The Denver Broncos drafted Eddie Royal in the second round of the 2008 NFL draft with the 42nd overall pick out of Virginia Tech University. While playing for the Hokies, he amassed over 2,000 combined rushing and receiving yards and 14 touchdowns as a wide receiver. He was also an accomplished punt and kickoff return specialist, accumulating 2,682 total return yards and 3 touchdowns during his college career. As a rookie Royal was immediately utilized as the primary punt return man and split kickoff return duties with Andre Hall. Royal would also get the opportunity to line up as a receiving option for Jay Cutler alongside Brandon Marshall and Brandon Stokley and it did not take long for Royal to explode onto the fantasy football landscape. In his first NFL regular season game Royal racked up 9 receptions for 146 yards and a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders. In his rookie season for the Broncos he would have a 91 catch, 980-yard and 5 touchdown campaign. Royal would also have 11 carries for a total of 109 yards as coach Mike Shanahan utilized the diminutive receiver in multiple roles. Anchoring the return game for Denver, he also averaged 10 yards per punt return and over 26 yards per kickoff return. The sky seemed to be the limit for Eddie Royal as a fantasy force moving forward in his career.
Things change quickly in the NFL (as well as fantasy football) and the winds of change blew hard and fast through the Denver Bronco organization following the 2008 season. Head coach Mike Shanahan would be shown the door following a season ending 52-21 loss to the San Diego Chargers and be replaced by Josh McDaniels. McDaniels would immediately put his stamp on the franchise by helping to orchestrate the trade of quarterback Jay Cutler to the Chicago Bears in April of 2009. Cutler, along with a fifth round draft pick, would be sent to the Bears in exchange for Kyle Orton, a pair of first round picks, as well as a third round draft pick. As the primary return man for Denver in 2009, Royal would flourish, averaging 11.1 yards per punt return and over 23 yards per kickoff return. On October 19th, 2009 Royal became the first player in Denver Broncos history to return both a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown in the same game in a 34-23 victory over the San Diego Chargers. Unfortunately, while Royal would excel as a special teams threat in 2009, his production at wide receiver would dip dramatically. Head, neck and thigh injuries would lead to Royal missing two regular season games, his reception total would fall from 91 in 2008 to only 37 catches in his sophomore season and he would fail to catch a single touchdown. His role was significantly reduced in the McDaniels offensive system and his fantasy production was severely limited. He was actually targeted fewer times (79) in 2009, than the number of receptions (91) he had as a rookie as Denver staggered down the stretch, losing 8 of their final 10 games.
The Josh McDainels era in Denver would be short lived, he would be relieved of his duties (read: fired) after the team struggled to a 3-9 start to the 2010 season. Royals' totals would rebound slightly in 2010, his reception total improved by 22, he would amass 282 more receiving yards than 2009, and score 3 touchdowns. He would also remain the primary punt return option in 2010, averaging a healthy 11.9 yards per return, but relinquish kick return duties to rookie Eric Decker. Former Carolina head coach John Fox would take over the helm for the Broncos prior to the 2011 season and it would be Royals' final season in Denver, his time there would end with a whimper, not a bang. Despite putting up 3 grabs for 49 yards and a touchdown in the playoff upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Royal would have his least productive season to date. A groin injury, as well as a late season concussion, limited Royal to only 12 regular season games played in 2011 and he finished with only 19 regular season receptions, 155 yards and a single touchdown. He would manage to take a punt back for a touchdown and average over 16 yards per return, then see his role as the team's primary punt return man turned over to Quan Cosby.
It was widely assumed that the Washington Redskins would immediately snatch up Royal from the free agent market and reunite him with head coach Mike Shanahan. It was under Shanahan that Royal had turned in his most productive season as a wide receiver and was also utilized as a ball carrier 11 times. Alas, the reunion in the nation's capitol was not meant to be, as the San Diego Chargers would swoop in and sign Royal to a 3-year, $13.5 million dollar contract with $6 million guaranteed.
Eddie Royal will now line up for the Broncos' AFC division rivals the Chargers and an evaluation of his fantasy value moving forward can be made. In examining the potential of Eddie Roya'ls fantasy draft value heading into 2012, it is a matter of determining what exactly his role will be in San Diego. Royal joins a remodeled Charger passing attack that will be without their deep threat Vincent Jackson and ultra versatile running back Mike Tolbert, as both have moved on via free agency. The Chargers' passing game never got on track during the 2011 season, Philip Rivers threw a career high 20 interceptions and posted the second lowest quarterback ranking of his career with a 88.7 (82.4 in 2007). Losing Jackson and Tolbert will force the Chargers to reevaluate their offensive approach in order to get Rivers and their entire team back on track for 2012. Last season Jackson had 60 receptions, 1,106 yards and 9 touchdowns, which equates to 40.5% of passes caught by the entire San Diego wide receiving corps and 1/3 of the total touchdowns that Rivers threw. Mike Tolbert caught 54 balls for 433 yards and 2 touchdowns in 2011, which accounted for 43.9% of running back receptions and 2 of the 3 total receiving scores posted by the San Diego backfield. Jackson and Tolbert combined to account for over 31% of all completed passes and 40% of the total receiving touchdowns for the Chargers last season and that is a sizable chunk of the passing offense that needs to be replaced.
Along with Royal, the Chargers have also signed Roscoe Parrish, Michael Spurlock and most recently Ronnie Brown to bolster their offense. These signings will not alter the fantasy potential of Royal. Parrish and Spurlock are special team players who will compete with Richard Goodman to be the primary kick return man and perhaps take a few punt return opportunities away from Royal. Quite frankly, Ronnie Brown looked like a shell of himself last season in Philadelphia and will battle Curtis Brinkley to be nothing more than the back up to Ryan Mathews. Royal himself will compete with newly signed Robert Meachem, Malcolm Floyd and second year speedster Vincent Brown for a spot in the receiver rotation. What could that role be for Royal? Head coach Norv has been impressed with Royal during OTAs and has stated that he envisions the speedy slot receiver as a player to pick up many of the receptions that were distributed to the running back position.
Antonio Gates will continue to be the go-to, over the middle option for Rivers, while Meachem, Floyd and Brown will all be vertical threats for the Chargers. At 5' 10", 185lbs Royal lacks the size and strength to dominate defensive backs, but he does possess good quickness out of his cuts, which will serve him well out of the slot position in San Diego. The money the Chargers are paying him and the recent comments by Norv Turner point to the Chargers having a definite role in mind for Royal in 2012. However, he will be in competition with Mathews, Gates, Meachem, Floyd as well as Brown for targets in the San Diego offense and there are only so many balls to go around. His value is slightly elevated in PPR formats, as well as leagues that count return yards and touchdowns for individual players. All things considered, as of right now, Eddie Royal is NOT WORTHY of being drafted in 12 team fantasy football formats.