2015 Fantasy Football Team Preview: Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos are in a make or break season. Peyton Manning is virtually done after this season, and who knows if Brock Osweiler has the goods to carry this team. Changes were made to the coaching system as now Gary Kubiak takes over at head coach while Peyton Manning…I mean Rick Dennison is the offensive coordinator. The offense has gone through some changes as well. Wes Welker is gone and second year pro Cody Latimer will start in his place. Also, Julius Thomas departed as he went off to Jacksonville, and both Owen Daniels and Virgil Green will step up to fill that missing spot.
Denver excelled in team offense last season finishing fourth by averaging 402.9 yards per game. This was driven by Peyton Manning and the passing game as they had the fourth best (291.3 per game). Their rushing game was average as they finished 15th with 111.6 yards a contest. The Broncos finished second in points scored with 30.1 and first in sacks allowed with just 17. Their scoring success was superior because of their third down efficiency, as they tied for sixth with 44 percent effective rate.
Can Peyton Manning ride off in the sunset with the golden trophy one more time? It depends on which Manning shows up. The 2014 first nine games were a lot different than the last seven. In that first part of the season he averaged 324 yards and tossed 29 touchdowns. In the final eight games (including the playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts), he threw 11 touchdowns along with nine interceptions and completed just 63 percent of his passes comparable to 68 in the first nine games. Manning has said the reason for his decline was a quad injury he sustained which reduced the velocity on his passes. This doesn’t explain his games against Kansas City and Buffalo where he threw under 180 yards, or the two interceptions against St. Louis. Look for Denver to reduce Manning’s role and have the stable of running backs that the Broncos have to be used a bit more. Peyton Manning should average around 285 yards and two touchdowns per game, but throwing for 40 touchdowns is probably out of the question.
The Broncos drafted Brock Osweiler in the second round three years ago, but with Peyton Manning on the field he has not been able to prove his worth. He may make a good play in a dynasty draft, considering Manning is off to retirement road and he inherits a good squad, but in redraft he is more of a wait and see prospect.
The Broncos have a stable of backs. One after one got injured last season, and like clowns in a Volkswagen they just kept coming. Denver started out with Montee Ball, but his injury and ineffectiveness knocked him out of the way. They turned to Ronnie Hillman in week four. Hillman was strong for the Broncos until he got hurt against the Oakland Raiders, and Denver then had to turn to C.J. Anderson. Anderson carried the ball a ton to finish out the season. He finished the year with 179 carries for 849 yards (4.7 yards per carry) and eight touchdowns. Juwan Thompson also had himself a good season. He had 54 carries for 272 yards (5.0 yards per carry) and three touchdowns.
Look for this kind of production to continue. Kubiak has a track record of success plus Peyton Manning at quarterback; it’s as though they are playing with a six-man offensive line. Defensive backs cannot stack the box against the running game, because Manning will torch them for doing so. C.J Anderson will most likely start the season as the number one back. He finished second at running back in the second half of last season as he put up 1,057 yards and 10 touchdowns in the second part of the season. Anderson is not as fast as a typical back, but he makes quick decisions and his 224 pound frame will cause damage to the opposing defense. He is also a good fit in PPR leagues as he could catch 50+ passes this season.
Montee Ball was drafted in the second round two-years ago, the same year that Anderson was welcomed to the team as an undrafted free-agent. The Broncos won’t lose sight of that, and will give him the opportunity to change things around. Ball will need to improve on his 3.1 yards per carry which is less than the three other backs that played on the roster.
Ronnie Hillman will be a nice change-of-pace back. He could actually be a starter if he was a bit bigger and didn’t fumble as much. He does have elite speed and showed he could get things done rushing for over 283 yards in three games (100, 74, 109) against the New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers, and San Diego Chargers.
Juwan Thompson won’t be utilized for much more than goal line duties. He is a strong back, but slow on his feet and just not talented enough.
Even though the receiving core lost the talents of Wes Welker, it was still going to have a declining season. The Broncos are just not going to throw as much. That means down years for Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Thomas will probably be the leader in targets and receptions, but look for at least a 10% drop in both categories. His touchdowns will also take a tumble as Kubiak likes to use the tight end around the goal line. Sanders will also take a hit in both receptions and touchdowns. He will most likely move to the slot, but he probably won’t catch more than 90 passes this season. Cody Latimer will take over the other wing spot. He has some good speed, and after learning from Thomas, Welker, and Sanders, he will be the deep-ball man in the hopes Manning can get him the ball.
Julius Thomas is gone, and the often injured Owen Daniels will be in his place. A Kubiak disciple, Daniels is skilled in catching the ball, and Kubiak likes to get his tight ends involved near the goal line. Daniels has averaged 764 yards per season in each of his 16 games played. Even though he may be the fourth or fifth best receiver on the team, he could easily finish third in scoring.
Virgil Green is more of a blocker than a receiver, but should Owen Daniels go down with an injury, he is the next man up in a tight end friendly offense. He is definitely a look in dynasty leagues or keeping a watchful eye on the waiver wire.
The Broncos defense was a strength again last season. They finished third in total defense as they allowed just 305.2 yards per game. The rushing defense was a key part of the program as opposing teams gained less than 80 yards average per game and Denver finished second in the NFL. The passing defense was nearly as good. The defense held teams to 225.4 yards per game average (ninth in the NFL). The Broncos finished 16th in the NFL when it came down to points allowed. Opposing teams were able to average a little more than 22 points per game against Denver in each contest. Which is interesting because they were tied for seventh in interceptions (18), tied for ninth in sacks (41), and had a positive turnover differential of five which was tied for 11th in the NFL. They had three turnovers go the distance, and will be returning all starters except for Rahim Moore.
On the defensive line, the lone bright spot is DeMarcus Ware. He is not the elite player he was before in Dallas, but he will hover around the double-digit sack mark. He had 10 last season with 34 solo tackles and two forced fumbles.
The linebackers are where it’s at for the Broncos. Danny Trevathan, Von Miller, and Brandon Marshall are all top talents. Trevathan is probably the best of the three as long as he isn’t breaking body parts. Last August he broke his leg and returned in week five. In week six he broke his kneecap, and then again in week 15. In 2013, he finished with 87 solo tackles, two sacks, and two forced fumbles. With the Broncos switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4, it will open things up for Miller. He could reach 20 sacks in this Wade Phillips defensive scheme. He had 14 sacks last season with 43 solo tackles and one forced fumble. Look for an increase in all of that under Phillips. Marshall is a tackling machine, and could finish with 100 solo tackles this season. He had 90 in 2014 with two sacks and one forced fumble.
Player to Watch
Peyton Manning fits under the Broncos player to watch. It will be interesting to see how the Denver offense will treat him or if he has anything left in the tank. The main job is going to be protecting Manning and not let him get run over. The Broncos do not have a very strong offensive line, probably one of the worst in the NFL. Ryan Clady is out for the season after tearing his ACL, and three starters from last year are being replaced. Louis Vasquez at guard is probably their best option, and Manning’s ability to get rid of the ball will help, but don’t look for the Broncos to allow only 17 sacks this season and the running game will be more lively. In the end though it will fall on Peyton Manning’s shoulders one last time for one more Super Bowl run.
1785 is the total number of yards the Denver Broncos rushed for as a team last season. Look for this number to increase as the running game will get a shot of endorphins from coach Kubiak. This team may go to a committee approach, so be on the lookout for that situation as a fantasy owner.