Look around the league and you’ll have a difficult time finding a more unsettled team than the Denver Broncos. From the coaching, quarterback, receiver, defense and even at running back, many questions remain.
I had intended to write this piece about Denver’s running backs and what to expect in the near future. But in surveying the situation as a whole, it’s obvious that a more macro approach is in order. Coming off a disappointing 4-12 2010 campaign, change is on the wind. With an offense that struggled to find consistency and a defense that was consistently bad, the Broncos have their work cut out for them. A trip to the Super Bowl in 2011 certainly isn’t in the cards in 2011, but Denver fans are as supportive and fanatical as they come and there are plenty of reasons to remain hopeful about the future with the recent youth movement that is now under way.
Make no mistake, the Broncos are looking to move beyond quarterback Kyle Orton as quickly as they can get any reasonable offer. It has been said that Orton will not be moved unless significant compensation is returned but don’t believe for a second that it is not understood that Orton is not considered an elite signal caller. To his credit Orton has proven to be a sufficient game manager and in his time both with the Bears and the Broncos, he has performed admirably, notching a 59:33 TD/INT ratio. One could even argue that Orton has well outplayed his perceived value. However, in the wings awaits the dynamic Tim Tebow and Denver simply has to get Tebow on the field in order to determine what can be expected from him going forward. With little pressure to make a deep playoff run in 2011, Tebow is the odds-on favorite to be under center week one. For Orton, look for him to land in the city that loses the Kevin Kolb bidding war, be it Arizona or Seattle. Arizona is said to like Orton well enough, but they could simply be using the name as leverage.
For Tebow, I believe he can be a capable quarterback but he must get defensive support that would allow him to manage the game, as opposed to constantly playing from behind. Tebow’s allure still resides in his ability to create on the move but he is most dangerous when it’s not expected. Tebow’s upside likely remains in the low teens within his position over the longer term and I don’t project him more than a solid QB2 or spot bye-week fill-in.
At running back, new head coach John Fox is actively looking for an additional body to take the load off injury prone Knowshon Moreno. No doubt Fox is watching current Panther back DeAngelo Williams’ situation closely. Williams is looking for his last professional contract and one has to believe that he’ll be searching for the best balance of compensation and Super Bowl potential. Competition wise, at least, Denver is on the outside looking in as it relates to landing Williams if, or when, the time comes. For Moreno, whether his underwhelming production is due to poor down and distance situations at the hands on an inconsistent offense or lack of elite talent, it’s obvious that Denver’s brass doesn’t believe he’s the long term answer.
In fantasy, Moreno’s value is in steady decline. Once thought of as a potential RB1, speed concerns, injury and general lack of production have all taken their toll. Moreno still appears in our top 20 of dynasty backs, but 2011 will be pivotal. A time share is on the way and should the Broncos add a noteworthy back, Moreno’s statistics will likely pay the price yet again. Behind Moreno, Lance Ball continues to offer some level of intrigue and the younger Jeremiah Johnson has shown flashes of ability while in Houston. Should the Broncos not be able to add a back of any significance, Ball would be first in line to pick up the slack. At 5-9 and 220 pounds, Ball has flashed some ability himself but isn’t the receiver that Moreno is.
At wide receiver, no one could have predicted what 2010 produced. Eight year veteran, Brandon Lloyd channeled his inner Calvin Johnson on his way to a 1,448 yard, 11 TD 2010 campaign. This performance by Lloyd nearly doubled his previous seven years of statistics. Looking beyond Lloyd finds a pair of 2010 rookies Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, as well as Eddie Royal and ten year veteran Jabar Gaffney. Thomas has been a significant disappointment already in his short career and is likely to miss half of the 2011 season due to an off-season Achilles tear. With the continued sub-par performance of Eddie Royal, Eric Decker may be receiver to buy-low currently. Heading into his second year, Decker is going to see the field and has the size and ball skills to take advantage of his time. Expectations must be kept low, but a sneaky addition of Decker on the cheap is advised. Eddie Royal will likely have the opportunity to play Denver’s version of Steve Smith for new coach John Fox. While not as physical or dynamic as Smith, Royal is not without ability and, as a fourth year receiver, his time is now.
As for Lloyd, we simply aren’t buying the production. We don’t expect a full return to anonymity for Lloyd, either, and we currently have him ranked as the 27th best dynasty receiver heading into 2011. Many will argue that this is far too low, and while it may end up being the case, we are comfortable with this ranking for the soon-to-be 30 year old receiver. Unless you are certain to be competing for your league trophy in the next two years, sell high!
As obvious as it is that coach Fox is looking for additional play makers at the running back position, it’s even moreso at TE. During the 2011 NFL draft, Fox selected two athletic but raw TEs: 1) Julius Thomas out of Portland State and 2) Virgil Green from Nevada-Reno. Having watched a bit of both, especially Julius Thomas, it’s easy to see what Fox has seen. Both are gifted athletes and receivers, but will offer little as in-line blockers. I have been intrigued with Green for some time now and believe he has the higher upside of the two, but Thomas as a former basketball player must be watched. With five tight ends on the roster, look for veteran Daniel Coats to open up the season as the starter only to see his reps drop as the Bronco’s playoff hopes fade.
On defense, the Broncos were simply bad. Holding or battling for last in most all defensive categories, defensive head coach John Fox was brought in for a reason. No time was wasted during the NFL draft as Fox quickly selected standout play-making linebacker Von Miller 2nd overall. With six of nine rookie picks on the defensive side of the ball, it is well known what Fox’s focus and charge will be in 2011.
Linebacker D.J. Williams remains the most prolific fantasy scorer and should remain so in 2011. With Von Miller slotted to play as a strong-side OLB in Denver’s 3-4 scheme, Miller will be asked to show his pass rush ability in nickel packages. Linebackers in this type of system can score on occasion, but consistency is always as issue. Miller is worthy of a rookie pick but not in your first three rounds. Speaking rather broadly, Denver’s defensive side of the ball should be mostly avoided, with the exception of D.J. Williams.
2010 was not kind to the Denver Broncos and 2011 isn’t likely to offer much more success. A commitment to youth and rebuilding will take two to three years to ultimately produce fruit but the Broncos have a coach that can accomplish just that. To wit, the Broncos have, indeed, begun to assemble notable young players that should provide the foundation needed for further team development.
But for all things fantasy related, at least for the time being, it’s best if you stay a mile away from mile high.