Denver Broncos 2012 Fantasy Outlook
The Denver Broncos grabbed plenty of headlines in 2011, as “Tim Tebow Mania” propelled them through the second half of the season and to a Wild Card playoff win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Still through it all, many wondered about Tebow’s future in Denver and if the the team would seek an upgrade under center for 2012.
Enter Peyton Manning, who as everyone knows missed all of the 2011 season after undergoing multiple neck surgeries and was ultimately released by the Indianapolis Colts, the only NFL franchise he’s ever played for. Many teams reportedly showed interest in bringing Manning aboard, but ultimately the Broncos were the team he chose. Any potential he would mentor Tebow quickly went away when Tebow was traded to the New York Jets.
A change in offensive scheme is coming in Denver with Manning at the helm, as they will pass the ball a lot more after being one of the most run-heavy offenses in the league in 2011. That will have an impact on the fantasy value of multiple players, but if Manning stays healthy the Broncos’ offense should be better overall.
Let’s look at how fantasy football owners should regard the Denver Broncos in 2012.
QB Peyton Manning
Drafting Manning this year is not for the risk-adverse, as no one will really be able to gauge his health until he takes a hit in game action and is able to get back up. That may not come in a substantial way until Week 1, but depending on how much he plays during the preseason we may get some sort of feel for how he will be when the season starts. If Manning can return to somewhere close to his previous form, he can be a very good low-end QB1 in most formats. Just be sure to have a backup plan for the possible worst-case scenario. Manning’s health is the primary driving force for the fantasy value, or lack thereof, of virtually every Broncos’ player this season.
QB Caleb Hanie
Hanie was signed as a free agent from the Chicago Bears this offseason, and may be Manning’s primary backup entering training camp. His limitations have shown when he filled in for Jay Cutler over the past couple seasons with the Bears, so if even if he has to play fantasy owners are unlikely to find much value here.
QB Brock Osweiler
Osweiler is a bit of a project after being taken in the second round of April’s draft out of Arizona State. He stands out because of his size (6’7″), and is considered the Broncos’ quarterback of the future right now. Having the opportunity to work with and learn from a future Hall of Famer like Manning will definitely benefit him, so those who are in deep dynasty leagues should be aware of him and consider using a late draft pick on him.
RB Willis McGahee
McGahee re-emerged as a fantasy force in 2011, topping 1,000 rushing yards (1,199) for the first time since 2007, but he set career lows in receptions (12) and receiving yards (51) and his five total touchdowns (four rushing) tied a career-worst. He will turn 31 in October, and his history of knee issues dating back to college may catch up with him quickly. McGahee’s skill set, in particular his lack of production as a pass receiver, seems to make him ill-suited for a Manning-run offense and that may lead to reduced playing time. McGahee may find more room to run in 2012 as opposing defenses have to worry about Denver’s passing game, but it would be unwise for fantasy owners to expect a repeat of last season. He should be regarded as a middle of the road RB2 in most league formats, and has slightly less appeal in PPR leagues.
RB Knowshon Moreno
Moreno’s status for the start of the season in up in the air after suffering a torn ACL in early December of 2011, and an offseason DUI arrest does not help his standing with the team. If he can prove healthy during the preseason he could find a role in the Broncos’ backfield, but it seems more likely he will be traded or even released. Obviously, fantasy owners should not rely upon Moreno at all at this point.
RB Ronnie Hillman
Hillman had a very productive final two collegiate seasons at San Diego State with over 3,200 rushing yards and 36 touchdowns, but he looks most likely to make an impact in a more specialized role as a rookie. Comparisons have been made to how the New Orleans Saints used Darren Sproles in 2011, and Hillman’s overall skills seem to be a nice fit for the offense the Broncos will run with Manning at the helm. At this point Hillman is only worthy of a late-round pick on draft day, but there is real sleeper potential here if he is able to overtake McGahee on the depth chart at some point.
RB Lance Ball
Ball set career highs across the board in 2011 with 96 carries for 402 yards and one touchdown with 16 catches for 148 yards as well. Given the uphill climb he has to get a significant amount of touches, he belongs on the waiver wire until injuries open up more opportunity for him.
RB Mario Fannin
Fannin missed the entire 2011 season with a torn ACL after going undrafted, and prior to the Broncos drafting Hillman qualified as a potentially intriguing fantasy prospect. At this point, it would take multiple injuries for him to see the field much in 2012.
WR Demaryius Thomas
Thomas clearly has the physical tools to become an elite NFL wide receiver, and no player on the Broncos has gotten more positive fantasy buzz since the addition of Manning under center. But Thomas himself has battled injury issues during his first two NFL seasons (22 total games) and his value is tied almost completely to Manning being healthy and returning to somewhere close to his previous form. Some fantasy owners will regard Thomas as a high-end WR1 on draft day with the upside he has, but more reasonable owners will not be afraid to draft him as a WR2 with upside and reap the rewards if his potential is fully realized.
WR Eric Decker
Decker was fairly productive under the circumstances in 2011, with 44 receptions for 612 yards and eight touchdowns. His production did slow some late in the season as Thomas emerged as Tebow’s top target, but 2012 stands to bring plenty of targets to go around with Manning under center. Decker suffered a knee injury during the playoffs last season, but it was only a sprained MCL and there is no lingering concern over his health. It would not be unreasonable for owners in PPR leagues to see Decker as the most valuable Broncos’ wide receiver, particularly considering what he will cost on draft day, and he should be considered a low-end WR2 or high end WR3 regardless of league format.
WR Andre Caldwell
Caldwell was signed as a free agent this offseason after spending his first four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. He is a solid fit as a slot receiver for Denver, and if he can hold off Brandon Stokley he could have some value in fantasy leagues. At the very least, he should get more opportunities than he did with the Bengals and his career highs in catches (51), yards (432) and touchdowns (three) are likely to fall if his role is fairly significant. Caldwell is only worth drafting in very deep PPR leagues, and he could become a solid waiver wire pickup at some point in standard leagues.
WR Brandon Stokley
Stokley was brought back to Denver, where he played from 2007-2009, after spending 2010 with the Seattle Seahawks and playing two games for the New York Giants last season. Of course his best season came in 2004 with the Indianapolis Colts and Manning under center, when he had 68 catches for 1,077 yards and 10 touchdowns. Even with his advanced age (36) Stokley is a name to be aware of in PPR formats due to his familiarity with Manning, but he has not topped 50 receptions since that 2004 campaign and playing all 16 games is far from a guarantee.
TE Jacob Tamme
Tamme will be reunited with Manning in Denver, which is notable since Tamme had 67 catches for 631 yards and four touchdowns when he filled in for an injured Dallas Clark in 2010 with the Indianapolis Colts despite starting only eight games. Fantasy owners can expect numbers comparable to 2010 for Tamme, and that is enough to make him a more than serviceable TE2 in all league formats.
TE Joel Dreessen
Dreessen was a capable fill-in for Owen Daniels with the Houston Texans with 10 touchdown catches in the 2010 and 2011 seasons combined, and will now move into another backup role and see time in two tight end sets in Denver. Fantasy owners should not look for a huge catch total from Dreessen, barring a significant injury to Tamme, but those in touchdown-heavy formats can look to him as a possible TE2.
TE Julius Thomas
Thomas had just one catch as a rookie in 2011, and now looks buried on the depth chart heading into this season. He still has solid value in keeper leagues due to what he brings to the table in terms of raw skills, but it would take a lot for him to land on the radar of fantasy owners in 2012.
K Matt Prater
Prater struggled with accuracy in 2011 (19-for-25 on field goals), but he did make three field goals from 50 or more yards out and should see more overall opportunities this season with the Denver offense expected to improve fairly dramatically. He also has the highest conversion rate in NFL history on field goals of 50-plus yards (12-for-16) in his career, so Prater has serious upside with everything that is in place for the Broncos.
Denver Broncos Defense
The Broncos’ defense got some credit for the team’s late season run, but their overall rankings (24th in scoring defense, 18th vs. the pass, 22nd vs. the run) were only middle of the road. They registered 41 sacks last season, propelled by 2011 Defensive Rookie of the Year Von Miller (11.5 sacks) and Elvis Dumervil (9.5 sacks), but Denver only intercepted nine passes all season and forced less than 20 total turnovers. Having an improved offense opposite them will help create opportunities for more turnovers, and cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Tracy Porter can easily take advantage.
But linebacker D.J Williams, the team’s top tackler last season, has been suspended six games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and Dumervil’s recent arrest for assault with a deadly weapon has him facing league discipline as well. Being without those two key players will hamper the Denver defense early in the season, and a tough overall schedule makes this unit nothing more than a No.2 fantasy option and potential bye week fill-in when they have a favorable matchup.
Find out where all the top fantasy experts rank the Broncos top players in the new Cheat Sheet Wizard!
Brad has contributed to many sports-related websites for the last eight years, covering predominantly fantasy sports (football and baseball), the NFL and MLB. Some of the websites where his work has been or is currently featured include KFFL.com, Rotowire.com, Bruno Boys Fantasy Football and Tree.com. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.