2014 Team Outlook: Denver Broncos
QB Peyton Manning, DEN - Stud (low risk)
Encore? Sure, why not! Manning enjoyed the best season in NFL history, throwing for 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns. If you played in a league where QBs earn four points per touchdown pass, he would have scored about 30 fantasy points per game. If you were lucky enough to get six points per TD, well, that's just not fair. Many people rode Manning to fantasy glory last season and will be hoping to do the same this year. He's lost two of his major weapons from last year -- WR Eric Decker (Jets) and RB Knowshon Moreno (Dolphins) -- but the team added WR Emmanuel Sanders via free agency and WR Cody Latimer via the draft. RB Montee Ball should take a step forward and be everything Moreno was (and maybe more). Most importantly, he'll still have studs WR Demaryius Thomas and TE Julius Thomas, along with the pesky veteran slot man WR Wes Welker back at his disposal. Expecting a repeat of 2013 is probably irrational; however, expecting 5,000 yards and "only" 45 touchdowns isn't out of the question, which is why we have Manning ranked just ahead of Brees and Rodgers for 2014.
Editor's note: He can't throw a fastball anymore, yet he can really place his passes. The eldest Manning is fantasy royalty and it's hard to imagine anybody having the ceiling he does. Drew Brees' touchdown totals have decreased in each of the last two years. Aaron Rodgers (even though he missed half the season) wasn't anywhere close to staying on pace to beat his career-best 45 TDs. Manning might be in his own tier.
QB Brock Osweiler, DEN - Dynasty Only
If there's any value in learning from the best, Osweiler had the best opportunity ever afforded a backup quarterback. He'll get that opportunity again in 2014. His fantasy value is directly tied to Manning's health. If something were to happen to Manning, Osweiler would be a trendy pickup based on the offense that he plays in. He has some limited dynasty appeal and not much else.
RB Montee Ball, DEN - Stud (low risk)
Ball is looking like a breakout year candidate. On average, he's currently coming off the board as the sixth RB drafted according to our ADP numbers. We have him projected as the No. 8 RB. Ball had some issues hanging onto the ball early last season, losing two fumbles the first three weeks. This drove the Broncos to lean heavily on Knowshon Moreno, who exceeded 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns (both career bests). With Moreno out of the way, Ball is going to have every opportunity to evolve into an elite fantasy back. In this offense, he should be able to trip and fall into 1,000 yards rushing and 10 TDs. He will likely surpass those numbers easily. Any receptions he can add (he had 20 on 27 targets for 145 yards last season) will only be bonuses for Ball owners. After averaging 4.7 YPC last year and anticipating a workload of 260-plus carries this year, Ball has stud written all over him.
RB Ronnie Hillman, DEN - Deep-league Only
Once upon a time in Denver, Ronnie Hillman looked like he could be the starter heading into the 2013 season. He was neck and neck heading into most drafts last year with Montee Ball. After they both battled a case of the "dropsies," the dream died for fantasy owners who took Hillman as the team turned to the veteran Moreno and the rest is history. Hillman enters 2014 as the backup to Ball. We don't anticipate him getting the opportunities that Ball got last year; however, he should get some garbage time action when the Broncos are way ahead. 75 to 100 carries for 300 to 400 yards with a handful of touchdowns isn't out of the question. He'll definitely be worth having on a roster simply because he is a potential backup in one of the league's most vaunted offenses. Should Ball get injured, Hillman would be an automatic starter with RB2 fantasy expectations.
RB C.J. Anderson, DEN - Deep-league Only
Another stashable commodity to add in the last couple rounds of deep drafts, or maybe even very deep drafts. Anderson won't see the field (barring some unforeseen circumstances), but with injuries, anything is possible. The third RB on the Broncos depth chart that is 23 years old or younger, Anderson fits the mold as more of a fullback. The term "bowling ball" is not far from many descriptions of the youngster. In his last season at Cal in 2012, Anderson averaged 6.3 yards per carry. At 5-foot-8 and 224 lbs., he doesn't fit the mold as a fleet foot, shifty or elusive back, but his claim to fame for his NFL career thus far may be his performance in the 20 yard shuttle at the 2013 NFL Combine. His 4.12 second run was third-best, tying with Giovani Bernard while besting Zac Stacy and Le'Veon Bell.
WR Demaryius Thomas, DEN - Stud (low risk)
Stud: That's simply the best way to describe Thomas. The Broncos led wideout caught 92 balls for 1,430 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2013. The scary thing is with running mate Eric Decker chasing the coin to New York, Thomas could actually improve on those numbers in 2014. He's playing in an offense that put up historic numbers last year with one of the best QBs ever to play the game throwing him the ball. To make things even more scary, he has the drive to get better. Working out with the likes of Calvin Johnson and A.J. Green in the offseason, Thomas is doing the things needed to continue to improve. By the way, he's only 26 years old and is technically in the midst of his prime.
Editor's note: Thomas was a beast in college and everybody knew it. It's crazy to think two of the best WRs in the NFL are from Georgia Tech (Thomas and Megatron), a school not exactly known to be a powerhouse. Thomas can do a little bit of everything and (most importantly) that includes being a prolific deep threat. Thomas is one of a handful of receivers who could realistically finish as fantasy's top WR.