The starting quarterback job in Denver is one of the most highly
contested, extremely important training camp battles in the entire
league this offseason. The job is primarily expected to be a battle
between newcomers Mark Sanchez and Paxton Lynch, but keep an eye
Siemian who has already spent a year in the system and has been
the recipient of quite a bit of praise from the coaching staff.
Nevertheless, the man who most believe will start the season behind
center for the Broncos is the only player who has played a meaningful
NFL snap thus far in his career – Sanchez. A quarterback who
once led his Jets to back-to-back AFC Championship appearances,
Sanchez has seen quite a fall from grace in recent seasons as he
will now be playing for his third NFL team after his runs in Philadelphia
and New York fizzled out.
Taking over as the starting quarterback for a team that won the
Super Bowl just a few months ago is a daunting task on its own,
but replacing arguably the greatest quarterback of all-time, Peyton
Manning, is going to be on the mind of whoever ends up winning this
job. Sanchez has been in a similar situation when he replaced another
one of the all-time greats, Brett Favre, the season after Favre
left the Jets.
Of course, Sanchez now steps into a situation where he has much
higher expectations, but it’s worth considering that he’s
not replacing a prime Manning. He’s replacing the version
of Manning who played the worst football of his career, who nearly
lost his job to Brock Osweiler, and was statistically speaking one
of the worst quarterbacks in recent memory. Manning’s 9-to-17
touchdown-to-interception ratio was humiliatingly bad and quite
frankly was one of the main reasons why the Broncos weren’t
expected to completely run through the AFC Playoffs on their way
to the Super Bowl in 2015. Despite Manning’s terrible play,
the Broncos were still able to get the job done where it counted
– on the scoreboard. Much of that came from the reality that
while Manning was a shell of his physical prime, he was still mentally
sharp and was able to get players into the right positions to succeed.
At this point, it would be extremely difficult for Sanchez to be
worse than Manning from a statistical standpoint. Sanchez has never
been a great fantasy performer in the past, but he also hasn’t
often had the type of weapons that he does in Denver. There’s
practically no question that the Broncos’ passing game is
going to be more efficient than it was a season ago. However, it’s
also worth noting that the Broncos likely passed the ball more often
in 2015 than head coach Gary Kubiak would have preferred. This could
mean better efficiency from the position in terms of touchdowns
and turnovers, but it might also mean fewer yards.
Sanchez projects as a QB2 in most formats, but does have the
upside to produce QB1 numbers in favorable matchups. The other
thing to keep in mind with Sanchez is that while he will likely
start the season for the Broncos, that doesn’t mean that
he will keep the job all season. If the coaches don’t like
what they’re seeing and particularly if the team starts
the season with more losses than they expected, Sanchez could
be on a short leash. Playmaking rookie quarterback Paxton Lynch
is looming behind him on the depth chart and Trevor Siemian knows
the playbook the best of the three, meaning that he could be given
an opportunity if the wheels really begin to fall off the track.
Considered by many experts to be one of the biggest “project”
quarterbacks in the 2016 draft class, Paxton Lynch found a nice
landing spot in Denver, a city where he can grow and eventually
be groomed into a starting quarterback role. Lynch does possess
the type of raw physical talent that could make him a starting-level
quarterback, but he fell in the draft primarily because so many
teams viewed him as a player who wouldn’t be able to contribute
to an NFL team right away. With that being the case, it would
be extremely surprising to see Lynch step onto the field for the
Broncos in Week 1 unless there were a string of injuries to the
other quarterbacks on the roster.
That being said, if Lynch continues to develop his mechanics and
accuracy while keeping his nose in the playbook, there’s
still a possibility that he gets onto the field this season. Lynch
isn’t a player to draft in redraft leagues and there are
even a few better options at the quarterback position for those
in rookie drafts, but the talent is there – keep an ear
to the noise coming out of Denver throughout the season.
With the deterioration of Peyton Manning’s health on full
display toward the end of the 2014 season, most believed that
the Broncos would lean heavily on their running game in 2015,
which would make their starter – C.J. Anderson – a
hot commodity in fantasy circles. Anderson’s price peaked
right about in the middle of the fantasy draft season this past
year, which meant that he was being taken as early as a top 5
overall draft pick in some leagues. Most of us knew the risk was
there, that Anderson was perhaps not the player that we saw near
the end of 2014 when he was one of the most efficient backs in
the league, but few of us could have projected the misery that
Anderson would cause his fantasy owners throughout the season,
when he finished the year with just 720 yards and five touchdowns.
The positive for Anderson is that while he was one of the most
horrendous and impactful fantasy disappointments of the 2015 season,
he did produce acceptable numbers toward the end of the season,
including the playoffs. While that information is hardly a consolation
prize for those who were burned by Anderson on draft day, it does
give us some insight as to how the Broncos view their backfield
heading into 2016.
It appears that the job is primarily going to be Anderson’s, but
don’t fall into the trap of believing that he is going to be getting
300 touches. Ronnie Hillman and perhaps other players in this
backfield will see some playing time, if for no other reason than
to keep Anderson healthy for the long run, and that could limit
his upside particularly early in the season. He won’t cost nearly
as much as he did a season ago, but Anderson presents about the
same upside that he did in 2015 when he was a first round fantasy
pick. The return on investment has a much better chance of being
there in 2016.
If you just look at the statistics, this Denver running game should
be easy to project – Ronnie Hillman should be the starter.
But this backfield is an example of why it’s important for
fantasy owners to do more than simply stare at a stat sheet at
the end of a game or even at the end of a season. Hillman out-produced
Anderson on a per-touch basis in not only total yards, but also
fantasy points. He finished 20th at the position – seven
spots ahead of Anderson – despite being considered the team’s
backup for the majority of 2015.
Perhaps the most telling aspect of the Broncos’ running
back situation a season ago, however, was what happened in Super
Bowl 50. With everything on the line, on the biggest stage of
them all and against a great defense, the Broncos gave Anderson
a whopping 27 touches. Meanwhile, Hillman managed just five touches.
Of course, it didn’t help that Hillman produced zero total
yards with his five touches, but the message was sent –
this is Anderson’s backfield.
Hillman still has some value, especially because we’ve seen
him display hot stretches, but his primary usage will likely be
as Anderson’s backup for the majority of the season. Look
for him to touch the ball around 120-to-150 times in what is expected
to be a run-heavy offense. That might be good enough for him to
be drafted and flexed into your lineup in particularly great matchups,
but don’t select Hillman with the assumption that he’s
going to give you great numbers on a week-to-week basis.
One player to keep an eye on this offseason is rookie running
back Devontae Booker. A fourth-round draft pick, Booker brings
electric talent to a position that seems to be lacking in that
area. Booker slipped in the draft in large part due to injury
concerns as he is coming off of season-ending meniscus injury,
but the talent was on display during his run at Utah. Booker rushed
for 3,395 yards and 23 touchdowns in just 23 games at the school
while showing off his pass-catching ability by hauling in 80 receptions.
Despite Denver’s commitment to Anderson in the Super Bowl,
the team doesn’t appear to be fully behind either he or
Hillman to be an every week 20-touch type of player. While Booker
doesn’t project to be that at the beginning of the season
either, he does have the physical skillset needed to be an every
down back in the NFL. He’s currently being selected ahead
of Ronnie Hillman in most redraft leagues and he’s a very
intriguing option in dynasty formats as well.
Widely considered a perennial elite fantasy option at the wide
receiver position, Demaryius Thomas took a step back in 2015,
falling to 13th at the position. Thomas’ numbers were still very
good – career numbers for most receivers – but his six touchdowns
were a substantial downtick from the 35 touchdowns he had accumulated
in each of his prior three seasons with the squad.
Of course, the horrendous quarterback play that he had to deal
with was a big reason why Thomas’ season-long numbers suffered.
Peyton Manning’s declining arm strength was a big contributor
in Thomas’ yards per catch falling to an all-time low and
the general lack of offensive fireworks led the Broncos to rely
much more on their defense than they had in previous seasons when
they were putting up record-level offensive production.
The good news for Thomas is that it’d be difficult for things
to get much worse for him at the quarterback position. Whether
it’s Sanchez, Lynch or Siemian throwing him the ball, Thomas
should be in line for plenty of targets in this offense that is
now without both tight ends Vernon Davis and Owen Daniels. He
may not present the upside of the No. 1 overall wide receiver
that he once did, but Thomas is as reliable as they come among
WR2’s and low-end WR1’s. If he ends up on your roster,
you’ll be happy more often than not and that alone is a
valuable fantasy commodity.
It seems almost impossible, but despite the Broncos having one
of the least effective and lowest-scoring passing games in all
of football in 2015, they were somehow able to produce two top-20
fantasy receivers. Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas, make
up one of the most talented, dynamic and consistent wide receiver
duos in the league. Most importantly for fantasy purposes, neither
player seems to be fighting much for playing time as they are
by far the unquestioned top two targets in this passing game.
Like Thomas, Sanders’ 2015 was a disappointment from a fantasy
standpoint as he saw his totals fall nearly 300 yards, 3 touchdowns
and 25 receptions from his 2014 output. Still, despite the Denver
offense being in complete disarray with duo of bad quarterbacks
leading the charge, Sanders still produced quality WR2 numbers,
which is what he was expected to do by those who took him in fantasy
While Mark Sanchez is certainly far from being a stud quarterback,
he should be an upgrade from what Sanders dealt with a season
ago and that alone should allow his ceiling and floor to rise
a bit. Expect Thomas to again produce solid, if not high-end WR2
numbers on the season simply because he’s going to be targeted
The search for a Julius Thomas replacement continues in 2016 as
the team searches for something – anything – from
the tight end position. Now without Vernon Davis and Owen Daniels
who served as the top two TE’s on the roster in 2015, the
prospects are bleak.
While veterans Garrett Graham and Virgil Green offer a much higher
floor, the only tight end in this offense who should even be on
radars heading into the season is second-year pass-catcher Jeff
Heuerman. A third round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, the Broncos
had high hopes for Heuerman, but his season ended before it even
began when he suffered a torn ACL in training camp.
Now with a full year of recovery behind him and plenty of time
to study the playbook, Heuerman is ready to get on the field.
Head coach Gary Kubiak has even said that he is expecting big
things from the second-year tight end. While we hear that all
the time about players who end up doing nothing, there is some
buzz beginning to surround Heuerman. An excellent blocker, Heuerman
adds the versatility to not only get on the field on passing downs,
but also play a pivotal role in sealing the edge for the Broncos’
running game, which they’re expected to utilize quite often
this season. While we don’t get points for blocks in fantasy
football, being able to do it all is certainly something that
Heuerman can use to make his case to his coaches as to why he
deserves to be on the field more often. Don’t expect huge
things from Heuerman, but if there’s a player who has a
real potential to break out in this offense, it might just be
this 6’5”, 255 lb goliath.