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2019 Team Report: Denver Broncos

Offensive Philosophy

New head coach Vic Fangio has a defensive background and new offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello was previously a quarterback coach, so there's some uncertainty surrounding exactly what type of offense they will prefer. Clues can be had in Scangarello's last location, where he worked under Kyle Shanahan running similar zone-running-based West Coast concepts to those Mike Shanahan and John Elway used when leading the Broncos to two Super Bowl victories in the late '90s.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Joe Flacco
Backup(s): Drew Lock, Kevin Hogan, Brett Rypien [R]

Starting QB: The Denver Broncos didn't get much out of Case Keenum in 2018, so they made a trade for Joe Flacco this offseason. Flacco had an injury-shortened 2018 season with the Baltimore Ravens, but he did have some flashes and played some good football before he was injured. He finished 2018 with 2,465 passing yards (61.2 completion percentage) with 12 passing touchdowns and six interceptions in nine games. Flacco now has a fresh start with the Broncos, and he's in a scheme where he put up career-best numbers back in 2014 under former Broncos head coach (and then Ravens OC) Gary Kubiak. The Broncos are back to the Shanahan/Kubiak system with Rich Scangarello as their new offensive coordinator. The first-time OC is putting in place an offense that Flacco is familiar with, and that should help with the transition on his new team. Flacco only needs to stay healthy after battling a back injury in 2017 and then the hip injury that cost him his job with the Ravens in 2018. Flacco is not going to fill the air with footballs in the Scangarello offense. Instead, the Broncos should run the ball early and often to set up the play-action passing game. If healthy, there is enough potential there for Flacco to be a QB2 for Fantasy GMs in 2019.

Backup QB: Drew Lock may be the future franchise quarterback of the Denver Broncos. They were able to acquire him in the second round of the 2019 NFL draft. He's got a lot of skill but is far from a finished product. Lock has a rocket arm, is sneaky athletic and is known as a hard worker and good leader. However, his footwork needs to be improved as a passer and that should help his consistency in pass placement and accuracy. Also, Lock's arm angle and release point needs to be tightened up as well. Lock should get plenty of time to learn behind Flacco. Kevin Hogan has limited starting experience in the pros and is not an exciting option if the does get into a game. He's smart and athletic but has had trouble with passing accuracy (59.4 percent) in the pros. A fifth-round pick in the 2016 NFL draft, the Broncos picked up Hogan in 2018 as the final piece of their 53-man roster. Brett Rypien is an intriguing UDFA with the potential to be a solid backup quarterback for years. He's worked from under center and understands how to read defenses in a pro-style offense. Rypien is smart and accurate as a thrower, both skills that can keep him in the pros for some time. He may not have the upside of a Lock, but Rypien could be a valuable piece for the Broncos as a backup quarterback.

Running Backs

Starter: Phillip Lindsay
Backup(s): Royce Freeman, Devontae Booker, Khalfani Muhammad
Fullback(s): Andy Janovich

Starting RB: Phillip Lindsay became the first undrafted offensive player to make the Pro Bowl in his rookie season. The rookie from Colorado was phenomenal last year for the Broncos, going from a satellite back on the fringe of making the team to the Broncos lead back in a matter of weeks. A wrist injury cut his season short by one game, and Lindsay's recovery will take him into training camp. At 180 pounds, Lindsay's workload will need to be managed as too many touches will likely wear him down. Lindsay does not shy away from contact and that playing style could cause him to get banged up more often than other smaller backs who try to avoid collisions. In addition to running ball, Lindsay can be featured as a receiver out of the backfield. He had 1,037 rushing yards as a rookie and added 35 receptions for 241 receiving yards in 2018. Lindsay scored 10 touchdowns overall and should be in line for a similar workload this season under new Broncos offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello. Lindsay will be the lead rusher, but expect the Broncos to split touches with Royce Freeman as they should be one of the leading teams in the NFL when it comes to rushing the ball.

Backup RBs: Royce Freeman was supposed to replace C.J. Anderson as the Broncos lead back. The Broncos moved on from Anderson, a 1,000-yard rusher in 2017, and selected Freeman out of Oregon in the third round of the 2018 NFL draft. Freeman began the season as the starter but lost that job to Phillip Lindsay. A high ankle sprain limited Freeman to 14 games as a rookie, and Freeman did try to play with the injury. When he was banged up and playing through the pain, Freeman did not look like the same back that dazzled the Pac-12 in college. Healthy now, Freeman has an opportunity to impress the new coaching staff during OTAs, minicamp and training camp. Lindsay is going to be recovering from a wrist injury until August, giving Freeman time to show that he should be heavily involved in the mix. Freeman is a big back who is tough to bring down when he builds a head of steam. Under Scangarello, expect the Broncos to implement more wide-zone schemes which play to Freeman's strengths. Devontae Booker is in the final year of his rookie contract and buried on the team's depth chart. A zone system is better for his running style, and Booker has great hands as a receiving back. We'll see if he can work his way into a small workload, and if either Freeman or Lindsay is banged up then Booker could get a larger role. Muhammad is a smaller change-of-pace back just trying to make the 53-man roster.

Fullback: New Broncos offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello came up under San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan. During his time as QB coach with the 49ers, Scangarello saw the team use their fullback Kyle Juszczyk more than most any team in the NFL. While Janovich is not Juszczyk in terms of overall skill set (Juszczyk had 30 receptions for 324 yards in 2018), we might see the Broncos try to get Janovich the ball more than they have in the past. In his three years as a pro, Janovich has 29 touches on offense. Janovich is a special teams standout and should continue in that role this season.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Courtland Sutton, Emmanuel Sanders
Backups: DaeSean Hamilton, Tim Patrick, Juwann Winfree [R], River Cracraft, Aaron Burbridge, Fred Brown, Brendan Langley

Starting WRs: Courtland Sutton should take over as the Broncos no.1 wide receiver in 2019. As a rookie in 2018, Sutton showed flashes as a big-play weapon, finishing with 42 catches for 704 receiving yards and four touchdowns. The second-round pick out of SMU didn't mesh well with Case Keenum and the lack of chemistry was evident on the field. Sutton could flourish in a big way with Joe Flacco as the starting quarterback. Flacco loves to launch passes deep and Sutton can win with downfield speed, leaping ability and incredible 'my ball' mentality. The Broncos are not going to be a pass-happy team in 2019, but Sutton has WR2 potential for Fantasy GMs if he takes over as the lead wide receiver and continues to develop his pro game. Emmanuel Sanders is currently recovering from an Achilles' injury that cut his 2018 season short. Sanders was playing like a young man before the injury, posting 71 catches for 868 yards and four touchdowns in 12 games. He should be ready around the start of training camp, but his role in 2018 will be different. Instead of being the lead receiver, Sanders should be the no.2 receiver for the Broncos opposite of Sutton. That's great news for a player like Sanders who can regularly torch some of the best defenders in the pros. He may see less double coverage as a result and could thrive. There is low-end WR2 potential for Sanders in 2019, and he should also be energized by the addition of Flacco.

Backup WRs: DaeSean Hamilton is a refined route runner who should get work for the Broncos from the slot. He's not the fastest receiver, but Hamilton knows how to operate in space and can manipulate corners to get open. Hamilton had 30 catches for 243 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie in 2018. Patrick is a physical freak with a great size/speed combination. He is one of the most competitive players on the roster who can surprise defenders in a nickel or dime defense. Cracraft is your classic slot receiver who can use his quickness on 'jerk' routes to get open. Langley is just trying to make the 53-man roster after spending the first two years of his pro career playing defensive back for the Broncos. He's athletic but raw at the position even though he did play wide receiver for a bit in college at both Georgia and Lamar. Winfree was the Broncos sixth-round pick in the 2019 NFL draft. A high-ankle sprain limited him during his final season in college at the University of Colorado, but he's a nuanced route runner with soft hands and the ability to get open consistently.

Tight Ends

Starters: Noah Fant [R]
Backups: Jeff Heuerman, Jake Butt, Troy Fumagalli

The Broncos tight ends needed some help in a bad way, and that's why they selected Noah Fant in the first round of the 2019 NFL draft. We should see Fant as their leading receiver at the tight end position and he should become a favorite target for QB Joe Flacco. Fant is an effort blocker but he's really known for his speed, athleticism and ability to be a 'seam ripper' down the middle of the field. In this offense, the tight end should be featured and Flacco is the type of quarterback who loves throwing to the tight end. Fant could catch 50 passes as a rookie. Jeff Heuerman is their best blocking tight end, but he is coming off career-best numbers as a receiver in 2018. Heuerman, a third-round pick out of Ohio State in the 2015 NFL draft, had 31 catches for 281 yards and two touchdowns in 11 games. He's missed a full season (2015) and has yet to play a full 16-game season with the Broncos. Even with his lack of production and injury history, the Broncos thought enough of him to bring him back this offseason with a two-year, $9 million contract. Jake Butt is arguably the most talented tight end on the roster but he's coming back from yet another ACL injury (the third one of his football career). Butt is a 'Y' tight end and can be featured as a blocker or receiver but who knows how healthy he can stay in 2019. Troy Fumagali missed all of his rookie season in 2018 with a sports hernia injury. He's got vacuum hands but is small for the position and more of a receiver than a blocker.

Place Kicker

Brandon McManus: Brandon McManus had his lowest point total in the last four years as the Broncos starting kicker in 2018. He made all of his kicks from 49 yards or shorter, including extra points, but only converted 2-of-7 from 50+, which is troubling to see from a kicker who plays in the mile high air for half of his games. McManus was in the bottom tier in kicker scoring last year and while Joe Flacco might be an upgrade from Case Keenum, the offense is likely going to remain in the bottom half of the league, and McManus will remain in the bottom half of the fantasy kicker ranks.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Devontae Booker, River Cracraft

Denver's return jobs were, to put it charitably, unsettled during the 2018 season. By the end of the year, nine different players had lined up deep to receive a kick, (four on kickoffs, two on punts, and three on both). In the latter half of the season, the team settled into a modicum of stability, with running back Devontae Booker largely fielding kickoffs and practice squad call-up River Cracraft taking punts. While neither player is a lock to make the final roster, both enter 2019 with an inside edge on the jobs.

Punt Returners: River Cracraft, Devontae Booker

Denver's return jobs were, to put it charitably, unsettled during the 2018 season. By the end of the year, nine different players had lined up deep to receive a kick, (four on kickoffs, two on punts, and three on both). In the latter half of the season, the team settled into a modicum of stability, with running back Devontae Booker largely fielding kickoffs and practice squad call-up River Cracraft taking punts. While neither player is a lock to make the final roster, both enter 2019 with an inside edge on the jobs.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: Garrett Bolles, Ron Leary, Connor McGovern, Dalton Risner [R], JaWuan James
Key Backups: Don Barclay, Sam Jones, Elijah Wilkinson

This has been an offseason of transition for the Broncos' line. They acquired JaWuan James from Miami to start at their right tackle spot, and hired Mike Munshak to coach the group. Also, they lost starting center Matt Paradis and right guard Billy Turner to free agency. Connor McGovern should be fine at the center spot (having taken most of the snaps last year after Paradis' leg injury) but right guard spot will likely be filled by second round rookie Dalton Risner out of Kansas State. Should Risner not be ready, Elijah Wilkinson, Sam Jones and Don Barclay would all in the mix for the job. Left guard Ron Leary returns after a season-ending Achilles' injury and his progress during rehab should be closely watched. Overall, this is a low-tier tier in the rankings due to changes in the lineup but their grade will rise once the rookie right guard settles into the job and Leary regains his previous form.

Team Defense

The Broncos team defense didn't return to elite levels last year, but they did lead off with a strong game at home vs. Russell Wilson and feast on the corpse of the Cardinals in the first half of the season. The unit was useful in the second half of the season with consistent takeaways and sacks and some stifling performances to limit opponents to around 300 total yards. The good news from the offseason is that the team did not trade Chris Harris. They did basically trade Bradley Roby for Kareem Jackson via free agent signings. although Jackson will move back to safety, and new head coach Vic Fangio got playmaking slot corner Bryce Callahan to improve the secondary. Josey Jewell will replace Brandon Marshall permanently after the team let Marshall leave in free agency. They still boast one of the best edge rush combos in the league in Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, although a Week 1 game at Oakland isn't ideal. It could still be worth enduring after selecting the Broncos with a late pick (they are getting drafted in some leagues) because home games against the Bears and Jaguars are up in Weeks 2 and 4.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Derek Wolfe, DE Adam Gotsis, NT Shelby Harris
Backups: DE DreMont Jones [R], DE DeMarcus Walker, NT Zach Kerr

Starting DL: Wolfe remains this unit's lynchpin, consistently tying up blockers and freeing the team's playmakers to pursue. It doesn't result in much fantasy production - just 72 tackles and 3.5 sacks over his last 27 games - but it's a huge part of the Broncos' process. Harris and Gotsis are also capable of pushing the pocket, but none are usable in fantasy leagues. If there's a silver statistical lining here, it's that all three of these guys are adept at disrupting and batting down passes. They've combined to knock away 23 over the past 2 seasons.

Backup DL: Third-round rookie Jones brings a different kind of energy to this depth chart. He's a bit light and not an elite athlete, but showed a knack for pushing the pocket at Ohio State. He could work his way into pass-rushing snaps, especially in the event of an injury above him. Kerr may see some additional run at the nose with Domata Peko gone, but contributes little statistically. Walker is pure depth; he saw just 21 snaps last season.

Linebackers

Starters: SLB Bradley Chubb, WLB Von Miller, ILB Josey Jewell, ILB Todd Davis
Backups: SLB Justin Hollins [R], ILB Keishawn Bierria, WLB Jeff Holland

Starting LBs: Miller may be a bit overvalued as a fantasy commodity, but he remains one of football's most lethal pass rushers. 2018 saw his fifth consecutive season of 10 sacks or more - in fact, the only year he finished in single digits came during a half-season in 2013. His overall fantasy case is hurt by a lack of tackles (just 48 last season), but there's still plenty of value there in big-play formats. Besides, he did rack up 76 and 57 stops in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Chubb wasn't eased into action as a rookie - his 843 snaps matched Miller's total. And his pass rush contributions came as advertised. Chubb notched 12.0 sacks, including 3 multi-sack games. He doesn't sit against the run, and with such a hefty workload, a boost in tackles wouldn't be surprising. He's already a stronger fantasy consideration than Miller, and big-play formats will prioritize his 15-sack potential. Davis enters his fourth season starting on the inside for Denver, and he's coming fresh off his best as a pro. Little more than a run-stuffer before, Davis soared to career highs in tackles (112) and pass breakups (7). He's not a dynamic producer, but tackles reliably enough for fantasy LB3 purposes. Jewell's 2018 development pushed the declining Brandon Marshall off the roster. The second-year man averaged 5.3 tackles a game when playing more than half the snaps, and he'll likely draw a full-time role going forward. It may be tackle-driven, but there's low-priced potential in Jewell.

Backup LBs: The Broncos love to mix and match their pass-rush personnel, but with Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett gone, they'll need to break in a new body or two. Fifth-round rookie Hollins may answer the call: he's sized well at 6'5" and 248 pounds, and he flashed edge potential at Oregon before shredding the combine. His draft stock suggests special teams, but he looks like the most intriguing option to spell Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. Holland, who saw some (limited) late-season action, will jockey for position as an edge option. For inside depth, the team will likely turn to second-year man Bierria. He drew just 18 snaps as a rookie, but at least brings seniority into the void.

Defensive Backs

Starters: FS Kareem Jackson, SS Justin Simmons, CB Chris Harris, CB Isaac Yiadom
Backups: FS Will Parks, CB Bryce Callahan, SS Sua Cravens, CB Brendan Langley

Starting DBs: Jackson comes to town after nine solid, underrated years in Houston. He's not just a great cover man, but a versatile one, with experience all over the secondary. He's already been shifted to safety in Denver, a fantastic place for him to show off his ball-tracking abilities. Over the past 3 seasons, Jackson has averaged 73 tackles and 13 pass breakups, good for strong DB3 numbers. A move to safety only boosts his opportunity. Simmons posted a career-high 96 tackles and 3 interceptions last year. He's not an ideal starter and is prone to lapses in coverage, but played every defensive snap in 2018. Jackson could eat into his role a bit, but both are strong if speculative DB3 picks. Harris remains an elite cover man, despite a bitter divorce looming between player and team. He routinely posts world-class coverage grades while specializing in the slot. He doesn't get tested much, though, so his fantasy numbers tend to come up lacking. It's just the cost of doing business as a truly frightening cornerback matchup. Yiadom is the top in-house candidate to take over Bradley Roby, who left town. He contributed 263 rookie snaps of generally solid play, especially down the season's stretch. He's not the playmaker Roby was, though, so fantasy expectations are to be tempered.

Backup DBs: Even with Kareem Jackson added, Parks should see the field plenty as a linebacker/safety hybrid. He drew 597 and 573 snaps in the last 2 seasons, mostly patrolling the box and providing underneath coverage. He's an important chess piece to the Broncos, but looks unlikely to top his career highs of 51 tackes or 4 pass breakups. Cravens' career has been devastated by injury, though he's flashed playmaking potential. Parks has beaten him out decisively for that role. Callahan comes over after a solid 2018 in Chicago; he'll likely slot in as the third cornerback, or fourth when Kareem Jackson is on the field. Langley checks in behind him with a focus on special teams - he didn't see any defensive snaps last year.

Last modified: 2019-05-22 16:22:32