Last year’s Super Bowl champs sure enter 2016 with a lot of question marks. The three quarterbacks on the roster have combined for one snap (a Trevor Siemian kneel down) as a Bronco. The quarterbacking questions permeate and invade the rest of the roster, as the fantasy options leading into 2016 for the Denver Broncos are nothing but question marks.
Long days are the days when 37 touchdowns was Peyton Manning’s floor for the Broncos. Instead, a Cerberus of the Unknown heads the Broncos this season. Rookie Paxton Lynch, Mr. Butt Fumble Mark Sanchez and unknown Trevor Siemian enter training camp in a three-way competition, and given that each have their warts, it’s likely that the Broncos start each of them with a handful of games trying to find the right answer. Given his NFL experience, I would put Sanchez as the favorite to start for the Broncos, but all three will likely end up starting somewhere between three and eight games a piece. This isn’t a situation where you want to own any of these quarterbacks after the draft, especially given the uncertainty.
For the second straight year, C.J. Anderson had a strong finish to his 2015 campaign, but unlike his 2014 campaign, his strong finish (6.39 YPC over his last six games). But for the second straight campaign, he started fewer than half the games last season due to injury and ineffectiveness. While last season’s hype inflated Anderson to completely ridiculous heights (first round picks in some cases), this year is a bit more tempered. Unfortunately, Anderson is still a top-end RB2 in many spots, despite his injury history. In no single game last season did he get more than fifteen carries (except the playoffs), and while Anderson has high hopes, he’s repeatedly shown he cannot handle a full-time workload. It isn’t for a lack of trying, though.
My bet for a sleeper running back is Devontae Booker. Booker was pegged as a perfect fit for the Broncos pre-draft by Rob Rang of CBS Sports. The run-first Kubiak offense would do wonders for Booker’s value if and when C.J. Anderson goes down, especially with early reports that Booker has vaulted his way to the #2 running back in Denver. Booker has plenty of talent, but injury caused him to slip to the fourth round. He’s even being praised on pass protection in camp, which is one of the more difficult things for rookies to pick up. He probably isn’t worth a draft selection, but if Anderson stumbles out of the gate, go snag Booker before it’s too late.
Ronnie Hillman, for all his efforts last season, has been demoted to third string. A lot would seemingly have to go wrong for Hillman to be fantasy relevant in 2016.
Last season was the first year Demaryius Thomas failed to produce at least 1400 yards and ten touchdowns since Tim Tebow was his quarterback. Granted, having one of the greatest QBs of all time throwing you the ball can lead to some very productive seasons. There were so many reports of Thomas not living up to his billing and clips of him having the yips and dropping catchable balls that the actual facts of Thomas’ season were lost in the shuffle.
He had 176 targets (fourth), 105 catches (seventh) and 1,304 receiving yards (seventh). He had a really good season. The problem is that much ink was spilled and many pixels used up calling Thomas’ season a disappointment when the actual issue was an abnormally low number of touchdowns. His six receiving touchdowns tied him with players like Ben Watson and Danny Woodhead for 29th, which drove down his value greatly. The touchdowns will come for Thomas, especially considering that every other wide receiver who averaged at least 80 yards per game had double-digit touchdowns (except Julio Jones, who still had eight).
Expect WR1 results for Thomas, whose abnormal touchdown production was the only thing keeping him from that in a year that the Denver passing game bottomed out. He’s currently a WR2 (expert consensus ranking of 16).
Emmanuel Sanders had gone from intriguing fantasy prospect when he came to Denver to a total afterthought. Sanders took a step back from his 2014 campaign, mostly due to Peyton Manning becoming the worst quarterback in the NFL last season. Like Thomas, his perception was dragged down by Peyton, and Sanders still had over 1,100 yards last year. He’s dipped down all the way to WR31 by expert consensus ranking and has a good chance of matching that, especially considering he was WR23 last season.
The knock against him is his obscene number of targets last season, with Sanders absorbing 136 throws last season. While I expect Thomas to outperform his last season (mostly due to touchdown regression), Sanders is a poor man’s Jeremy Maclin. Maclin is an unsexy, reliable backend WR2. Sanders will be an unsexy, reliable backend WR3. He’s not who you want as a third wide receiver, but he’s one you’ll end up reasonably satisfied with when the bye weeks hit.
Given the shrinkage of the Denver passing game, no other wide receiver is worth owning. No, not even Cody Latimer. There aren’t enough targets to go around.
Does your league have three starting tight end slots? No? Then don’t draft a Broncos tight end. Virgil Green and Jeff Heuermen are JAGs. Ironic since the only good TE this team has had recently is currently a Jag. In the morass of tight ends, no Broncos tight end is worth a second look.
Brandon McManus is one of the many back-end kicker options that you could go for. His ECR is the ninth kicker off the board. He in theory benefitted greatly last season from the thin Denver air, but he missed one out of every three kicks he took from outside the 40 and five of his 35 PATs. He is one of the perfectly acceptable backend kicker options, but outside of the thin Denver air, there isn’t much to like about him.
I am a huge advocate of waiting and drafting a defense with your last couple of picks to save the headache that comes with drafting one earlier. The Broncos are one of the few teams last season that lived up to their billing. They were highly drafted and ended up as the second-highest scoring fantasy defense last year (behind the Chiefs). Returning most of their key components means they are likely to repeat that performance in 2016. If you don’t feel confident in your streaming abilities, then by all means reach for the Broncos. They’ll be worth it.
The Broncos are facing huge changes in 2016, but there is still some fantasy value there, especially at the wide receiver position. They aren’t going to be bursting with options like a few years ago; there is still a handful of fantasy relevant players in Denver.