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2018 Team Report: Denver Broncos

Offensive Philosophy

The Broncos prefer a balanced offense that makes heavy use of play action, allowing the pass to set up the run and the run to set up the pass. Featuring one of the top receiver tandems in the league in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, Denver has run a higher percentage of its passing game through its top two receivers than any team in the league over the last four years, with both Thomas and Sanders ranking among the top 10 players in the NFL in total targets over that span.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Case Keenum
Backup(s): Chad Kelly, Paxton Lynch

Starting QB: The Broncos had a clown car at the quarterback position last year, with guys like Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch all getting starts along the way to a 5-11 record. That led the team to go out in free agency and solve their problem at quarterback with the addition of Case Keenum. Coming off an appearance in the NFC Championship Game with the Minnesota Vikings, Keenum now gets to be 'the man' for the first time in his career and not a fill-in quarterback. The Broncos staff knows Keenum better than any other team in the NFL as former Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak now works in the front office of the Broncos. Of course, Keenum was picked up as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Houston by the then Kubiak-led Texans. Keenum doesn't have the strongest arm, but he is efficient and accurate as a passer - and he should be a huge upgrade over the trio of quarterbacks the Broncos trotted out there in 2017. With weapons around him like wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, Keenum should be able to at least duplicate the numbers (3,500 passing yards, 22 touchdowns) in 2018 with his new team. The Broncos want to run the ball and play great defense, so that could limit the numbers Keenum posts through the air. The team's formula, with Keenum running the show should lead to more wins and perhaps a push for the playoffs in 2018.

Backup QB: The Broncos are trying to find the right backup to Case Keenum, and they will see if 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch can beat out 2017 seventh-round pick Chad Kelly. Lynch has struggled to impress during his brief time in the NFL with only a small handful of starts, mainly due to injury and ineffectiveness. He failed to beat out seventh-round pick Trevor Siemian for the first two years of his career and is certainly in a make-or-break year. Kelly, last year's 'Mr. Irrelevant', has re-shaped his body by losing 40 pounds to get to a better playing weight. He didn't play as a rookie as he recovered from a knee injury suffered during his last year at Ole Miss. Kelly may be more like Keenum from a skill set standpoint than Lynch. He is athletic and has a strong arm, plus Kelly has a fiery competitive spirit that Lynch can't match. This battle should go through all of training camp, and Kelly should come out on top unless Lynch does a complete 180 from what he's shown so far in the NFL.

Running Backs

Starter: Devontae Booker
Backup(s): Royce Freeman[R], DeAngelo Henderson, David Williams[R], Phillip Lindsay[R]
Fullback(s): Andy Janovich

Starting RB: Denver moved on from 2017 starter C.J. Anderson this offseason, and that leaves Devontae Booker as the top back on the depth chart. Over two years in the league, Booker has failed to make a positive impression and has a career average of 3.6 yards per carry. He's a back who runs with build-up power but struggles when running through trash at the line of scrimmage. Booker is more comfortable in a power-gap system, but under Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave the Broncos should go back to their zone-blocking concepts. That's not a great fit for Booker as he lacks the decisiveness and patience to flourish in that system. Booker has great hands and could be used effectively as a receiver out of the backfield. He's going to face tough competition from rookie Royce Freeman, and if Booker struggles with injury again we could see Freeman take the top spot and never look back. The Broncos want to emphasize running the ball this year, but a RBBC approach with Booker and Freeman would limit the fantasy value of both.

Backup RBs: Rookie Royce Freeman was added in the third round of the 2018 NFL draft. With over 1,000 carries during his college career with the Oregon Ducks, Freeman certainly has the capability to be a 'bellcow' back for an offense. Freeman is currently seen as a '1B' option to go along with the team's current '1A' running back, Devontae Booker. They'll compete for the top spot on the depth chart, and Freeman has a chance to be the lead back for Denver at some point this season. He's an underrated receiver, and that could be highlighted if the team wants him on the field for all three downs. DeAngelo Henderson has a compact build and can make big gains off short passes. He's a Branden Oliver-like back who could work as a change-of-pace back for the Broncos. Rookie David Williams was the team's last pick in the 2018 NFL draft. He's a pure power back with little nuance to his game. Undrafted rookie Phillip Lindsay is small (5'8" 190 pounds) but is surprisingly durable and runs with a ton of heart. He could push Henderson for the change-of-pace job behind Booker and Freeman.

Fullback: Andy Janovich is a strong runner but not overwhelmingly powerful. He's a decent receiver out of the backfield and a good blocker. Janovich is not a lock for the 53-man roster as his fit in Bill Musgrave's offense is a bit of an unknown.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders
Backups: Courtland Sutton[R], Daesean Hamilton[R], Carlos Henderson, Isaiah McKenzie, Jordan Taylor

Starting WRs: Demaryius Thomas failed to reach 1,000 yards receiving last year for the first time since 2011. He got close (949 yards) which is saying a lot considering the Broncos had one of the worst quarterback situations in the NFL. With Case Keenum added as the team's clear-cut starter at quarterback, Thomas should see a resurgence in his production. He's still big and capable of being a great red-zone target, but Thomas has lost a step and is no longer a threat to score from anywhere on the field. Even with his aging skill set, Thomas could be a 1,000-yard receiver with 8-10 touchdowns receiving as the lead wideout for the Broncos. Sanders wasn't healthy last year and was only able to make it through 12 games for the Broncos in 2017. Because of his injury (and the bad quarterbacks last year....did we mention how bad they were?), Sanders failed to reach at least 50 catches on the season for the first time since 2012. Like Thomas, Sanders should see a boost in his production with Keenum at the helm. Sanders needs to stay healthy, but he should be re-energized by the team's new offense. The potential is there for him to get back to the 75-catch range for the Broncos.

Backup WRs: Courtland Sutton is an exciting rookie receiver who many thought would go in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft. Instead, Sutton fell to the Broncos near the beginning of the second round and the team couldn't be happier. Sutton is a tall receiver who can dominate in the red zone. He's got great footwork which should greatly help him as he learns how to properly execute the full route tree. During his time in college at SMU, Sutton took advantage of defenders mostly on quick slants, go routes and screen passes. He's a good run-blocker and is not afraid of running routes over the middle of the field. Sutton should one day be the team's replacement for Demaryius Thomas. Fellow rookie DaeSean Hamilton could be a steal in the draft for the Broncos. Hamilton operated like a surgeon from the slot position for the Nittany Lions of Penn State. He's a great route-runner who can set up defenders with moves then burst past them after the catch. Hamilton may actually make a quicker impact than Sutton because he's more capable of playing the slot as the no.3 receiver behind Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Sutton and Hamilton should be the Broncos WR duo of the future with Hamilton playing the Sanders role in the future - or perhaps sooner if Sanders struggles to stay healthy. Carlos Henderson is strong, fast and tremendously athletic...but he didn't stay healthy and failed to make it through training camp as a rookie in 2017. He also struggled to pick up the playbook. We'll see if Henderson can stay healthy and show more potential as a receiver or return man in 2018. Isaiah McKenzie is still on the roster, but the fumble problems that plagued him last year could cause the team to move on from him after camp. Jordan Taylor is recovering from offseason hip surgery and faces more competition than ever before to make the 53-man roster. He's a fast receiver who can make crazy catches but lacks polish as a receiver.

Tight Ends

Starters: Jake Butt
Backups: Jeff Heuerman, Troy Fumagalli[R], Austin Traylor

Jake Butt fell to the fifth round of the 2017 NFL draft even though he had first-round tools during his playing days in college at Michigan. A knee injury suffered in the Wolverines bowl game caused his fall in the draft, and the Broncos were happy to scoop him up as a value pick. Butt is not an 'F' tight end (receiver) but more of a 'Y' tight end (all-purpose) who can thrive as a blocker or receiver. He's got shades of Kyle Rudolph (Vikings) to his game which is great because Rudolph was a favorite target for quarterback Case Keenum last year. Butt didn't play as a rookie as he had to take time to recover from his knee injury. Now fully healthy, Butt should be the lead tight end for the Broncos and catching around 30=35 passes sounds about right for the talented player who is chomping at the bit to get back to football. Jeff Heuerman is the elder statesman of the group with Virgil Green moving on in free agency. He's done nothing to impress at the pro level, and Heuerman is no lock for the 53-man roster. Troy Fumagalli, a rookie from Wisconsin, has vacuum-like hands and he could end up developing into a mismatch for the Broncos in the future. Austin Traylor is strong at the point of attack and a sneaky receiver who can find the soft spot in a zone.

Place Kicker

Brandon McManus: Brandon McManus's 2018 salary of 2.25 million is fully guaranteed, so the offseason signing of Taylor Bertolet is more for a camp leg and chance for Bertolet to show his stuff for other teams than it is competition for McManus. Not that the Broncos would be off base to look elsewhere for their 2018 kicker, as McManus only made 75 percent of his 32 field goal attempts, including two misses under 30 yards. McManus hasn't gotten over 35 field goal attempts during his tenure with the Broncos, so even with Case Keenum improving the offense, he's not worth a draft pick.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Devontae Booker, Brendan Langley

Devontae Booker seemed poised to retain the Broncos' top kickoff returner duties in 2018, though the release of C.J. Anderson presumably signals an expanded role on offense, which could complicate matters.

Punt Returners: Isaiah McKenzie, Brendan Langley

While he wasn't able to crack the rotation at wide receiver, rookie Isaiah McKenzie did manage to earn top billing at punt returner for the Broncos in 2017. He returns in 2018 with an inside track on the job.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Garett Bolles, LG Ronald Leary, C Matt Paradis, RG Connor McGovern, RT Jared Veldheer
Key Backups: Menelik Watson, Sam Jones, J.J. Dielman, Billy Turner

Ronald Leary is expected to move back to his preferred left guard spot after spending last season at right guard. Leary only played in 11 games last season but was the team's best lineman during his time on the field. Center Matt Paradis is also a high performer. Garett Bolles had an up-and-down season at left tackle as a rookie but should improve in season two. Right tackle Jared Veldheer arrived via free agency from the Arizona Cardinals. His arrival sends Menelik Watson to the reserve swing tackle role. Connor McGovern is favored to win the right guard spot. Overall, the Denver Broncos' offensive line is a low-tier option as the season opens, but has the talent to rise in the rankings.

Team Defense

The no fly zone was actually cleared for a huge spike in passing touchdowns last year, knocking the Broncos from the elite ranks of fantasy defenses to the middling 15-20 range in most scoring systems. The offseason had its ups and downs with the trade of Aqib Talib and acquisition of Su'a Cravens to help a lagging safety group, but no development was bigger than Bradley Chubb (NC State) falling to the #5 pick and giving Denver the Demarcus Ware replacement they have been searching for since Ware retired. With Von Miller no longer the only significant edge rush presence on the team, the Broncos defense could come alive and it is now being drafted among the top 5-8 fantasy defenses again. A step forward from Justin Simmons or revival of Cravens' career would be the icing on the cake.

Defensive Line

Starters: LE Derek Wolfe, NT Domata Peko, RE Adam Gotsis
Backups: DT Clinton McDonald, DE Shelby Harris, NT Zach Kerr, NT Kyle Peko

Starting DL: The Broncos' down linemen are used primarily to tie up blockers and occasionally push the pocket, but none are candidates for fantasy-worthy numbers. Wolfe is the leader of the unit, consistently drawing high grades for his run-stuffing ability, and he's reportedly healthy after chronic neck woes ended his 2017. Still, he's never topped 5.5 sacks in a season and has missed 11 of the Broncos' last 48 games; he's a DL3 type, at best. Peko performed solidly as a run defender in 2017, but recorded just 39 tackles and 1.0 sack. Gotsis is also solid, but his future is murky as he faces a major criminal charge that could affect his 2018 eligibility.

Backup DL: McDonald comes aboard after a falling-out with the Buccaneers, but remains a difference-maker as an interior pass rusher. He's posted 8.5 sacks over the past 2 years and will almost certainly approach his 459-snap average in Denver. Still, he won't warrant any fantasy attention as a sub-package guy with declining skills. Harris rotated extensively with Adam Gotsis last year, notching a career-best 5.5 sacks and 4 pass breakups, but the waters are muddier this year. Kerr and Peko will provide help in the middle; the two combined to play 347 snaps in relief of Peko's brother, Domata, in 2017.

Linebackers

Starters: SLB Von Miller, LILB Brandon Marshall, RILB Todd Davis, WLB Bradley Chubb [R]
Backups: OLB Shane Ray, OLB Shaquil Barrett, ILB Josey Jewell [R]

Starting LBs: Boasting a true embarrassment of riches in edge-rush talent, the Broncos now have the enviable task of working all of their pass rushers onto the field. It all starts and ends, of course, with franchise cornerstone Miller, whose career rate of 0.80 sacks per game has stayed remarkably consistent over the years. Miller is a yearly lock for 10-12 sacks, though his tackle and splash-play numbers keep him from true fantasy LB2 status. He's only topped 55 tackles once in 7 years, and he rarely drops into coverage (just 1 career interception). Prized rookie Chubb will rotate positions plenty, from Miller's bookend to a hand-in-the-dirt rusher, but will likely start as a stand-up linebacker and be set loose on opposing quarterbacks from Day One. His rookie production may be dinged by all of the competition on the edge, and he may struggle to surpass 650-700 snaps, but he's easily talented enough to turn that workload into a Joey Bosa Lite type of rookie year. A line around 40 tackles, 7-9 sacks, and a handful of splash plays seems well within his range. The closest thing the Broncos have to a fantasy crown jewel is Marshall, who's posted 103+ tackles in 3 of his last 4 seasons. Marshall makes a few plays on the ball, as well, averaging 2.0 sacks, 4.5 breakups, and 1.5 forced fumbles over that 4-year span. He makes sense as a low-upside LB2 in tackle-heavy IDP leagues. Next to him, Davis quietly produced 6.2 tackles per game over the past 2 seasons, but he's not much of a fantasy option. Davis often misses time and provides little by way of splash production; he's mid-rangefantasy LB4 fodder even when healthy.

Backup LBs: Ray has mostly been an injury-ravaged disappointment since being a first-round pick in 2015. He's missed 14 of 48 games and registered just 13.5 sacks, 1 pass breakup, and 1 forced fumble. It's no wonder the Broncos have brought in Bradley Chubb and given more run to Barrett, who's been the far more productive pass rusher on a per-snap basis. Now, the team has denied Ray's fifth-year option, and he looks ticketed for no more than a situational role alongside more talented rushers. Ray and Barrett will jostle for snaps behind Von Miller and Chubb, but barring injury, neither warrants a spot on IDP rosters. Fourth-round rookie Jewell is now the heir apparent to either Brandon Marshall or Todd Davis on the inside, and if either goes down in-season, he'll have a fair shot at LB4/5 value.

Defensive Backs

Starters: LCB Bradley Roby, SS Justin Simmons, FS Darian Stewart, RCB Chris Harris
Backups: SS Su'a Cravens, CB Tramaine Brock, FS William Parks, CB Isaac Yiadom [R]

Starting DBs: Even with Aqib Talib shipped out of town, the Broncos boast one of the league's most suffocating and dynamic cornerback duos. Harris remains a truly elite cover man, particularly in the slot, where inside receivers go to vanish. That said, his playmaking opportunities have dried up as his coverage reputation has swollen wildly over the years. Harris managed a ho-hum 36 tackles, 5 pass breakups, and 1 interception over 14 games last year; he's no longer an IDP target outside of leagues that require CB starters. Roby is the more electrifying CB2 option - over the last 2 years, he's posted 25 pass breakups over 1,368 defensive snaps. Still, he's an iffy fantasy play as he lacks tackling upside. There's slightly more fantasy appeal to the safeties, though not much. Simmons was posting DB2/3 numbers (5.7 tackles per game) as the full-time strong safety before going down with an ankle injury. There's breakout potential in those tackling numbers, but the team added competition on the back end, and Simmons may lose passing-down snaps. Stewart has started in Denver for 3 years now, but has yet to top 68 tackles or 3 interceptions in a season. Consider him a low-ceiling DB4 type.

Backup DBs: Cravens was a speculative add via trade in March, and if healthy - he's had major concussion and knee issues in the past - he'll be a sub-package monster in Denver, threatening 700 snaps across a variety of positions. If so, he'll make a few splash plays and could outdo his impressive rookie 2016 (34 tackles, 1.0 sack, 5 pass breakups, 1 interception across 297 snaps). Parks spent much of 2017 as Denver's nickel back and was serviceable, but will likely lose that role to new addition Brock, who has long been solid in a complementary spot. He'll see plenty of snaps, as Chris Harris tends to kick inside to the slot, and it's worth noting he broke up 37 passes over 46 games from 2013-16 as a 49er. Third-round pick Yiadom looks like more of a special teams prospect than anything; he'll provide gunner help and dime depth as a rookie.

Last modified: 2018-06-17 11:10:51