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2015 Team Report: Denver Broncos

Quarterbacks

Starter: Peyton Manning
Backup(s): Brock Osweiler, Zac Dysert, Trevor Siemian [R]

Starting QB: In 2013, Manning set the NFL record with 55 touchdown passes and 5,477 passing yards. Starting 2014, Manning looked like he would be on a similar track. Over the first eight games of 2014, Manning had over 2,500 passing yards, 24 passing touchdowns and only five interceptions. However, in the last eight games his numbers fell. During that time, Manning had 2,155 passing yards, 15 passing touchdowns and 10 interceptions. So what happened? The answer is simple; Manning got injured. The Broncos shuffled their offensive line multiple times last season trying to find the best protectors for Manning. It was a Week 11 game against the St. Louis Rams where Manning got beat up the most. After that game, Denver started running the ball more out of necessity. Enter 2015, and the Broncos have a different offense in place under new head coach Gary Kubiak. The offense will feature the zone-blocking system, and Manning isn't going to be asked to carry the full burden on that side of the ball. Instead, C.J. Anderson will be the engine of the offense and Manning will work off play-action passing. Fantasy owners need to adjust their expectations for Manning accordingly. Matching what he did in 2013 is out of the question. However, it wouldn't be a total shock to see Manning post numbers similar to what Matt Schaub did during his time under Kubiak. In 2009, Schaub was the 3rd-highest ranked fantasy quarterback with over 4,700 yards passing and 29 passing touchdowns. That could be near what Manning reaches in 2015.

Backup QB: The quarterback of the future may not currently be on the roster. Brock Osweiler, a second-round pick in 2012, is entering the final year of his contract and has not yet been extended. With Manning having two years remaining on his deal, Osweiler may have to move on if he wants his chance to be the starter. Osweiler would be a great fit in the Kubiak system. In fact, his stature and skill set are a lot like that of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. Both are huge (6'7"), have good athleticism and have rocket arms. Kubiak was the offensive coordinator for the Ravens last year, and he did a great job of getting the best out of Flacco. He could do the same for Osweiler, but a new contract agreement needs to be reached—even if 2015 is Manning's final year. Zac Dysert did not make the final roster in 2014, but he did stick around on the team's practice squad. He's got a strong arm but his accuracy and touch have not improved as a pro. He'll be pushed for the team's third-string job by rookie Trevor Siemian. A seventh-round pick for the Broncos this year, Siemian did not impress much in college at Northwestern. He's likely just a camp arm for Denver.

Running Backs

Starter: C.J. Anderson
Backup(s): Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman, Juwan Thompson, Jeremy Stewart, Kapri Bibbs
Fullback(s): Joe Don Duncan

Starting RB: An undrafted player will once again be leading the way for a Kubiak offense. In Houston, Arian Foster became a star in the NFL under the guidance of Kubiak. This season, the Broncos will rely on 2013 undrafted running back C.J. Anderson to lead the way for the new offense. Anderson began last year as third on the depth chart behind Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman. When those two were injured, Anderson stepped into the starting job and put up great numbers for the Broncos. His power-running style can wear down opponents as the season goes on. Anderson has good lower body strength, and he can be used effectively as a receiver out of the backfield. He led the league in rushing over the final six weeks of the season with 648 rushing yards. His eight rushing touchdowns during that time also led the NFL. Anderson's 779 all-purpose yards (rushing and receiving) was good for third in the NFL behind New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (853) and Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell (780). Anderson will start for the Broncos this year and has the ability to finish as a top-10 fantasy running back in 2015.

Backup RBs: Ball was the starter last year at the beginning of the season, but this year the 2013 second-round pick is going to get to prove himself as a reserve behind Anderson. An appendectomy in training camp—followed by a groin injury in the regular season—knocked his season off track. The zone-blocking system should help Ball look better and more effective as a runner. He's not as powerful as Anderson, but Ball is not averse to contact and willingly runs inside. Hillman is not a lock to make the final roster. He's jump-cutting rushing style is an odd fit in the zone-blocking system which rewards more decisive runners. If he does make the team, Hillman gives the Broncos speed at the running back position the others on the roster don't have. Juwan Thompson can play running back or fullback for the Broncos. He's a strong runner inside with a no-nonsense style. Thompson has power which can be harnessed as a lead blocker. He's also got the ability to catch passes out of the backfield. Jeremy Stewart is on the roster bubble even though he made it onto the field in 2014 for six carries. He'll be pushed for a roster spot by second-year pro Kapri Bibbs. As a rookie, Bibbs did not make the final roster. He did make the practice squad after showing well as a runner and quick receiver in training camp and the preseason. Bibbs has a nose for the end zone and could make a strong push for a roster spot this year.

Fullback: There was no fullback last year. In fact, the Broncos haven't officially had a fullback on their roster since Chris Gronkowski (2012). A fullback is a necessity in the Kubiak rushing attack. That's why the Broncos went out and signed former Dixie State tight end Joe Don Duncan. He's incredibly athletic and a powerful player. Injuries have been a problem for him as a collegian and as a pro, so Duncan will have to prove that he's capable of staying healthy and being an effective blocker for the Broncos. Other players like running back Juwan Thompson or tight ends Virgil Green and James Casey can be used at fullback if needed.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders
Backups: Cody Latimer, Andre Caldwell, Isaiah Burse, Bennie Fowler, Jordan Norwood, Kyle Williams, Jordan Taylor, Solomon Patton, David Porter

Starting WRs: Even with Manning struggling over the second half of the 2014 season, Demaryius Thomas was able to put up career-best numbers. After catching 94 and 92 passes the previous two seasons, Thomas was able to snare 111 passes in 2014. In addition to besting the century mark in catches, Thomas gained 1,619 receiving yards and scored 11 receiving touchdowns. This new Kubiak offense wont' be as wide open as what the Broncos had under Adam Gase over the last two seasons. However, Thomas should still be able to post top-5 fantasy numbers at the wide receiver position. Andre Johnson worked well under Kubiak during their time together with the Houston Texans. Thomas only has one season with more than 100 catches. Johnson had four such seasons under Kubiak in Houston. The Broncos passing game won't be as robust as it was in year's past, but fantasy owners should still believe in Thomas. The outlook isn't the same for Emmanuel Sanders. He posted career-best numbers in 2014, hauling in 101 passes for 1,404 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. Sanders showed great toughness running routes over the middle of the field, and his speed made him a deep threat for Manning early and often. This year, Sanders might see his numbers fall. The most productive second wide receiver Kubiak had in Houston was Kevin Walter. His best season (2008) saw him catch 60 passes for 899 yards and nine touchdowns. Expect those kind of numbers from Sanders in 2015.

Backup WRs: Cody Latimer was horribly underused last season as a rookie. This year, Latimer should see the field when the Broncos use three-wide receiver sets. The offense under Kubiak is going to utilize two tight ends most often, but the team should use Latimer more than they did last year. He's a big receiver with long arms and soft hands. Latimer is a fine run-blocker, and he can play above the rim in the end zone. Denver needs to find ways to get him on the field as much as possible. Andre Caldwell is fast in a straight line. He still may be the fastest player on the roster. However, Caldwell does not change direction smoothly and he hasn't done much with his limited playing time over the last two years. He could be on the roster bubble. Bennie Fowler could be the guy that pushes Caldwell off the team. Last year as an undrafted rookie, Fowler made several plays in training camp. He's got strong hands, good body control and he's fearless when running routes over the middle. There's a dash of young Anquan Boldin to his game, and he's a player for deep dynasty owners to monitor. Isaiah Burse and Jordan Norwood will compete to make the roster as receiver depth and as a return man. Norwood almost made the team last year before a knee injury in training camp cut his season short. Kyle Williams, Jordan Taylor, Solomon Patton, and David Porter will compete for a spot on the practice squad. Williams has a ton of experience in the NFL, and he could also be in the mix for the much-needed return man spot.

Tight Ends

Starters: Owen Daniels, Virgil Green
Backups: James Casey, Jeff Heuerman (IR) [R], Dominique Jones, Marcel Jensen

The Kubiak offense is certainly tight end heavy, and that's why the team has done so much at the position this offseason. They kept Virgil Green and signed him before he was set to hit the open market. They also went out to sign Owen Daniels in free agency. Daniels will be the top tight end for Denver, and he knows the Kubiak offense like the back of his hand. He's rarely played a snap in the pros where Kubiak wasn't his head coach or offensive coordinator. Daniels is a seasoned veteran, and he should be able to immediately become a favorite target for Manning. Green is an underrated receiver, but he's mostly known for being a devastating blocker. He'll be asked to help blast open holes for the Broncos rushing attack, but he could also post career-best numbers this year. Green is not going to get a ton of targets, but catches 30 passes is not out of the question. Casey also has experience under Kubiak from his time with the Houston Texans. He's a jack of all trades, but a master of none. Casey will be used as a depth player at the position, and he could end up playing H-back or fullback for Denver on certain snaps. Jeff Heuerman was a favorite of the Broncos in the 2015 NFL draft, and that's why they picked him up in the third round. He was rarely used in college at Ohio State, and Heuerman has more of a blockers skill set. He injured his left ACL in rookie minicamp and will miss his entire rookie season. Dominique Jones is more of a blocker and may not make the final roster. Marcel Jensen was picked up after Heuerman's injury. He's a move tight end who is smooth after the catch. Jensen is a long-shot to make the team, but he certainly has an intriguing skill set.

Place Kicker

Connor Barth, Brandon McManus: The Broncos endured some instability at kicker in 2014 due to Matt Prater's suspension and Brandon McManus's inconsistency, but the veteran Barth came on for the last five games and made 15 of 16 field goal attempts. That number of attempts per game over a whole season would give Barth a chance to be the top scoring kicker in the league by a good margin, but it was also inflated by Peyton Manning's December struggles, especially in the red zone. Barth is being drafted as a top 10 kicker, and whether Manning bounces back and gives Barth a ton of extra point attempts, or continues to decline and stalls out for more field goal attempts, the kicker position in Denver's thin air should be a good one for fantasy.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Omar Bolden, Andre Caldwell

The Broncos roster has remained fairly consistent with last season when it comes to the return game, and especially so for kickoffs. Receiver Andre Caldwell and cornerback Omar Bolden are likely to split most of the returns in some order, likely with Bolden starting out getting the larger share. Emmanuel Sanders remains an option though is less likely to be used due to his role on offense.

Punt Returners: Emmanuel Sanders, Omar Bolden, Jordan Norwood

According to coach Gary Kubiak, receiver Emmanuel Sanders will be used on punt returns. He also endorsed the job done by Omar Bolden which will make Bolden the most likely backup. Receiver Jordan Norwood could be the third option for the Broncos.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Ty Sambrailo [R], LG Shelley Smith, C Gino Gradkowski, RG Louis Vasquez, RT Chris Clark
Key Backups: T Michael Schofield, G Paul Cornick, Ben Garland, C Max Garcia [R], C Matt Paradis

The best offensive lineman on the Broncos is Louis Vasquez. It's good news that the team is moving him back to right guard from right tackle. Guard is his natural position and where he last made All-Pro. Unfortunately for the Broncos' rating, he is the only established playerson this line. The line had two high profile departures this offseason, losing Orlando Franklin to free agency and trading Manny Ramirez to the Lions. Of the two players, Franklin is the better player, and there appears to be an open scramble for the left guard position. Journeyman Shelley Smith can provide a decent level of production but he is not among the league's better guards. The team hopes Ben Garland continues to develop and takes this position, but it's not clear that is going to happen this year. Gino Gradkowski arrived from Baltimore via trade and is likely to start over fourth round pick Max Garcia. Gradkowski is a decent zone scheme player with whom Head Coach Gary Kubiak has familiarity with, when they were both in Baltimore. At right tackle, swing tackle Chris Clark has been pressed into duty with season-ending injury to Ryan Clady. Rookie Ty Sambrailo will likely start at left tackle. Peyton Manning has a quick read and release, but waning mobility that was very limited to begin with. Overall, this line was on the cusp of being elite when last year ended, but is going through transition and appears to be no better than a mid-tier unit as they enter the preseason.

Team Defense

With Wade Phillips taking over defensive coordinator duties, the Broncos will be shifting their defense to his full-time 3-4 scheme. That typically bodes well for his defenses, especially in terms of sack production. And there are few better depth charts for that than this group. With DeMarcus Ware, Von Miller, and first-round pick Shane Ray hitting the edges for Phillips, the team looks like a strong bet to build on its ho-hum 41 sacks from last year. ANd the secondary remains full of playmakers - the presence of shutdown cornerback Chris Harris forces QBs to make difficult throws into the vicinity of Aqib Talib and 2014 first-rounder Bradley Roby. This unit isn't dominant, but at least flashes it and is a sure bet to improve under Phillips' eye.

Defensive Line

Starters: LE Vance Walker, NT Sylvester Williams, RE Malik Jackson
Backups: DE Derek Wolfe, DE Antonio Smith, NT Marvin Austin

Starting DL: With Wade Phillips taking over defensive coordinator duties, the Broncos will be shifting their defense to his full-time 3-4 scheme. And at this point, the frontrunner for fantasy value along the line is probably Jackson. He exploded onto the scene in 2013, notching six sacks and four pass breakups while leading the team in hurries and tackles for loss. Jackson followed that with an impressive 2014 that saw him rate nearly identically to teammate DeMarcus Ware per Pro Football Focus' pass rush ratings. Still, Jackson is really more of a sidekick when the team is healthy – especially as a 3-4 tweener. He will push the pocket and even kick outside to rush wide here and there, but probably can't be counted on to compete with productive 4-3 edge rushers for fantasy relevance. His primary job will be to collapse the pocket and draw attention from Von Miller and Ware. Consider him a DL2 at this point, but one with Carlos Dunlap-like upside. The team's decision to let NT Terrance Knighton leave town on a one-year deal in Washington was puzzling, but makes some sense with analysis. Knighton was a valuable run plugger but not much else, and 2014 marked the lowest full-season snap count of his career. In his place, the Broncos appear comfortable debuting their new 3-4 setup with a committee on the nose. Expect Williams, the team's top pick in 2013, to see plenty of action there and across the line. Williams is a talented youngster – John Elway once referred to him as "a little better than (Trevor) Pryce" – but failed to progress in his second NFL season, notching just three sacks and 13 hurries in the rotation. A chief concern with Williams is his lack of an apparent position. He's best utilized as an interior rusher kept off the nose, which would allow him to flirt with 6-8 sacks. But the team seems dedicated to trying him at NT, limiting his statistical upside. At the LE spot, the Broncos are hanging by a thread, thanks to off-field issues galore. They're likely to try to platoon Walker, Wolfe, and Smith, but the latter two have legal problems hanging over their heads. Smith is being investigated for possible sexual assault on a child, but has yet to face any charges; his legal troubles could amount to nothing. Of the three, he has the best prognosis to produce on the statsheet. He remains a dependable, versatile pass rush presence at age 33 and will see his share of time. He's undersized to play up front in a 3-4 set and routinely grades poorly in run defense, suggesting he's on board in a situational rushing role and not much else. He could produce some heat in the pocket, but likely won't make much of a dent numbers-wise. Walker will likely play heavy run snaps, especially during Wolfe's early-season suspension. Walker has always provided sturdy run game depth along the line, but was a non-factor in Kansas City last year. At 28, he'll serve as rotational depth and isn't even likely to reach last year's three sacks.

Backup DL: Wolfe will open the year on a four-game suspension, and will be a mere rotational guy when he returns. He's always been subpar at rushing the passer, but his typically steady run defense keeps him involved on early downs. Overall, he lacks fantasy upside beyond 4-6 unpredictable sacks. Austin, the 52nd pick of the Giants in 2011, has yet to find his NFL niche. If he latches onto the final roster, he seems unlikely to build upon his 2014 career high of 12 tackles. And he's yet to notch his first NFL sack.

Linebackers

Starters: LOLB Von Miller, LILB Danny Trevathan, RILB Brandon Marshall, ROLB DeMarcus Ware
Backups: OLB Shane Ray [R], ILB Lamin Barrow, OLB Lerentee McCray, ILB Steven Johnson

Starting LBs: John Elway has swung for the furthest fences in his tenure as Broncos GM, and it's gone far beyond Peyton Manning. In 2014, his mammoth investment in DeMarcus Ware could've gone either way, as Ware was 31 and had long been nagged by leg and elbow injuries that prompted the Cowboys to move on. But Ware looked rejuvenated, finishing 13th in pressures and notching 10.5 sacks. Now shifting back to a stand-up role, Ware will still rush the passer on the overwhelming majority of snaps, but not at the 97.6% clip he did last season. As a result, his opportunities will all but certainly drop to some degree. And it's hard to expect many splash plays when Ware isn't rushing; he's never been a tackle producer, and in nine years as a Cowboys recorded just 24 pass breakups and two interceptions. When you also consider that he'll be 33 before the preseason, it looks as though his 2014 campaign represents his sheer ceiling. That said, Ware should still bring colossal value to the Broncos when paired with LOB Von Miller, arguably the league's premier pass rusher in a J.J. Watt-free world. After a season and a half spent on the strong side in Jack Del Rio's 4-3 scheme, Miller will return to the edge position in 2015. It's the spot from which he absolutely dominated at Texas A&M and during his first two years in Denver (57.5 combined sacks from 2009-12, or one per game). There really doesn't appear to be a hard ceiling on Miller's rushing potential. A run at 18-20 sacks is well within reach, and as one of the league's best at swatting the ball, Miller forced 12 fumbles over his first 40 NFL games. Shifting to linebacker is often a death knell for the fantasy prospects of edge rushers, but Miller looks poised to approach if not attain LB2 status. The interior LB spots would be fried gold if not for some real injury concerns. With Danny Trevathan losing his 2014 to three separate leg fractures, Brandon Marshall was a year-long IDP revelation. He stepped in for 883 snaps, notching 113 tackles and breaking up nine passes. Marshall was also brutally effective in the metrics, leading all 4-3 OLBs in tackle efficiency and missing just two tackles all year, per PFF. Sadly, Marshall underwent surgery in March to repair a Lisfranc injury, a particularly nasty ailment that makes recovery and conditioning questions much more difficult to answer. If he progresses well and looks destined for the Week One lineup - and thus far, he's clear - he's a dynamic if risky LB1 pick with true top-three upside. Trevathan is the likely interior starter next to Marshall, and there's lots of reason for optimism. In 2013, his second year in the league, Trevathan racked up 128 tackles and numerous splash plays in the pass game – two sacks, three interceptions, and 10 pass breakups. His 2014 couldn't have gone any worse: After missing the first three games to a preseason leg fracture, he broke his knee cap in his return. After spending nine weeks on IR/designated to return, Trevathan came back in Week 15 and immediately re-fractured the knee and didn't return to the field. He'll likely be ready for camp, but a leg that undergoes three fractures and a surgery is always cause for concern. Even if he returns on schedule, Trevathan is more of a waiver wire candidate once the season begins than a LB3 to target.

Backup LBs: The Broncos linebacking depth is uninspiring, but the system could certainly provide value should the reserves step into the lineup. First-round pick Ray will likely redshirt behind Miller and Ware, seeing the field in specific packages designed to get him to the quarterback. A high-energy pursuer who racked up 14.5 sacks in his final year at Missouri, Ray posted nearly identical speed and explosion numbers to Randy Gregory at the combine but very uninspiring agility measureables. Already slotted behind two studs, Ray is even less likely to see significant field time considering the questions about his NFL readiness and potentially chronic turf toe. Beginning his career in subpackages, Ray won't see more than a few snaps per game as a rookie. His ultimate numbers will hinge upon what he makes of his likely small 2014 opportunity window, and while plenty of rookie rushers make noise inthat situation, Ray isn't an ideal candidate. He just doesn't look like the freakishly athletic type who'll threaten 8-10 sacks in his debut. Career special teamer McCray provides additional depth; he chipped in five hurries and a sack in very limited snaps last year. Barrow looks like the top reserve option inside. Last year's fifth-round pick from LSU impressed coaches last fall, but saw just 49 defensive snaps despite Trevathan's injuries. Barrow profiles as a side-to-side pursuer like Trevathan and could rack up tackles in the lineup. He should lay waste to special teamer Johnson, who was thoroughly overwhelmed over 215 snaps in 2014 and likely won't see the field on defense going forward.

Defensive Backs

Starters: LCB Aqib Talib, RCB Chris Harris, Jr., SS T.J. Ward, FS Darian Stewart
Backups: CB Bradley Roby, FS David Bruton, CB Kayvon Webster

Starting DBs: Harris spent 2014 becoming a true shutdown force before our eyes. No NFL cornerback allowed fewer yards per snap in coverage – he beat Richard Sherman by a near-mile – and only Vontae Davis allowed a better passer rating. As with most shutdown corners, the hurdle in front of Harris' fantasy DB1 potential is the fact that he's tested less often. Of the 73 cornerbacks who saw 50% of their team's 2014 snaps, only seven saw fewer targets per snap. Still, that's less of a concern for Harris, who is bookended by Talib, than for corners with more beatable teammates. And Harris brings ball skills to the table – he disrupted (broke up or intercepted) 14.7% of his targets last year, a better rate than that of Sherman and Darrelle Revis. All told, however, there's still not quite enough statistical upside here to warrant a major fantasy target. Harris will likely continue to provide far more value to the Broncos than to IDP owners. Talib turned in an uneven 2014 season, allowing a solid 74.5 passer rating but coughing up four touchdowns and simply too much yardage after the catch. Still, his elite ball skills always put him squarely into the DB2 discussion; over the past three years, he's disrupted an impressive 13.6% of his targets and scored three touchdowns. Lining up across from ascending superstar Harris, Talib projects to similar numbers in 2015 – above-average tackle production and semi-consistent splash plays. On a fantasy level, Ward disappointed in 2014. His tackle numbers slipped noticeably, from 109 in 2013 to a relatively modest 83. Never much of a pass defender, Ward provided just two pass breakups and two interceptions – he needs those massive tackle counts to maintain his fantasy appeal. He'll also lose Week 1 to a conduct-related suspension. FS Rahim Moore left for Houston, and the team signed Stewart to compete for the job. Stewart has had mediocre stops in St. Louis and Baltimore over the past two years, drawing average grades across the board and providing little by way of fantasy usefulness.

Backup DBs: Roby spent his rookie year playing extensively in the nickel, drawing a whopping 859 defensive snaps. His play was unbalanced, and he was tested mercilessly (6.1 targets per game) on the same field as Harris and Talib. Still, he racked up 65 tackles and picked off three balls. Roby is a highly athletic corner with good size and the ball skills to serve as a playmaker in the air, and he's certainly made an impression on the new coaching staff. Gary Kubiak has indicated a desire to play Roby in a near-full-time role in his second year, with snaps at free safety potentially in the mix. He could easily outperform both Harris and Talib on a fantasy level and might offer the strongest DB2 upside on this depth chart. Bruton, a lightly-used seventh-year FS, saw serious run down the stretch. He posted nine tackles against Buffalo and could provide DB3 value if he starts, but that seems unlikely given his struggles in the passing game. Webster will likely see some snaps in the team's #4 CB spot. He didn't play much in 2014 behind the starters and Roby, and that looks very unlikely to change going forward. Webster was exposed as a 2013 rookie to be a replacement-level player.

Last modified: 2015-09-06 18:05:44