|By Shawn Childs, Sunday, June 14, 2015|
The Broncos have been an elite team over the last three years (38-10) with Peyton Manning under center. Denver has made the playoffs in each of the last four years after failing the previous five years. They have finished within the top-two in points scored three years in a row but scored 124 points less last year than the year before. Denver averaged 402.9 yards per game. Their defense played great as far as total yards allowed (305.2 – 3rd in the NFL) for the second time in three years. However, they finished 16th in the league in points allowed (354). This year, Gary Kubiak will take over as head coach. In eight seasons as the Houston Texans' head coach, Kubiak produced a 61-64 record and helped lead the team to two playoff berths. Rick Dennison will run the offense, a position he held for four seasons under Kubiak. Dennison was also the offensive coordinator for the Broncos from 2006 to 2008. Wade Phillips has been named the defensive coordinator. He's been in the NFL for 37 years with 23 years making the defensive calls. Denver has made the playoffs 21 times over the last 38 seasons with two Super Bowl wins.
Denver lost two offensive linemen in the offseason; guard Manuel Ramirez left to play in Detroit and tackle Orlando Franklin is headed to San Diego. Ramirez struggled in pass protection and against the run after playing at a high level in 2013. Franklin has been a top tackle in the league in each of his last three years with excellent value against both the run and pass. Last year, he only allowed one sack while playing left tackle. Center Will Montgomery signed with the Bears. Montgomery has lost value over the last two years. Guard Shelley Smith was added for depth on the line.
Top tight end Julius Thomas left to play with Jacksonville. Thomas played at an elite with Manning under center, scoring 12 touchdowns in each of the past two seasons. Owen Daniels was added to replace him on the roster. Daniels has talent, but his game is at the backend of his career.
Safety Rahim Moore left to play with Houston and Darian Stewart will take over his job. Moore was solid in pass coverage but below average supporting the run. Stewart looks like a parallel player with a slight tick down in pass coverage while adding value in the run defense.
Wide receiver Wes Welker is an undrafted free agent. Backup tight end Jacob Tamme signed with Atlanta and James Casey replaced him on the roster.
Defensive end Shane Ray was Denver's first pick in this year's draft. Ray has elite quickness with plus speed, making him incredibly valuable rushing the quarterback. His next step forward will be developing a wider range of attacking moves while minimizing his mistakes in the run game. Ray was an excellent value pick due to a lingering foot issue and some concerns with his character.
In the second round, the Broncos addressed one of their issues on the offensive line by selecting tackle Ty Sambrailo. His best skill is pass protection while flashing athletic ability. However, he needs to improve against the run and develop more strength and power.
Denver was hoping third round pick, Jeff Heuerman, would help lessen the blow after losing Julius Thomas in free agency. Heuerman has immense strength and is a solid blocker but tore his ACL during practice in May. His resume is limited in the passing game (52/792 and seven TDs) and questions remain about his route running ability. Jeff has some upside, but he looks like a TE2 at best. Most of his value will come on first and second down.
Center Max Garcia will have value as a power blocker. He is very versatile and can back up multiple positions on the defensive line. He projects as a backup until he improves his pass blocking skills.
Cornerback Lorenzo Doss was added in the fifth round. Doss has upside as a cover cornerback, but he needs to focus on defending the play at hand rather than looking to make an impact Interception. Lorenzo tends to be a gambler, which will lead to more risk than reward at the next level until he plays with more discipline. His play making ability will be attractive, but he'll need time to develop.
In the sixth round, Denver drafted nose tackle Darius Kilgo. He will be a rotational guy, providing value as a run clogger, but he lacks quickness at the snap and doesn't have the power to win battles after being neutralized.
With their last three picks in the seventh round, the Broncos went for quarterback Trevor Siemian, cornerback Taurean Nixon and safety Josh Furman. Siemian was a three-year starter at Northwestern where he threw for 5931 yards with 27 TDs and 24 Ints. I have a tough time believing he'll ever play a snap in the regular season of his NFL career. Nixon was a former teammate of Doss at Tulane. Furman has a nice combination of size (6'2" and 202 lbs.) and speed (4.5 forty), but he needs to develop his technique. He provides value in run support but tends to be a liability in pass coverage.
Denver Broncos LB Shane Ray
The Broncos finished 15th in the league in rushing yards (1785) while averaging just 4.0 yards per with 15 rushing TDs.
After missing all but two games of the 2013 season with a foot injury that required surgery, LT Ryan Clady failed to regain his top form last year. The 2008 first-rounder allowed three sacks, 10 QB hits, and 22 QB hurries, and also struggled in the running game. Unfortunately, Clady blew his ACL and will miss the entire season. The early speculation is that RG Chris Clark will move to the left side of the line and rookie Ty Sambrailo will start at right guard.
Left guard looks like a position of risk this year. At this point of the offseason, Shelley Smith looks like the favorite to win the job. Last year, Smith only started three games for the Dolphins while showing risk as a run blocker, plus he struggled in pass protection (two sacks, three QB hits, and five QB hurries over 367 plays). In 2013, he did play well off the bench in the run game.
Denver acquired C Gino Gradkowski from the Ravens in April. He only played 10 snaps in 2014 after having minor right knee surgery the previous December. After being drafted in the 4th round in 2012, Gradkowski started all 16 games for the Broncos in 2013. Gino was a neutral run blocker while playing poorly as pass protector (three sacks, seven QB hits, and 26 QB hurries). His biggest threat for playing time is rookie Max Garcia.
After a great 2013 season, when RG Louis Vasquez didn't allow a sack and excelled as a run blocker, Vasquez regressed across the board in 2014. He allowed five sacks, nine QB hits, and 15 QB hurries with below average play in run blocking.
Just like Vasquez, RG Clark had his career year in 2013. He held his own in pass protection (two sacks) in 2014, but he played poorly as a run blocker. He will compete with Sambrailo for the starting job. Sambrailo may have the inside track due to his pass blocking skills.
Denver allowed a league-low 17 sacks in 2014. This low total is more a result of Peyton Manning's quick release than the offensive line. The Broncos had the fourth-most passing yards while gaining 7.9 yards per pass attempt with 15 Ints.
This line now only has one strong player with weaknesses at three positions. Peyton's ability to make quick decisions leads to more success with less, but his team really needs to improve their run blocking to help open up the passing game. I would consider this a below average line while the final results will rank well over the league average.
The above data shows the Broncos' 2015 offensive strength of schedule as far as rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing TDs touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA), and passing TDs (TDS).
This information is based on 2014, which we will work with as our starting point for 2015. We'll look at all the changes on offense for each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades each team has made on the defensive side. We'll update this table when we finish researching all 32 teams.
2014 Average: The league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2014.
2014 Results: This is the results for each team in the NFL.
2015 Adjustment: Based on the 2014 league average and the 2014 results for each team, this number will show if each team is above or below the league average in each stat and the basis for strength of schedule.
Denver's two tough matchups against the run will come against the Balitmore Ravens and the Detriot Lions. However, the Lions run defense took a big hit with their best player in 2014, Ndamukong Suh, now playing in Miami. The Broncos have six favorable games against the run with six other games being above the league average. The Broncos have the fifth-toughest schedule against the pass with seven unfavorable games. Games against the Ravens, Bears and Steelers rate as the only favorable matchups.
The Broncos ran the ball 42.2 percent of the time. Manning completed 17 percent of his passes to RBs and 15.5 percent of the time. WRs caught 268 passes for 3567 yards with 22 TDs.
QB Peyton Manning - Stud (low risk)
Manning is just a winner. In his career, he's 179-77 and has won 10 games or more in each of his last 12 seasons. He needs 2147 passing yards to become the all-time career leader in the NFL. In his three seasons with the Broncos, Manning has averaged 4954 passing yards with 131 passing TDs. He's completed 65.5 percent of his passes throughout his career and an average of 417.6 passes per season. Over his last 11 full seasons, Peyton has never been sacked more than 21 times in a single year. This season he has two dynamic WRs with question marks at the WR3 and the TE position. Running back C.J. Anderson added another dimension to the passing game (33 catches) over the last nine games of the year when he took over as the starter. We all know how great Peyton has been in his career, but we don't know how high he'll fly this year. His value took a huge hit in the passing game over the last six games of 2014 (237.7 YPG - only five TDs in his last five games) as Denver relied more on their run game and defense. He'll need to replace the TD production from the TE position. Let's set the bar at 300 passing yards per game with about 40 passing TDs, which should land him among the top-five quarterbacks in Fantasy Football this season.
Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning
RB C.J. Anderson - Stud (low risk)
C.J. earned extended playing time in week 12, which led to 143 touches over five games (28.6 touches per game). His success in the red zone (nine TDs) ended up killing Manning's value in TDs over the last six games of the year. On the year, Anderson averaged 4.7 yard per rush and 9.5 yards per catch. There's a lot to like about C.J. headed into 2015, but he'll have more competition for playing time with RB Montee Ball expected to be back in the mix. There were some reports in the offseason that Anderson had some conditioning issues, which comes down to motivation. His success last year surely clears the path for a great opportunity. I expect at least 250 carries and 50 receptions, which will result in 1700 yards and double digit TDs. These stats project to 280-290 fantasy points in PPR leagues with even more upside. He has a top five RB opportunity with age on his side.
Denver Broncos RB C.J. Anderson
RB Montee Ball - Fantasy Handcuff
Ball's 2014 season started off on a bad note in early August when he needed an appendectomy, which hurt his conditioning before the start of the year. In his two games with starter snaps, Montee gained 172 combined years with five catches and one TD. He struggled in back to back games against Seattle (14/38) and Arizona (6/7) before blowing out his groin. The injury lingered for most of the year and reemerged in week 11, ending his season. Ball has a stronger resume coming out of college, but his overall game is a step down from Anderson's. There's no doubt he'll have plenty of chances to be involved in the offense. Denver's RBs had 482 combined touches in 2014. If healthy, Ball will have a chance at 150 touches with most of his success coming on first and second down. He should be drafted as an RB4 with his best value coming as Anderson's handcuff.
RB Ronnie Hillman - Low Potential
Denver gave Hillman plenty of chances to prove his worth in 2014, but he only averaged 4.1 yards per rush and was clearly outplayed by Anderson. Hillman finished with career-highs across the board, rushing for 573 yards on 127 touches and four touchdowns. In his three seasons in the league, Ronnie has average only 4.0 yards per rush on 245 carries with minimal upside in the passing game. Hillman has talent, but he needs a couple of injuries to gain any value in 2015.
WR Demaryius Thomas - Stud (low risk)
Thomas went from elite to electric in 2014. His targets grew by 22.8 percent from 2013, which led to a career-high 111 catches and 1619 yards with 11 TDs. Through his last three seasons, Demaryius has gained 100 yards or more 22 times and finish one game with more than 200 yards. He has caught five passes or more 34 times during this stretch with 35 TDs. Thomas has been a rock in the Broncos offense for three straight years and value could even increase with goal line threat, Julius Thomas no longer on the roster. Demaryius has a floor of 100 catches for 1500 yards with a chance to lead the league in TDs.
Denver Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas
WR Emmanuel Sanders - Solid/Safe Pick
In a way, Sanders fits in the Broncos offense like a glove. His production grew by 50 percent in 2014 from his previous season. He finished with 101 catches on 141 targets for 1404 yards and nine TDs. Sanders accumulated 100 yards seven times last season and caught at least five catches in twelve games. He has explosive upside in some games and his opportunity will remain in line with his 2014 season. Emmanuel has an opportunity to finish as a top-ten WR as Peyton's number two option in the passing game. You can pencil him down for 100-110 catches, 1300 yards and a chance at double-digit touchdowns.
WR Cody Latimer - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
Latimer steps into one of the best opportunities in the NFL. Cody has plus size (6'2" and 215 Lbs.) with exceptional strength. He caught 70 passes for 1096 yards and 9 TDs in his Junior season at Indiana. He lacks top end speed and his quickness is questionable. However, his strength helps him against press coverage and when blocking. Latimer's overall skill set may be limited and probably looks better to the eye. He has possible upside; he just needs to improve his route running skills. In his rookie season, Latimer only played 37 snaps, which led to two catches for 23 yards. His size makes him a goal line threat, especially with Julius Thomas no longer in Denver.
WR Andre Caldwell - Low Potential
Caldwell has only produced 21 catches for 265 yards and three TDs over his last three seasons. His value flashed higher upside back in 2009 when he caught 51 passes for 432 yards and three TDs with the Bengals. With WR Wes Welker no longer on the roster, there is a 50-catch opportunity for a WR3 on this team. In his career, Andre has only caught 57.9 percent of his chances. I have a tough time believing his skill set will have any fantasy value in 2015.
TE Owen Daniels - Over the Hill (decreased production)
The Broncos would love to squeeze one more season out of Daniels, but age (32) isn't on his side. Owen has produced four seasons with 50 receptions or more and four seasons with 650 or more yards receiving. He has scored 33 touchdowns in 115 games throughout his career. His resume at tight end is by far the best on the team and he does a good job working the middle of the field. If Daniels can stay healthy, he could be in for a 60-catch, 650-yard season with half a dozen TDs.
Denver Broncos TE Owen Daniels
TE Virgil Green - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
Last year, the Broncos threw 62 passes for 672 yards and 14 TDs to the TE. In Green's four years in the league, he has only caught 23 passes for 206 yards and one TD. Last year, Green was on the field for 403 plays, which was the second-most at the TE position, but he caught only six passes for 74 yards and a TD. During his three years in college at Nevada, Virgil caught 72 balls for 939 yards and 11 TDs. There is a great opportunity here for the Broncos. Green may not have the talent to make a fantasy impact, but a fantasy owner needs to keep an open eye on this situation.
PK Connor Barth - Stud (low risk)
Barth was a great add by the Broncos in 2014 after kicker Brandon McManus was waived. Over five games with Denver, Barth converted 15-of-16 field goal attempts, including three games with four FGs or more. He finished with a career high 93.8 percent success rate. Throughout his career, Barth has converted 13-of-20 kicks from 50 yards or more. He has never made more than 30 FGs in a season due to his former teams' weak offenses. Last year, Denver attempted 29 field goals and scored 58 TDs. The combined success of both Broncos kickers in 2014 was just below a top 12 kicker. In 2013, Denver's Matt Prater was the second-highest scoring kicker in the league. Barth has a solid leg and he's converted 85.3 percent of his kicks throughout his career. Denver is going to score and he has a good chance to finish among the top seven Fantasy kickers in 2015.
Denver - Solid/Safe Pick
The Broncos have seven games against weak rushing offenses and only one game against a solid rushing attack. Their passing matchups are slightly favorable with two real tough games – the Indianapolis Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers. The Broncos have seven games against teams with weak passing attacks.
Denver allowed the second-fewest rushing yards (1276) in the league last season. Opposing ball carriers gained just 3.7 yards per rush and scored nine rushing TDs. Game score led to teams attempting the fewest number of rushes (21.8 per game) in the league.
The Broncos had positive production across the board in 2014 from their defensive players. Line backer DeMarcus Ware was an instant upgrade to the pass rush (11 sacks, 12 QB hits, and 30 QB hurries). Von Miller was the most impactful rushing linebacker in the league, finishing with 15 sacks, 11 QB hits, and 47 QB hurries. He was also excellent against the run.
In his first season as a starter, after getting drafted in the 5th round in 2012, line backer Brandon Marshall proved to be an asset in all areas of the game. Marshall had minor foot surgery in March. Line backer Danny Trevathan dislocated his knee cap in early October after suffering a knee injury in August, which led to him only playing three games last year. In 2013, Trevathan added value to the run defense.
Defensive end Derek Wolfe played well against the run, but he was a huge liability against the pass. Malik Jackson is coming off the best season of his short career. He was rock solid stopping the run and a strong pass rusher. He finished the season with four sacks, 13 QB hits and 33 QB hurries. Nose tackle Sylvester Williams is expected to start in 2015 after being selected in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. He's been a below average run defender through two seasons in the league and has shown no pass rushing skills whatsoever.
Cornerback Chris Harris was the best cover corner in the league in 2014. Receivers only caught 49.5 percent of their 95 targets for 378 yards and failed to find the end zone. Aqib Talib struggled at times against the pass, allowing 62 receptions for 668 yards and five TDs, but Talib did come away with four interceptions while adding value in run support. Safety T.J. Ward had some success blitzing the QB (two sacks) and was just above league-average in run support. However, He was the weak link in pass coverage, allowing 60-of-84 targets to be completed for 487 yards and six touchdowns. Darian Stewart is expected to start at the other safety position. Last year, he played his best ball of his career for the Ravens after being undrafted in 2010. Stewart was slightly above the league average in run support and pass coverage in 2014.
Denver notched the ninth-most sacks (41) in the NFL, but 63 percent of that production came from two players. The Broncos also allowed the ninth-fewest passing yards (3607) in 2014, 29 passing TDs and snagged 18 interceptions.
This defense has two elite pass rushers with solid talent at the cornerback position, but their defensive line is below the league average. Game score is also a big factor in the success of this unit. If Denver can make an offense one dimensional, they will send a high volume of blitzers. This defense will be a borderline top-12 defense with upside if the Broncos can find one more player that can get to the quarterback. I see them as more of a matchup play.