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2017 Team Report: Denver Broncos

Quarterbacks

Starter: Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch
Backup(s): Chad Kelly [R], Kyle Sloter [R]

Starting QB: The Broncos have a quarterback competition entering the 2017 season. According to new head coach Vance Joseph, it is an open competition he's described as being '50/50' between Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch. Entering his third year, Siemian gets an edge in this battle as he started 14 games for the Broncos in 2016. Siemian didn't do much to get fantasy owners excited, and he spent most of the season playing hurt. In 2016, Siemian had three games with 300 or more yards passing but finished as the 25th fantasy quarterback in standard scoring leagues. He injured his throwing shoulder in the preseason, but suffered a Grade 5 shoulder injury in Week 4 against the Buccaneers. He missed the next game against Atlanta and Lynch got the start. The Broncos lost, and Lynch was back to the bench. Siemian came back but was never the same. He's an efficient starter, but injuries seem to always hold Siemian back. If he wins the starting job, Lynch will still need to be ready if (when?) injuries strike Siemian again.

Backup QB: So far this offseason, we've heard nothing but positive things about Lynch and the way he's quickly picking up the Mike McCoy offense. A first-round pick in 2016 (and a John Elway favorite), we can't imagine Lynch sitting the bench for the entire 2017 season. The Broncos need to find out what they have in Lynch, but he'll have to earn the job in training camp. Chad Kelly is one of the most exciting quarterbacks in this draft class. He's the most talented Mr. Irrelevant (the final pick of the NFL Draft) for whatever that is worth. Injuries (wrist, knee, hernia) are likely to keep him on the bench in 2017. Vance Joseph's favorite quarterback in this class, Kelly could get a shot at playing time in 2018 if Lynch (or Siemian) doesn't impress. Kyle Sloter is a strong-armed UDFA from Northern Colorado that is likely just a camp arm.

Running Backs

Starter: C.J. Anderson
Backup(s): Jamaal Charles, Devontae Booker, DeAngelo Henderson [R], Bernard Pierce
Fullback(s): Andy Janovich

Starting RB: It's always something with C.J. Anderson, so fantasy owners need to proceed with caution. When healthy, Anderson can be one of the best running backs in the NFL...and fantasy football. Staying healthy has been the problem for Anderson during the last few years. In 2016, Anderson made it through seven games before a meniscus injury ended his season. He rushed for 437 yards and four touchdowns with 128 receiving yards and one touchdown before his year was done. The potential for Anderson to be a 1,000-yard rusher is there, and that gives him RB2 potential for fantasy owners. Anderson is going to have competition for touches this year in a Mike McCoy offense. The team added multiple pieces to the offensive line this offseason through free agency and the draft. With a better group up front, Anderson should be able to thrive in the power gap system the Broncos have in place now...if he can stay healthy. New head coach Vance Joseph has stated that it's an open competition at the running back position, but we're penciling in Anderson in the top spot for the time being.

Backup RBs: The Broncos added Jamaal Charles to the roster after the 2017 NFL draft. He hasn't played much over the last two years, logging appearances in only eight games during that time. Charles has been battling knee injuries, and that may have robbed him of the speed that made him a dangerous runner. The Broncos didn't give him a big contract, so they're protected in case Charles is no longer the player he used to be. If healthy, Charles gives the Broncos a skill set that no other running back on the roster has. Charles is fantastic in the screen game, and he could earn 200 or so touches in the McCoy system...much like Danny Woodhead did when he was under McCoy with the Chargers. Fantasy owners don't want to sleep on Devontae Booker. If Anderson gets banged up again, Booker could step into a large role. Booker was not a good fit for the zone-blocking system under Gary Kubiak, but he should be able to produce in the power-gap system implemented by McCoy. Booker has great hands and was the team's third-leading receiver (in addition to being the leading rusher) in 2016. Bernard Pierce is a seasoned veteran, but his plodding style is unlikely to impress in camp. DeAngelo Henderson is an exciting rookie runner from Coastal Carolina with a skill set that reminds some in the scouting community of Branden Oliver.

Fullback: The role for Janovich is a bit of an unknown entering the 2017 season. He played 235 snaps as a rookie last year before getting hurt in Week 12. By comparison, Chargers fullback Derek Watt only played 135 snaps under McCoy in 2016...and that was in a full 16-game season. Janovich is talented as a short-yardage runner, and he can be used effectively as a receiver too.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders
Backups: Carlos Henderson, Cody Latimer, Bennie Fowler, Isaiah McKenzie [R], Jordan Taylor, Kalif Raymond, Marlon Brown, Mekale McKay, Hunter Sharp

Starting WRs: The change at offensive coordinator is one that could make this passing game much more robust in 2017. Mike McCoy has turned the Broncos offense into 'wide receiver heaven' according to Emmanuel Sanders. The early word out of Denver is that the Broncos are going to implement a pass-happy system under McCoy...and that should be great news for fantasy owners invested in Sanders or Demaryius Thomas. After McCoy was hired, Thomas went on record to say "I get my play back!" and that enthusiasm should be noted. McCoy will bring back the screen pass that Thomas utilized to help become the 5th fantasy wide receiver under McCoy in 2012. Peyton Manning was tossing him the rock at that time, and neither Paxton Lynch or Trevor Siemian provide that level of quarterback play. Thomas was the 18th fantasy receiver in 2016 in what was largely an anemic passing attack. He should be able to get back near the top 10 in fantasy circles just due to McCoy's return. Sanders has seen his fantasy impact fall each of the last three years (7th, 18th, 22nd - standard scoring leagues). He's excited about working under McCoy, and Sanders could get close to being a top-15 fantasy wide receiver once again in 2017.

Backup WRs: The Broncos have question marks behind their 'big two' at the wide receiver position. That's why they selected Carlos Henderson (Louisiana Tech) in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft. There's a dash of Hines Ward or Steve Smith to Henderson's game, and he could thrive as the slot receiver behind Thomas and Sanders. Henderson is strong and turns into a running back after the catch, leading to a lot of short passes transformed into long gains. He's also got the speed to go over the top of the defense if tasked to do so. Cody Latimer was supposed to be the next great thing, but the second-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft has done next to nothing as a receiver. Instead, Latimer has become a fine special teams player...but that doesn't rack up the fantasy points. Bennie Fowler has struggled to stay healthy or make much of an impact for the Broncos offense and he may be running out of chances. The team selected Isaiah McKenzie in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL draft, and he's a threat to score anytime he touches the ball. McKenzie is small and should mostly be used as a return man, but he's electric with the ball and could get a package of plays for this offense. Jordan Taylor has the size/speed combination that makes him a great downfield target. He also plays with great concentration and can make crazy catches near the sideline.

Tight Ends

Starters: Virgil Green
Backups: Jeff Heuerman, A.J. Derby, Jake Butt [R], Henry Krieger-Coble, Steven Scheu, Austin Traylor, Cedrick Lang

The Broncos have never seen Virgil Green play up to his potential as a receiver, and fantasy owners should not be expecting much to change for him in 2017. Green is a blocker for the team, and that makes A.J. Derby the Broncos primary receiving tight end. Derby was drafted by the Patriots in 2015, but they traded him to the Broncos last year. He didn't do much for the Broncos last year, but Derby has the athleticism to create mismatches over the middle of the field. Jake Butt fell to the fifth round of the 2017 NFL draft even though he arguably had first-round talent. A knee injury suffered in Michigan's bowl game prevented Butt from working out during the pre-draft process. Butt's knee is expected to be ready sometime near the start of the regular season. We love his upside in dynasty leagues as he reminds us of Jason Witten (Cowboys), but we may not see much from Butt in 2017. Henry Krieger-Coble has decent athleticism, but he needed to add weight coming out of Iowa and spent his rookie season on the Broncos practice squad. A Mike McCoy system can support two good tight ends (see Antonio Gates, Hunter Henry), but it remains to be seen which tight ends in Denver could come through in 2017.

Place Kicker

Brandon McManus: Brandon McManus has settled in as the kicker in Denver, making 29 of his 34 field goal attempts last year, including 3 of 6 from 50+. He only missed one of 33 extra point attempts and didn't miss a kick under 40 yards. The team put a second-round tender worth over 2.7 million dollars on McManus this offseason, which was designed to keep another team from signing him. It will make him the eighth highest paid kicker this season. The thin air in Denver helps his distance kicks and makes McManus worth a look in the 7-10 range he is drafted in at his position.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Cody Latimer

While he's largely been a disappointment on offense, Cody Latimer has found a role as a kickoff returner on special teams. Unfortunately, playing half of his games at altitude and all of his games with one of the top defenses in the league leaves him very short on opportunities.

Punt Returners: Emmanuel Sanders

Denver's current punt returner depth chart is very tentative. Sanders has some experience, but his growing importance on offense caused Denver to scale his special teams involvement way back in 2016. Last year's top returner, Jordan Norwood, is a free agent. It's entirely possible Denver's top punt returner is not yet on their roster.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Garett Bolles, LG Ronald Leary, C Matt Paradis, RG Max Garcia, RT Menelik Watson
Key Backups: Donald Stephenson, Ty Sambrailo, Michael Schofield, James Ferentz, Connor McGovern

Featuring three new starters, the Broncos' offensive line will look vastly different from last season. The team drafted Garett Bolles out of Utah to start at left tackle, and he should fit well in their scheme. Menelik Watson was scooped from the AFC West rival Oakland Raiders in free agency and he should start at right tackle. Donald Stephenson was also acquired (also from the AFC West in Kansas City) and could start at either tackle spot, if needed. All three new tackles are upgrades in pass protection from last year's crew. Ronald Leary was given decent money to start at left guard and he should be a run blocking upgrade. Center Matt Paradis has been a very good professional and another young starter Max Garcia will swap to the right side to accommodate Leary. Ty Sambrailo and Michael Schofield provide decent depth. Overall this line has all the ingredients to be ranked among the top tier in the long term but will probably be more of a mid tier line in the near term until they find cohesion with all these changes.

Team Defense

The Broncos D/ST didn't set the pace fantasy leagues last year like they did in 2015, but they still finished in the top five no matter the scoring format. There is a little concern this year after Wade Phillips left to coach the Rams defense, but new coordinator Joe Woods worked under Phillips and should maintain the ballhawking pressure defense that drives this team. Shane Ray will be asked to play a larger role on the edge after Demarcus Ware retired and Domata Peko was added to anchor the middle of the defensive line, but for the most part, the defense has continuity at all three levels and should maintain their status as a premium fantasy D/ST and matchup to avoid for opposing quarterbacks. They are often being drafted as the first D/ST off of the board, but that might be a little aggressive considering the fact that the D/ST1 pack caught up to them last year.

Defensive Line

Starters: LE Derek Wolfe, NT Domata Peko, RE Jared Crick
Backups: DE Adam Gotsis, NT Zach Kerr, NT Kyle Peko

Starting DL: There are no real statistical DL contributors in the Broncos' 3-4 scheme. Their primary job is to tie up blocks, freeing their dynamic linebackers to make plays. Wolfe and Crick are the only options worth any fantasy consideration, and it isn't much. Wolfe is a major real-life cog in this defense, but he carries no real dynamism - he's never topped 6.0 sacks and has been in on just 1 fumble in 5 seasons. He's fine depth in leagues that require several DL starters, but lacks value elsewhere. Crick's six passes defensed were a pleasant surprise last year. He's remarkably consistent, notching 49-56 tackles and 2.0-3.5 sacks a year since 2014. Those are also serviceable numbers for a DL3/4, but he lacks any semblance of upside. Peko is a fine run-plugger, but doesn't get involved on the stat sheet. Overall, there's very little to mine from here; look to the Denver linebackers and defensive backs for production.

Backup DL: Gotsis carries a second-round investment from the Broncos, so he'll likely see more than his 221 (19.3%) rookie snaps. He didn't impress in 2016, but could toggle more this year with Crick, who struggles against the run. Still, Gotsis is a low-upside prospect in a low-production unit. Kerr should also factor in rotationally. He never produced much as a UFA of the Colts, but he's a wide body with athleticism, and the Broncos have struggled for years to lock down any semblance of dynamism from young linemen. Peko will help back up his cousin on the nose; he played just 16 snaps last year, but has draw buzz as a rotational piece.

Linebackers

Starters: SLB Von Miller, ILB Brandon Marshall, ILB Todd Davis, WLB Shane Ray
Backups: ILB Corey Nelson, OLB Kasim Edebali, OLB Shaquil Barrett

Starting LBs: Miller is obviously the rock star here, He finished 2016 as the standard-league LB12, which is near his ceiling. Miller rode the highest tackle total and third-highest sack total of his career to that mark. He'll almost certainly come off the board higher than LB12 in your league; his name value and ultimate sack upside will see to that. Long story short: Miller is world-class, but shrewd owners won't chase him into a crowded street. Across the formation, Ray will step into DeMarcus Ware's retired shoes, and biggish things are expected. In his second NFL season, Ray soared beyond his rookie performance, jumping from 341 snaps to 666 and racking up 8.5 sacks. A leap into double digits would be expected, but the Broncos LBs are a packaged unit, and Ray may already be near his ceiling for snaps. Consider that Ware only drew 737 snaps in his only full season as a Bronco. Marshall is typically the unit's top tackler, but his numbers have slipped mightily over the past three years. He's missed 8 of 48 possible games over that span, and his tackles per game have fallen from 8.1 to 6.9 to 4.5. He flashes across-the-stat-sheet versatility, but has recorded just five sacks and two interceptions over his five-year career. Coming off a season-ending injury, Marshall offers strong value as a bounce-back flier, provided he tumbles into the LB4 area of your draft. Davis is the safer (and cheaper) pick; he notched a team-high 98 tackles last year, but virtually nothing else. He's devoid of upside, but worthy of a LB3/4 investment.

Backup LBs: Nelson stepped in during Brandon Marshall's injury and recorded some useful numbers. Over the final 4 games, Nelson averaged 8.3 tackles, and he'd likely move in seamlessly if Marshall goes down again. Edebali comes over by way of the Saints, where he spent three years as a rotational pass-rushing piece. He flashed effectiveness, averaging a sack every 0.29 games in New Orleans. Edebali will be worked alongside Barrett into the unit; neither will create fireworks, but could affect Shane Ray's upside.

Defensive Backs

Starters: LCB Aqib Talib, SS T.J. Ward, FS Darian Stewart, RCB Chris Harris
Backups: CB Bradley Roby, FS Justin Simmons, SS Will Parks

Starting DBs: Harris and Talib were again phenomenal in 2016, reminding us just how dominant a cover man each can be. The problem, as with many shutdown cornerbacks, is that they're just not tested enough by opposing quarterbacks to rack up big fantasy numbers. Over the last two years, Harris has averaged just 3.8 tackles a game and Talib 3.1, and they've posted modest interception numbers over that span. Harris gets his mitts on some passes, but that's the extent of their value. Both are fine plays if you're required to start cornerbacks, but don't really compare with the upper-tier safeties. Ward is one of those: he's averaged nearly six tackles per game since 2015, and he throws in solid playmaking numbers to boot. He's always an injury risk, but a top-tier DB2 when he's in. Stewart doesn't offer a ton, and even last year's three interceptions were odd - he'd never picked off multiple passes in any season prior.

Backup DBs: Nickel man Roby plays a ton - 57 snaps per game last year - but he's yet to produce much fantasy-wise. His tackles and playmaking numbers have fallen in each season as a pro. Still, he gets to the ball plenty and would likely erupt if Chris Harris or Aqib Talib went down. So much attention would be sent his way that he likely couldn't help flirting with big numbers. Both Simmons and Parks flirted with 300 snaps as relief rookies, and they'll man the backup spots again. Simmons was especially impressive, notching 30 tackles, a sack, 4 passes defensed, and 2 interceptions in very limited time. An injury - or benching - in the starting lineup would make him a sneaky playmaker to monitor in free agency.

Last modified: 2017-05-15 21:56:19