay healthy. With an ADP of 32 it seems that people are catching on to his upside.
The Broncos drafted Devontae Booker from the University of Utah in the fourth round of the draft and is the presumed handcuff to CJ. He came into camp behind both CJ and Hillman but has shown enough to push his way up the roster behind CJ. Devontae Booker is a down hill runner with excellent vision, soft hands, and he is not afraid of contact. What he lacks in top end speed he makes up for by being able to stay on the field in most situations.
Devontae has been expected to push for touches in 2016going into the draft. Landing in the Broncos seems like an ideal fit for Booker who makes the right decisions, is adept at feeling where the space will be, and can be very elusive in the secondary with his footwork. I don't always like spending a draft pick on a handcuff but in this situation it makes sense. He's the clear back up at this point, he has the talent and ability to handle a big workload, and CJ has had injuries in the past. I am even targeting Booker as a late round lottery pick running back.
DT did not live up to expectations after an electric 2013 season and very healthy 2014 season. He was plagued with drops and very inconsistent play from his Quarterbacks. Top that off with only eleven touchdowns and you might think that DT is a bad play. I'd argue that you should not fall victim to recency bias by focusing too much on last years numbers but you shouldn't expect 2014 numbers either.
It's hard to imagine that the play of his QB is any worse than last year and, while he didn't have an amazing year, he does have some interesting stats. DT was tied for 7th in the NFL for TDs at eleven however, he led the NFL in targets within the 20, 10, and 5 yard lines. He has the ability to go up and fight for the ball and was signed to a five year seventy million dollar deal for a reason. It's hard to say that the QB play isn't taken into account with his ADP of 31 and he has great potential. Odds are the Broncos don't pass a ton, the targets may go down a tick but he should regress in a good way when it comes to TDs.
Emmanuel Sanders is the clear number two wideout in the Broncos offense for 2016 which is a career year for Sanders. He has the ability to do it all, speed on the outside, routes and separation from the slot, he can even contribute on special teams if need be (its doubtful he'll reprise his role as the kick returner for leagues that reward that kind of thing). One of the best things about Sanders is his ability to make all kinds of catches and his willingness to hang in there and take the hit to get the yards.
The big knock on Sanders is his lack of red zone targets due to his small frame but the speed to burn secondaries makes up for it in my opinion. Last year he finished thirty third in total yards after the catch (YAC) and an average of 14.9 yards per reception (YPR). Over the last two seasons he has garnered a total of 278 targets good for top 11 and top 13 for targets in the NFL. Last year's QB certainly impacted his total receptions (101 in 2014 vs 76 in 2015) but his ADP of 66 is a pretty fair asking price given his upside and ability to make big plays. He should also regress positively when it comes to converting targets into receptions.
Cody Latimer struggled to learn the offense this past year and didn't make much of an impact. He's the lead third wide receiver in terms of talent and has earned the praise of Gary Kubiak. That said I don't expect him to be fantasy relevant due the Kubiak offense being highly run oriented and frequently uses two tight end sets.
Virgil Green figures to be the number one tight end in an offense known for makings studs out of the position. He is an underrated pass catcher who has been asked to do a lot of blocking both because of an under performing offensive line and being asked to play a role similar to a full back.
In the sixth round of the 2015 draft the Broncos picked up Andy Janovich to play fullback and the word out of the camp is that this has freed up Green so he can stay home to block less. The preseason has seen him serve as a pretty safe dump off option for the QBswhile he's racked up a fairly impressive 49YAC in the preseason (over half of his total of 83). I am not advising drafting Green in all but the deepest of leagues at this point but he is definitely on my sleeper radar.
You never want to start this section with the plural form of Quarerback. There's a pretty common saying that roughly goes like this: “If you've got two quarterbacks, you've got none”. We saw this play out last year in Houston and neither Brian Hoyer nor Ryan Mallett are back with the team. The backfield in Denver is seen as worse by many. The only veteran prescence at the position is Mark Sanchez, known primarily for the infamous butt fumble. Sanchez has already lost the QB competition as Trevor Siemian has been announced as the starter for the third preseason game against the Rams. This is typically the “dress rehearsal” for the regular season so he will most likely be the starter for the regular season. Many in Denver are even wondering if we should cut Siemian in order to save 3.5 million he'd otherwise earn and the conditional 7th round pick they gave the Eagles to get him (6th if he ends up starting four games).
Trevor Siemian was drafted 250th overall in the 2015 draft. So far in the preseason he seems to have mastered the offense better than both Sanchez and first round 2016 draft pick Paxton Lynch. Siemian seems to have a lot of poise, a strong command of the offense, and he's able to make good decisions with the football. He did throw a pick six during the game against the 49ers and I believe Kubiak came out after the game to say it was the coaching staff's fault with a bad play call. Following that he appeared to be rattled (and that will no doubt be the story line) however, he actually injured his throwing arm trying to tackle Eric Reid on his way to the pick six. He's known around the Broncos training camp to be calm under pressure so I wouldn't read too much into it.
Paxton Lynch has looked great despite very few reps with the first team receivers. He seems to have a great feel for pressure and he's athletic enough to escape that pressure and keep the play alive. In the second preseason game he was able to spin out of what look like a sack for the 49ers defense. He's got a lot of potential but in my opinion he should sit and develop for a year. I realize this will be controversial and everyone has their own take – this is just my own. Most of the scout's takes on Lynch followed a similar theme; he's got a lot of raw talent but he needs polish. In 2006 the Denver Broncos took a quarterback in the first round and the scout's take on him was largely the same; lot of raw talent in need of polish. After a very positive preseason and in the second half a mediocre season that QB was rolled out as the starter in Denver. Jay Culter is no longer with the Broncos and is usually noted for his poor decision making. I'd prefer we learn from history rather than repeat it – it might hurt for this season but I'd argue it will protect the future.
Bottom line, there most likely won't be a fantasy relevant quarterback in Denver for the 2016 season. Kubiak's offense is known for being able to more or less hide the quarterback and, while he's known as something of a QB whisperer (he did make Matt Schaub look decent for a time) Denver lacks the talent and maturity at the position to have good odds of producing a viable starter.
Defense and Special Teams
Despite the losses of Trevathan and Jackson in the off-season there's a lot to get excited about in Denver. The majority of the time the Broncos run a dime package which only calls for one linebacker and Brandon Marshall fills that role very well. The defensive line should be able to make do without Jackson due to the acquisition of Jared Crick who went largely unnoticed being asked to pick up the slack in Houston while JJ Watt went after the QB. Of course the real shining spot in this unit is the defensive backs. Between all the players the Broncos have in the secondary there's probably enough talent that they will cut players that go on to start on other teams. Talib may still miss some time however, Chris Harris Jr. and Bradley Roby should be able to step up if that's the case. I always prefer to stream a defense over drafting one early because the difference between a top defense and a defense drafted later is usually very small. That said, if you like to have a consistent unit that you don't have to worry about, have a league that limits transactions, or a league that rewards sacks I can certainly see why you'd be tempted at their current ADP of 89.