Evan Silva

Offseason Low Down

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Broncos Fantasy Preview

Saturday, June 16, 2018


Broncos 2016-2017 Offensive Profile

2016-2017 Pass Attempts Rank: 17th, 12th
2016-2017 Rush Attempts Rank: 15th, 8th
2016-2017 Play Volume Rank: 26th, 2nd
2016-2017 Yards Per Play Rank: 26th, 28th
Unaccounted for Air Yards from 2017: 1,147 (13th)
Unaccounted for Carries from 2017: 359 (1st)

Projected Starting Lineup

QB: Case Keenum
RB: Royce Freeman
WR: Demaryius Thomas
WR: Emmanuel Sanders
WR: Courtland Sutton
TE: Jeff Heuerman
LT: Garett Bolles
LG: Ronald Leary
C: Matt Paradis
RG: Connor McGovern
RT: Jared Veldheer

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Passing Game Outlook

With ex-Texans coach and current Broncos senior personnel advisor Gary Kubiak in his corner, Case Keenum landed a two-year, $36 million deal from Denver, which then passed on Josh Allen and Josh Rosen at the No. 5 pick. Only draft bust Paxton Lynch and 2017 Mr. Irrelevant Chad Kelly return as backup competitors. Keenum broke out as a sixth-year journeyman in Minnesota, engineering an 11-3 record with high-efficiency play. Albeit with great assistance from Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, and Kyle Rudolph in Pat Shurmur’s quarterback-friendly scheme, Keenum ranked eighth in the NFL in passer rating (98.3) with a 67.6% completion rate, 22:7 TD-to-INT ratio, and 7.4 yards-per-attempt average. He finished as the QB14 in fantasy. Pro Football Focus credited Keenum with the NFL’s seventh-best passer rating when pressured (78.5), comforting since Denver’s work-in-progress offensive line allowed the NFL’s third-most sacks (52) and eighth-most quarterback hits (104) last season. Keenum’s supporting cast isn’t as strong as Minnesota’s, but it’s not terribly far off. He’s a sneaky-upside, late-round QB2.

Demaryius Thomas’ slow-but-steady career descent continued in 2017, falling short of 1,000 yards for the first time since 2011 with six-year lows in catch rate (59.3%) and yards per catch (11.4). Abysmal quarterback play was partly to blame, but Thomas’ post-catch skill has eroded, and Josh Hermsmeyer’s Game Speed data showed Thomas is moving at an average or below-league-average pace at all route depths. The Broncos didn’t hide their concern, drafting Thomas-like talent Courtland Sutton at the 40th overall pick. Thomas turns 31 later this year. It is at least mildly concerning Thomas missed minicamp with a toe injury after battling foot problems since Georgia Tech. Still, Keenum’s quarterback upgrade offers hope Thomas can further outlast Father Time. The Broncos can save $14 million by cutting Thomas next offseason.

Emmanuel Sanders’ 2017 season combined Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch’s putrid quarterbacking with a high right ankle sprain suffered in Week 6. The injury noticeably bothered Sanders the rest of the way, and Sanders aggravated it in Week 15, ending his season. He did not require post-season surgery. Now healthy, Sanders is ticketed for more slot work between perimeter WRs Thomas and Sutton. Keenum’s go-to receiver in Minnesota was Adam Thielen, who ran over half of his routes in the slot and was targeted by Keenum on 25% of his slot routes, the highest rate in the league. For unclear reasons, Thomas’ ADP is several rounds above Sanders’. I think Sanders can outscore Thomas this year.

 

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No. 40 overall pick Courtland Sutton is the favorite to run outside routes opposite Thomas in three-receiver sets. At 6’3/218 with a basketball background and 93rd-percentile SPARQ results, Sutton was one of this year’s few draft-eligible receivers offering long-term “No. 1” traits. Still, Sutton is no lock to fire immediately out of the Conference USA. His main competition for three-wide work will likely come from fellow rookie DaeSean Hamilton, a fourth-round pick who set Penn State’s school record for career receptions (214) and profiles as more of an interior receiver than Sutton. 2017 third-round pick Carlos Henderson is worth mentioning, but his place in the Broncos’ plans is unclear after Henderson missed his entire first season with a thumb injury, then was arrested for DUI-marijuana in January. Henderson missed the 2018 offseason with a hamstring injury. As Hamilton and Henderson are both slot-type receivers, either of them winning No. 3 wideout work over Sutton would be notable for Sanders’ outlook because it would keep Sanders on the outside more.

Broncos tight end snaps have been up for grabs since the end of the Julius Thomas era, and this year is no different. 2015 third-round pick Jeff Heuerman ran with the ones at OTAs. Heuerman earned a career-high 33% of Denver’s 2017 offensive snaps but drew just 21 targets and blocked on 58% of his plays. Heuerman has no documented track record of pass-catching productivity; he caught just 52 balls during a four-year Ohio State career and has 18 grabs in three NFL seasons. 2016 Mackey Award winner Jake Butt may be the Broncos’ highest-ceiling tight end. Butt redshirted as a rookie after tearing his ACL twice at Michigan, where he caught 138 career passes and drew Zach Ertz comparisons when healthy. Fifth-round pick Troy Fumagalli caught 135 balls at Wisconsin and earned second-team All-America as a senior. He missed OTAs after sports hernia surgery but should be ready for training camp.

Running Game Outlook

Immediately after the draft, GM John Elway stated the Broncos envision No. 71 pick Royce Freeman as their Week 1 starter. “Bellcow type,” Elway described. “First and second down. We needed a thumper.” Built like one at 6’0/229, Freeman was a true workhorse at Oregon with school records in career rushing yards (5,621) and TDs (64), also catching 79 balls. Adjusted for size, Freeman shined in the forty (4.54) and three-cone drill (6.90) at the Combine, although his college tape showed limited short-area explosiveness. In Denver, Freeman sounds unlikely to log significant passing-game snaps and will contend with a work-in-progress offensive line on early downs. The best news is Freeman’s opportunity is immense on a team missing a league-high 359 carries from last year.

Devontae Booker is the favorite for No. 2 back work over 2017 sixth-round pick De’Angelo Henderson, who earned just 20 snaps as a rookie. Booker returned from a preseason wrist injury last year to average 23 snaps and 8.8 touches per game from Week 6 on. Although Booker’s career per-carry efficiency (3.61) is badly lacking, his per-reception average (8.85) is not, and Booker returns as by far the most proven pass-blocking back on the team. Even if Freeman is the favorite for carries and goal-line work, Booker is at worst the front-runner for catches and perhaps overall snaps. He is one of my favorite late-round flyers. Henderson flashed dynamic running ability last preseason, then was relegated to the bench. He is worth stashing in Dynasty leagues in an unproven backfield.

2018 Vegas Win Total

The Broncos’ Win Total opened at 7.0 with -120 odds on the under. Although last year’s Broncos went a forgettable 5-11, they finished an unfortunate 0-3 in their final three one-score games and were undone by a putrid, Siemian/Lynch-quarterbacked offense that ranked 28th in yards per play. Warren Sharp rated Denver with this year’s seventh-softest pass-defense schedule, providing optimism for a passing-game turnaround with Keenum. The AFC West is the most wide open it’s been in years. Outside the division, the Broncos draw a beatable AFC North, uneven NFC West, Houston (home), and the Jets (away). I think Denver is likelier to win 7-9 games than 6-8. I like the over on 7.0.



Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
Email :Evan Silva



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