2018 Stats (Rank)
Total Offense: 5,602 yards (19th)
Offensive Touchdowns: 37 (19th)
Offensive Plays: 1,015 (13th)
Pass Attempts + Sacks: 622 (9th)
Rush Attempts: 393 (21st)
Unaccounted for Targets: 104 (21st)
Unaccounted for Carries: 27 (27th)
All signs point to an overall renaissance in Denver as rookie head coach Vic Fangio brings along first-time play-caller Rich Scangarello, the latter who will undoubtedly attempt to mimic what he sponged from Kyle Shanahan’s zone-run scheme in his last two years as San Francisco’s quarterbacks coach. A relative unknown in the space, Scangarello’s resume includes coordinating four separate quarterbacks (Jimmy Garoppolo, C.J. Beathard, Nick Mullens, Brian Hoyer) to a combined 159 play-action dropbacks in 2017 and 158 in ‘18, both totals checking in as top-five marks in their respectful seasons. Front-five guru Mike Munchak will unsurprisingly work closely with Scangarello despite the former’s failed tenure as Tennessee’s head coach himself. It would make sense to have a pocket-stretching scrambler at their disposal given the assumed fake-handoff tendencies under center, but GM John Elway instead acquired cement-footed Joe Flacco via a fourth-round pick-for-player swap in February. He at the very least opens camp familiar with the Shanahan/Gary Kubiak coaching tree stemming from his time with the new Vikings advisor when their paths crossed in Baltimore in 2014. Denver still faces an uphill battle on paper as their offense is forecasted to face the eighth-toughest schedule of any team this year.
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Only one year after signing veteran stopgap Case Keenum to a two-year, $36 million contract, the Broncos washed their hands of the final year of the 31-year-old’s deal by shipping him to Washington for a 2020 sixth-round pick. Keenum was not without his flaws, finishing 27th-overall in completion rate (62.3 percent) on the heels of a nauseating average of 6.6 yards per attempt behind Denver’s mish-mash of healthy o-line pieces, but those aforementioned tallies still comically eclipsed acquired-starter Flacco’s production (61.2 percent, 6.5 YPA) in the latter’s nine nods before being benched in Baltimore in Week 10. Unfortunately for the Broncos, Flacco’s poor showing last season is nothing new; per Warren Sharp, the 34-year-old veteran’s ranked stone-last in yards per attempt and touchdown-to-interception ratio among all full-time starters over the last five seasons. What the former Fighting Blue Hen does bring to the table, however, is predictable intent. At the time of his benching last year, Flacco was quietly tied with Patrick Mahomes for the league-lead in attempts thrown 20-plus yards downfield (52) and third-overall in air yards (1,417). That over-the-top approach is not only forecastable, it’s now plausible behind Denver’s (slightly) upgraded trenches consisting of free agent gem Ja’Wuan James and No. 41 overall pick Dalton Risner, the former who’s only one season removed from finishing 21stamong 123 qualifying tackles in pass-blocking at Pro Football Focus. Conner McGovern remains the looming question mark at center as he was wrecked in his stint at that position in place of now-Panthers starter Matt Paradis from Week 9 on. Despite that small glimpse of hope for Denver’s receivers, Flacco’s statuesque abilities are bound to get pushed for scary-floor rookie Drew Lock to garner late-season developmental reps, keeping the 11-year pro as an easy choice to leave rotting on the wire for the entirety of season-long play. Apologies to all 2-quarterback league owners who are cornered into holding their nose and taking him as an emergency reserve.
Last year’s No. 40 overall pick Courtland Sutton did admittedly fall victim to numerous downfield interference calls and a nagging late-season quad injury, but his poor rookie showing went far beyond that as the 93rd-percentile SPARQ specimen posted an abysmal 50% catch rate en route to finishing second (9) only to Michael Crabtree (11) in total drops and ranking 70thamong 86 qualifiers in PFF’s predictive Yards Per Route Run (1.32) metric. Initially trapped behind Demaryius Thomas until the veteran was shipped to Houston in Week 8, Sutton closed the second half of the season ranked 23rdin air yards (643) but 43rdin actual fantasy output (73.7 points). At 6’3/218,Sutton is a positive regression candidate set to become a downfield-favorite for Flacco’s wounded-duck 50/50-balls. The 23-year-old’s weekly box scores project to aggravatingly range similarly to DeSean Jackson’s.
Initially boxed-out by Emmanuel Sanders’ 62.6% slot presence through Denver’s first 12 games, fourth-rounder DaeSean Hamilton (6’1”/203) meandered on the pine with only seven targets and 94 routes run (7.8 per game) to show to that point. Penn State’s leader in career receptions inevitably skyrocketed once Sanders went down, tying Julio Jones and Julian Edelman for the sixth-most targets (37) accumulated over the final four weeks of the season. Working from the slot on 73.8% of his snaps to close the year, Hamilton arguably pushes Sanders to the outside in three-wide sets even if both are available in Week 1. I have Hamilton confidently penciled in as Denver’s leader in targets this year.
Sanders was predictably featured in ’18 given Keenum’s propensity to lean on his slot guy, but it’s not so easy predicting the receiver’s role this upcoming year. Not even expected to return until mid-July, Sanders is arguably the odd-man out in any two-wide personnel despite posting a video of himself running routes on Instagram in early June. Color me skeptical a 32-year-old coming off an Achilles’ tear — his second consecutive season-ending injury — is a safe bet for production. As it stands, he’s merely viable as a late-round shot in the dark. His pending availability additionally leaves the door wide open for intriguing UDFA Tim Patrick to work on the outside with Denver’s first-string in camp.
Matt LaCosse’s departure to New England vacates 34% of the Broncos’ tight end snaps from last year. Not that it matters: the team nabbed 80-inch wingspan phenom Noah Fant at No. 20 overall with the sole reason of featuring him. A seam-stretcher from the slot alongside No. 8 overall pick T.J. Hockenson at Iowa, Denver will reportedly position Fant in-line at times just to keep him on the field. Jeff Heuerman, who led the team in targets inside the 10 (7) last year, former fifth-rounder Jake Butt, and OTAs standout Troy Fumagalli will all see time, but it’s Fant who’ll ultimately get the lion’s share of red zone work. He’s my Best-Ball TE24 with obvious room for upside.
Against all odds, undrafted Phillip Lindsay beat out envisioned third-round bellcow Royce Freeman, 2017 sixth-rounder De’Angelo Henderson, and third-down back Devontae Booker to finish as fantasy’s RB12 and notch the first UDFA rookie Pro Bowl invite in league history. Undoubtedly a stud talent-wise, Lindsay’s 2019 outlook remains concerning as his wiry 5’7”, 184-pound frame has already led to one disastrous wrist injury that sidelined him in Denver’s season finale and throughout offseason activities. Broncos insider Cecil Lammey speculated Lindsay may not be ready for camp by July 17, firmly putting Freeman on fantasy radars as an opportunity-driven RB3/FLEX and better overall value-based selection in the mid-rounds over Lindsay. Freeman merely got 20 targets as he was pigeon-holed into short-yardage duties in his rookie year, but previously flashed pass-catching chops at Oregon averaging 10.3 yards per catch on 79 collegiate receptions. NFL Network’s James Palmer came away from his offseason sit down with Elway confident Freeman would out-carry Lindsay in ’19 because the team “feels like they have a good 1-2 punch.” Despite the team’s woes in pass-pro, Denver’s line finished sixth-overall in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards (4.75) just last year. Devontae Booker saw seven targets without Lindsay in Week 17, but only averaged 2.9 in the 15 games leading up to it.
Denver’s strength in 2019 will remain their defense as Vic Fangio was given CBs Kareem Jackson and Bryce Callahan (not to mention bumping Chris Harris’ salary to keep him happy) to move around behind an already-stout pass-rushing duo in Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. Unfortunately, it may not matter as the Broncos are slated to face a league-high eight top-10 opponents based on Vegas’ Projected Win Totals this upcoming season. There’s not enough value on either the Over (-110) or Under (-110) to chase, though I lean Under if forced to choose.