Fantasy Football 32: Denver Broncos

Peyton Manning

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

 

606.

It is an area code serving the eastern region of Kentucky, a very large number that comes after 605, but most importantly, 606 is the number of points the Denver Broncos offense accumulated over the course of the 2013 regular season.

Records were broken.

Denver was the highest-scoring offense in the history of football last year, scoring 17 more total points than second-place New England did back in the 2007 campaign. It was remarkable, as the Broncos also posted an NFL record in touchdowns (76), passing first downs (293), players with 10 or more touchdowns (five) and tied a record of three games with at least 50 points. This unit was unstoppable, expect for that one important final game, of course. However, regression is going to hit in a big way, but this will still serve as the most fantasy-friendly offense in the league today.

Depth Chart

Broncos Depth Chart

Quarterback

Well, that was something.

Fantasy owners watched the great Peyton Manning post the greatest campaign a quarterback has ever had. 55 passing touchdowns, 5,477 yards and just 10 interceptions. When we watched Manning sling seven touchdowns and 462 yards on opening night against the Ravens, nobody knew what was coming. Sure, it was a crazy, Madden-like game, but no one knew the guy would go on to throw 48 more touchdowns the rest of the way. Anyone who owned Manning last year is probably still a believer in grabbing a quarterback early in drafts, but seasons like this are rare and, in the grand scheme of things, an anomaly.

Regression is coming.

According to Rich Hribar, 25 percent of Manning’s touchdown passes and fantasy points occurred when the Broncos were already up by 14 points or more. And, despite those great numbers, Denver threw the football less than 50 percent of the time during those scenarios, proving just how crazy Manning’s season truly was. Also, you could tell that the Broncos were gunning for that NFL record 55 passing touchdowns for Manning, as they threw the football a bit more than any other team would have at that point of the season. Also, Hribar points out that Denver held a lead at some point in every game last year, while holding at least a double-digit lead in 12 of 16 contests. Fast forward to 2014, and Denver’s offense is more difficult, facing the entire NFC West and two meetings against a San Diego defense that held this historic offense to under 30 points in all three meetings last season.

Manning’s 2013 campaign was legendary, but it still doesn’t warrant taking him in the first round of fantasy drafts. It comes down to position scarcity and roster construction, not to mention the fact that Manning’s touchdown total will decline rather significantly.

Don’t be that guy.

Running Back

Running backs are typically the guests, while the Manning-led offenses serve as the top tier hotels.

Denver’s offense is The Grand Del Mar, folks.

The above quote came from my piece regarding the fantasy prospects of Montee Ball, now that he is the lead back in Denver. You’ve likely heard it all before. Knowshon Moreno was the number five fantasy running back alongside Manning last year, totaling almost 1,600 yards and 13 touchdowns. Playing running back in the Broncos offense is heavenly for statistical purposes, and Ball should see similar benefits that Moreno saw a year ago.

-80 percent of Moreno’s carries came with six men or fewer in the box.

- Denver faced dime defense a league-leading 15 percent of the time.

- The Broncos saw 4.3 red zone scoring attempts per game, most in NFL.

- Moreno saw a healthy 37 red zone carries, as well as 21 carries from inside the 10-yard line.

Colts RB

 

Playing with Manning clearly has it’s benefits, as a less than stellar talent in Joseph Addai averaged nearly nine rushing touchdowns with the Colts from 2006 to 2009. Ball is a better back than Addai was, is a better pass-catcher and has taken big strides in terms of pass protection, a huge piece of the Manning puzzle. And don’t forget, Ball was very impressive down the stretch last year, as Denver preserved a banged up Moreno for the playoffs. Using the RotoViz Game Splits App, I looked at his production during the final few games of the regular season.

Ball splits

Ball could easily be a top-10 fantasy back. Denver should run the football more than they did last year, and they like to run the ball when they get in close. Meanwhile, the Broncos will get Ryan Clady back from injury, a Pro Bowl offensive lineman. Let the appendectomy push Ball’s ADP down and use it to your advantage.

Wide Receiver

The best short-yardage/screen receiver in football is Demaryius Thomas.

Thomas is so, so good at football. I’ve seen many people rank him as the top wideout in fantasy, and I really can’t argue it. Last year, according to ESPN, his 96 fantasy points on vertical passes were the 10th-most in the league, while 52 percent of his total fantasy points and 64 percent of his touchdowns came off of short passes. He can absolutely do it all, and with Eric Decker out of the picture, he is clearly the number one option in this offense. Decker has been an elite source of touchdowns over the last two seasons, scoring 24 times, while serving as a target monster from up close, seeing 50 red zone looks and 26 targets from inside the 10-yard line during that span. Those touchdowns and targets are gone, and newly acquired Emmanuel Sanders isn’t a touchdown guy. Thomas could very well lead the NFL in receiving scores this year, and he’s a no-brainer top-three fantasy wideout.

Meanwhile, Wes Welker got off to a scorching start in Denver last year, catching 50 balls for 555 yards and nine touchdowns during the first eight weeks, good for the fourth-most fantasy points among receivers. However, he dealt with concussion issues during the second half of the season, scoring just 30 fantasy points during that span. The concussion history is a bit of a concern, but he should still be regarded as a top-20 fantasy receiver because of the offense and quarterback throwing him the football.

Tight End

Orange Julius took the fantasy world by storm last year. One of the waiver wire darlings of the year, Julius Thomas emerged alongside Manning, hauling in 65 balls for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns. He made a huge impact in the red zone, scoring 66 percent of his touchdowns from inside an opponent’s 20-yard line. With Decker and his red zone prowess gone, Thomas could lead all tight ends in touchdowns (if Gronkowski is hurt). Draft him in the second or third round and enjoy an easy double-digit touchdown campaign.

Adam Pfeifer is a lead fantasy sports writer for Rant Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.

 


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