|By Rusty Reeves, Tuesday, July 15, 2014|
QB Peyton Manning - 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.
RB Montee Ball - 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 - 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 - 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 - 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.
WR Emmanuel Sanders - Sleeper (undervalued)
Look up the phrase "fantasy sleeper" and you're likely to see Sanders' picture next to it. Sanders figures to step into the hole left by Eric Decker's departure. Decker put up a receiving line of 87/1,288/11 last season. If Sanders can produce at a clip that averages between his production last season in Pittsburgh (67/740/6) and Decker's, that would put him near a line of 75/1,000/8. A lot of that possibility depends on the chemistry he develops with QB Peyton Manning heading into the season. He'll figure to be the fourth option in the passing game (behind the Thomas tandem and Welker), but will have every opportunity to excel. With all those options, there will be games where someone else shines, but his turn will come and it'll result in double-digit receptions and the potential for multiple scores. There is little downside and high upside for Sanders in Denver. He's a solid WR3 with the very real potential to be a top-20 WR, should Welker miss more time than desired.
WR Wes Welker - Solid/Safe Pick
Wes Welker is all the things you want in a slot receiver: smart, shifty and has good hands. In the history of the game, few wide receivers have had the knack for finding a hole (sitting in it and gaining 10 yards) like Welker. Even though he missed three games due to concussion-related issues, Welker was one of four Denver pass-catchers to reach double-digit touchdowns last year. His 10 scores were a career-high and kept his fantasy value relevant. Anyone who is on the field regularly for Denver needs to be in fantasy lineups on Sundays. At 33 years old and with a few concussions to his name, health is obviously a concern with Welker. However, Manning trusts him and Decker is gone. Emmanuel Sanders should take some of the action that Decker left behind, but Welker also figures to get some of that. He's still a low-end WR2 and will probably put up a line of 85-850-10 with ease in 2014, even with a couple missed games to be expected. If he stays on the field all season, a sixth season of over 100 yards is within reach in this offense.
Editor's note: PPR stud when healthy. Safer than his average draft position indicates (WR24, 57.49).
WR Cody Latimer - Dynasty Only
The Broncos thought enough of Latimer to take him in the second round of the NFL draft. He is a solid possession WR with average hands. He sometimes struggled in college with his focus through the catch, leading to lazy drops. He had surgery on his foot in January and hopes to be ready for the start of the 2014 season. With the guys that are ahead of him on the depth chart, Latimer's 2014 fantasy value is limited to injuries by the top four receivers, specifically Wes Welker. The one plus for Latimer is (if he gets on the field at all): he's a threat because of No. 18 under center. Manning simply finds the open receiver, regardless of who it is or how long they've been in the league.
Editor's note: Latimer's dynasty value hinges upon whether he can become a regular starter while Manning is still in town. The window may not be open for long for these two to get together.
WR Andre Caldwell - Low Potential
A third-round pick by the Bengals in 2008, Caldwell hasn't really evolved into a consistent NFL WR. Unless one of the top three guys gets hurt, Caldwell's fantasy value is limited. There is a lot of potential in this offense (especially if Wes Welker is unable to stay healthy or needs a couple games off), so Caldwell is sure to have a big game eventually, considering how prolific this offense will be once again.
TE Julius Thomas - Stud (low risk)
Heading into 2014, Jimmy Graham is an island among tight ends. The second tier at the position consists of two men: New England's Rob Gronkowski and Thomas. Thomas was one of three tight ends to catch 10 or more touchdowns. He finished the season with a stat line of 65/788/12, elite for a tight end. With an historic offensive season in their rear-view mirror, the Broncos will look to repeat that production this season. With WR Eric Decker out of town, Thomas will be looked upon to help pick up some of the slack. Since he's such a big target (6-foot-5, 250 lbs.), Thomas is an obvious red zone threat and should eclipse double-digit touchdowns again. After Gronk and Thomas, there is a drop to the next set of TEs, making him a commodity worthy of a third- or fourth-round pick. Our ADP ranks him as the second TE drafted with a 29.82 ADP, about two picks ahead of Gronk.
TE Jacob Tamme - Low Potential
Tamme came to Denver prior to the 2012 season and caught 55 balls for over 500 yards his first season with the team. This led many prognosticators to dub him a sleeper heading into 2013. However, Thomas' emergence last season put a halt to that; Tamme only caught 20 passes for 184 yards. Tamme is still a reliable blocker and has history with Manning, so if the situation arises where Thomas misses time, he is an interesting option to fill-in and potentially be productive. However, as long as Thomas is on the field, Tamme is nothing more than a name on the waiver wire.
Denver - Stud (low risk)
If there was one chink in Denver's armor last season, it was definitely their defense (especially against the pass). They gave up 25 points per game, allowing 356 yards per game through the air. They only held four opponents under 20 points. Luckily, their offense more than made up for that. Even with the confidence they have in their offense, it was apparent in the Super Bowl that their defense will need to be elite as well to win a championship. Despite losing DE Shaun Phillips, DBs Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Champ Bailey to free agency, the team's commitment to improving the pass defense was still obvious in their offseason moves. They signed CB Aqib Talib, DE DeMarcus Ware, and S T.J. Ward. All three were widely considered to be among the top-three free agents available at their respective positions. They then spent their top draft pick on CB Bradley Roby of Ohio State. Due to these changes, we here at FFToolbox have Denver's defense projected as the No. 4 DST. The one loss they sustained that will be difficult to replace is return specialist Trindon Holliday.