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2021 Player Outlooks: Denver Broncos

By Nick Caron | 8/9/21 |

QB Teddy Bridgewater
(2020 QB Rank – No.18, 20.3 FPts/G)

Veteran quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was brought in via trade by the Broncos the day before the draft, signaling that the team would no longer be targeting a quarterback with their first round draft pick. That turned out to be true as Denver now enters the preseason with a quarterback competition between Bridgewater and 2020 starter Drew Lock. Bridgewater joins the team after having started 15 games for the Panthers in 2020. He threw for a career high 69.1 completion percentage, as well as career highs in both passing yardage (3,733) and touchdowns (15). Despite this, Bridgewater narrowly held on to a top-20 quarterback season and without a substantial change to his play style, he’s probably never going to be a QB1 for fantasy, even though he’s joining a Denver team that is loaded at the skill positions.

Bridgewater’s checkdown style does benefit running backs in the passing game as well as short-to-intermediate pass catchers like Noah Fant. Him being the starter probably isn’t ideal for wide receivers Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy, however, and it would likely be especially poor for deep threat KJ Hamler.

Current ADPs have Bridgewater and Lock ranked almost identically, so there doesn’t yet appear to be a consensus on which player will actually end up starting in Week 1, but either way, Bridgewater is outside even QB2 rankings and should be avoided in everything other than 2QB and Superflex formats.

QB Drew Lock
(2020 QB Rank – No. 23, 18.8 FPts/G)

Drew Lock showed some promise in the limited playing time he got as a rookie, but actually seemed to regress in his second season. Lock’s completion percentage dropped 7% despite the fact that his yards per attempt stayed at an ugly 6.6. Lock also showed signs of being a dangerous passer as he ended the season tied for league-most with 15 interceptions.

Like Bridgewater, the 2020 version of Lock doesn’t give much hope to fantasy owners. He doesn’t run the ball and despite the fact that he has plenty of skill position weapons to work with, the likelihood of Lock suddenly becoming a QB1 for fantasy just looks very minimal, especially as he’s now entrenched in a battle for the starting job with Bridgewater.

Lock himself should be avoided for fantasy, other than in very deep Superflex and 2QB formats, but he does have a substantially more aggressive play style than Bridgewater, which could potentially lend itself to some big plays down the field - something that wide receiver Courtland Sutton is excellent at converting. Lock and Sutton did have a solid connection in their rookie seasons back in 2019, which is going a bit under-the-radar right now. It doesn’t really affect Lock’s value, but it could be interesting for Sutton.

RB Javonte Williams
(2020 RB Rank – N/A)

The shiny, new toy in the Broncos offense is rookie running back Javonte Williams. The Broncos moved up in the draft to select Williams early in the second round, a sign that they truly targeted him as a player they wanted.

Williams rushed for 1,140 and 19 touchdowns in his junior season at North Carolina, adding 25 receptions for 305 yards and another three touchdowns in the passing game. He did this despite sharing the backfield with fellow rookie running back, fourth round Jets selection Michael Carter. Williams brings excellent agility and strength but lacks high-end straight line speed, as he ran just a 4.57 forty yard dash at his pro day, at 5’10”, 212 lbs.

Williams’ ADP has now actually surpassed 2020 starter Melvin Gordon’s ADP as fans are excited about a potential new bell cow fantasy running back. He’s an all-purpose back with legit RB1 upside for dynasty, but he’s in a tough situation this season, playing in an offense that is not expected to be very good, especially through the air. Not to mention, we’ve seen quite a bit of recent history with even highly-drafted rookie running backs that would lead us to believe that the Broncos won’t just completely hand over the reins to Williams. Gordon wasn’t bad last year and he’s a veteran who understands the offense, is a quality pass protector, and contributes in all phases of the game. That type of player typically doesn’t just go away.

Williams does have league-winning potential if he ends up somehow taking over as the bell cow in Denver, but the risk is that he may never play substantially more than 50 percent of snaps in 2021, and the Broncos offense probably isn’t good enough to boost two running backs to fantasy relevance. If there’s a full on split, they might not even be good enough to produce one weekly fantasy starter at RB.

RB Melvin Gordon
(2020 RB Rank – No. 12, 18.8 FPts/G)

Veteran running back Melvin Gordon skipped OTAs this offseason which is a risky option if he’s trying to hold onto his starting job now that the Broncos have invested a high-second round draft pick on Javonte Williams. Gordon was, however, quietly solid in 2020 and actually finished just inside RB1 territory in standard scoring formats.

While it’s easy to see the writing on the wall that Gordon’s time as the bellcow back in Denver is probably over, we’ve also seen recent situations where veteran starters have held off perceived stud rookie running backs much longer than we had initially believed they would. Examples include Miles Sanders not being able to supplant Jordan Howard, Nick Chubb not being able to supplant Carlos Hyde, Jonathan Taylor not being able to supplant Nyheim Hines, J.K. Dobbins not being able to supplant Gus Edwards, Cam Akers not being able to supplant Malcolm Brown and Darrell Williams, and more.

We might end up seeing Williams play on a lot of passing downs, which could limit Gordon quite a bit in PPR formats, but there’s still a good likelihood that Gordon is the top back in the offense at least to start the season. This could make him an attractive later-round complementary option for those who have invested in other running backs similar to Williams who might not start the season as starters but are expected to eventually take over as their team’s lead back.

The point here isn’t that Williams is worse than Gordon, but rather that NFL coaching staffs can oftentimes be extraordinarily frustrating for fantasy owners. This could mean a much longer-than-expected “starting” role for Gordon. He could be a value, particularly early in the season.

WR Courtland Sutton
(2020 WR Rank – 175, 6.6 FPts/G)

Courtland Sutton was one of the hottest second-year receivers coming into the 2020 season, but suffered an unfortunate season-ending torn ACL and MCL in Week 1. Now heading into his third professional season, Sutton appears to be fully rehabilitated and ready to play.

He’s currently flying under the radar in a lot of drafts, likely due to the uncertainty surrounding his knee and, of course, the ugly quarterback situation in Denver. But with a physical specimen like Sutton who can make his own plays on even poorly-thrown passes, the upside is still there.

Sutton was the absolute alpha in the offense prior to being injured, but is now surrounded by much stronger supporting talent, including second-year receiver Jerry Jeudy. The Broncos also drafted KJ Hamler last year and saw improvements from Tim Patrick, which may limit Sutton’s overall target share.

The quarterback situation here isn’t great no matter if it’s Lock or Bridgewater behind center, but Sutton’s fantasy owners should be cheering for Lock to win the job. While he’s not nearly as accurate as Bridgewater, Lock has a much stronger tendency to push the ball down the field, which would benefit a player like Sutton. A QB like Bridgewater who plays much more conservatively and doesn’t look deep nearly as often could allow the Broncos offense as a whole to be better and certainly avoid turnovers, but it could be a big blow for someone like Sutton.

WR Jerry Jeudy
(2020 WR Rank – No.96, 6.8 FPts/G)

One of the league leaders in unrealized air yards as a rookie, Jerry Jeudy was unable to get into a consistent rhythm with quarterback Drew Lock in 2020. Unfortunately he’ll likely have to deal with some truly bad quarterback play again as the Broncos opted to pass on quarterback in the draft, instead turning to a competition between the disappointing Lock and veteran Teddy Bridgewater.

It’s worth noting that Jeudy didn’t help his quarterbacks at times, as he was also one of the league leaders in dropped passes, but he was overall quite good on a per-snap basis. His route running appeared to be excellent and he finished the season with 856 yards on 52 catches. Jeudy will now be joined by 2019 rookie Courtland Sutton, who missed almost the entire 2020 season with a torn ACL and MCL, which should allow Jeudy to see less attention from the defense, even if it will likely also mean fewer total targets for him.

Unlike Sutton who could see a serious downgrade in efficiency if Bridgewater becomes the starter, Jeudy is the kind of receiver who could make things happen regardless of which quarterback is throwing him the ball. He’s a tactician as a route runner while still having the ability to make plenty of plays down the field. That, along Sutton’s rehabilitated knee, makes Jeudy the safer of the two starting Broncos receivers, even if he doesn’t have quite the upside this season that Sutton could.

TE Noah Fant
(2020 TE Rank – 15, 6.1 FPts/G)

2020 was a fairly disappointing and ultimately mediocre fantasy season for third-year tight end Noah Fant, who finished the season as the 15th-highest scoring tight end in standard scoring formats. Fant had plenty of hype from those who opted to wait on tight ends in their fantasy drafts, but he failed to live up to expectations and ended up with just three touchdowns on the year.

On a positive note, Fant did fly a bit under the radar as he finished seventh among tight ends in total receptions and he was also one of the league leaders at the position in yards after the catch. This information contributes some factual information to the idea that Fant might just not be getting utilized well enough in the Denver offense.

While he hasn’t yet put it together for a full season, we have seen moments of greatness. He’s a lightning bolt at the position and he can be a nightmare matchup for the less athletic defenses throughout the league.

Unfortunately, in an offense as loaded with pass catchers as Denver’s is, there’s also a pretty good chance that Fant doesn’t see enough targets to really break out. He’s typically being drafted in the second half of starting tight ends during drafts, which is probably closer to his ceiling than those who’ve drafted him would like to admit. There are quite a few other tight ends going near him in drafts that provide a higher floor plus ceiling combination than Fant does in 2020, so it’s probably best to look elsewhere unless he slips outside the top 10 tight ends in your draft.

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