As part of the premium content package, we’re unveiling dynasty capsules for every team in the NFL all Spring and Summer. This year, we also have a precursor to every team capsule, with more detail on one of our favorite pieces – the dynasty sleeper. We continue our alphabetical journey through the NFL with the Denver Broncos.
The Broncos believe their time is now, so they stepped up to secure the services of Peyton Manning during the off-season, apparently unphased by his advancing age and multiple neck surgeries.
Manning takes over an offense that ranked first in rushing but next to last in passing yards. It’s obvious why John Elway left little doubt he would be making a run at the eventual first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback. Manning possess the football IQ, command of the huddle and ability to put an entire offense upon his capable shoulders. Leaving no questions as to the confidence of their decision, the Broncos quickly shipped away Tim Tebow, along with his attached media circus, off to the New York Jets. As a result, Manning will now finish his career as a Bronco.
There’s little to assess here. Should Manning stay healthy, he’ll have at his disposal a young corps of receivers who look more than capable of stepping up their game. Already possessing the top rushing attack, any significant increase in the passing game should vault the Broncos into immediate playoff contention. For fantasy owners, Manning makes for an intriguing selection, both in re-draft and dynasty leagues. The seriousness of Manning’s injury isn’t fully understood and no amount of reassurance will remove the cringe-factor as Manning endures the first hits of the new season. Said to be close to 80-90% heading into July, he’s well on his way to be at or near 100% by the time the season kicks-off in September.
Manning’s career in Denver could span a single game or multiple seasons. A healthy Manning is likely to be a fantasy force for another three to four years. Dynasty owners with a young quarterback should look to Manning as a bridge while eventual starters develop. If he’s available on the cheap, he makes for an intriguing addition. In any case, Manning retains a top grade until proven otherwise. React accordingly.
The 6’7″ Osweiler is the ideal style of prospect to train under Manning and he’s looked at as the future at the position. Manning’s long-term status will largely be dictated by his injury status game-to-game and year-to-year. What is fully understood is that Osweiler is anything other than polished at the position and needs time to develop.
Possessing a great arm, great size and better than expected mobility, Osweiler should advance quickly as he gets to study under arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history. Osweiler can make every throw and stands tall in the pocket. He does get rattled under pressure and tends to over-react when things break down, ultimately affecting his decision-making process. He’s not overly adept at moving through progressions, nor does he appear overly mentally tough, but two seasons of growth would likely prepare Osweiler for his opportunity.
Dynasty owners looking for a deep prospect to develop over multiple years should consider him late in the third round or beyond in rookie drafts as roster space permits.
Hanie had his shot in Chicago but quickly flamed out and found himself on the open market. He found a home in Denver and is in a battle with second year player Adam Weber for the last quarterback spot. Hanie is in a tough position and shouldn’t be rostered in fantasy.
Weber has said to have flashed in camp and is using Manning’s presence to pick up the finer points of the position. He’ll likely never get a chance in Denver, but he’s a name to keep track of as his career develops. He’s the deepest variety of deep prospects.
He isn’t flashy, but McGahee still gets the job done. He sits alone atop the depth chart in Denver and still managed to churn out a 4.8 yards per carry average on 249 rushing attempts in 2011. Only finding the end zone four times on the ground again won’t elicit anything other than low RB2 or high RB3 numbers, but with Manning now at the helm, it’s not hard to imagine an increase in productivity (at least in touchdowns) in 2012. Regardless, McGahee still managed to pound out 1,199 rushing yards last year.
McGahee will turn 31 in 2012 and isn’t likely to see an increase in carries. Denver selected San Diego State’s electric Ronnie Hillman in the 2012 NFL Draft and many believe that Hillman could win a majority of the snaps with his slashing running style and ability as a receiver out of the backfield. Either way, McGahee still figures prominently at the goal line and on early downs. In dynasty, a player like McGahee still holds value as a spot starter or injury replacement. On teams with a deeper running back corps, McGahee can have tremendous value in the flex position of your weekly lineup.
Whether competing for a ring in 2012, or as a handcuff for Hillman owners, McGahee can still be owned and even acquired if the price is right.
The two year player at San Diego State continues to receive a lot of fantasy love after being selected by the Broncos in the third round of the 2012 rookie draft. So much love, in fact, that we’ve seen him go as high as 1.03 in fantasy rookie drafts. That puts Hillman squarely in the over-drafted category in our book.
There’s little denying the quickness of Hillman with the ball in his hands, but he doesn’t have the long speed (4.45) that one would expect when watching him on tape. Additionally, Hillman doesn’t appear to be a quick-twitch runner that lacks patience or vision. Hillman tends to be overly patient at times while waiting for plays to develop and, when in the open field, isn’t overly elusive. But, when seeing a seam, Hillman does a good job of hitting it to get into the secondary where he can use agility to create separation or elude first contact. Not overly strong below the waist, he won’t step out of or run through many tackles. Hillman’s game is definitely at its best in space.
In 2011, Hillman amassed 1,711 yards on 311 attempts, good for a 5.5 yards per carry average. He also chipped in with 24 receptions and another touchdown in the receiving game, but it should be noted that the competition was less than stellar. In two years at SDSU, he compiled 36 rushing touchdowns and 3,243 rushing yards. It’s easy to see what the Broncos were eyeing when they selected Hillman and why many have compared him to another former Aztec star, Marshall Faulk.
Heading into 2012, Denver’s number one NFL ranked ground game should continue to flourish. Coach John Fox relies heavily on the run and the tandem of Hillman and McGahee provides yet another dimension. If Hillman can develop quickly, add strength and be effective in blitz pick up, he’ll get his opportunities early and often.
We’re not overly confident in selecting Hillman in any top five scenario of rookie drafts, but a late first round selection is a worthy risk-reward.
After averaging 4.3 yards per carry on 150 carries over his three productive years, Ball has managed to stick around in the NFL and remains in the mix in Denver. With only the aging Willis McGahee, rookie Ronnie Hillman and out-of-favor Knowshon Moreno ahead of him on the depth chart, Ball is just an injury away from the potential of a much heavier workload. That said, while Ball is capable in all areas, he’s not a dynamic runner nor a back likely to leverage an opportunity into a greater longer term role. In the end, Ball is simply best as a change of pace back.
Head coach John Fox relies on the run and isn’t afraid of having a large stable of running backs to share the load. If injury or effectiveness issues strike at the position, expect Fox to add additional backs via trade or free agency. With his current status on the Broncos, Ball can be rostered in deeper leagues, but that position is very tenuous.
A right ACL injury ended Moreno’s 2011 campaign, but more damage was done when head coach Josh McDaniels was forced out. The former first round selection and likely first overall rookie selection in 2009 has been an utter disappointment. Having yet to top 1,000 yards rushing along with his inability to stay healthy, Moreno never came close to living up to expectations. Now it’s said that he’s fighting for a roster spot.
Soon to be 25 years old, Moreno has a chance to get his career back on track if he’s able to find his way out of Denver and land in a promising situation elsewhere. Whether his lack of production has been due to the altitude, work ethic or system, Moreno needs a change of scenery and a fresh start. He should still be rostered in dynasty leagues and his situation needs to be monitored. If he’s traded to good situation, he’ll get another opportunity. However, dynasty owners won’t want to keep the door open for him long-term. Roster spots are too valuable a commodity to fill with perennial under-performing running backs.
Mario Fannin continues to tease dynasty owners with the potential of what could be. That, however, is primarily due to the running back situation in Denver more than Fannin’s NFL skill set. Fannin does have the size and running style to be productive in John Fox’s scheme but he has yet to hear his name called. We are expecting Fannin to make the roster in 2012 and perhaps win the RB3 role at the expense of Moreno. He can be rostered in deeper dynasty leagues with a hope and a prayer.
Youth has been served at wide receiver in Denver and Thomas finds himself as the the WR1 on the end of Peyton Manning’s bullets. Now fully recovered from an Achilles injury, Thomas looks to log his first fully healthy campaign in 2012. He was flying up draft boards even prior to Manning’s arrival and there is perhaps no hotter commodity at receiver currently than Thomas. Can he stay healthy? Simply put, that’s the biggest question in regards to Thomas.
In his last five games, Thomas amassed 25 receptions for 448 yards and three touchdowns, but his best moment came on an 80 yard catch and run in the playoffs during overtime to end Pittsburgh’s season. Possessing size, hands and speed similar to Calvin Johnson, fantasy owners are drooling as to what could be now with Manning in town. Denver, surprisingly, owns the NFL’s best rushing attack and looks to have significantly upgraded their passing attack, not only with the addition of Manning, but also Manning’s old part-time tight end Jacob Tamme, as well as free agent addition Andre Caldwell. With Eric Decker the unquestioned WR2 across from Thomas, Denver now has the size, speed and quarterback to be a force in both phases of the offense.
It remains to be seen just what Thomas is capable of should he log a fully healthy year, but we are expecting him to push for true WR1 numbers. At this point, however, we would hesitate to hang any tag on Thomas higher than a high-end WR2 until he can prove otherwise.
Possessing a pair of 6’3″ receivers that have the ability to catch everything in sight had to play into Manning’s decision to eventually sign in Denver as well. Entering his third year in the NFL, everyone is expecting 2012 to be Decker’s coming out party.
Decker played in all 16 games in 2011, amassing 44 receptions, 612 yards and eight touchdowns. It’s highly notable that he did this with anything other than consistency at quarterback, ultimately with Tim Tebow at the helm. Tebow, once established at quarterback, obviously preferred Demaryius Thomas over Decker as his first-look. Now with Peyton at the helm, route running and the ability to create separation will dictate who receives the opportunities. In the category of route running and football IQ, we like Decker over Thomas, at least at this juncture. Either way, Peyton Manning has the ability to create fantasy relevance from his top three receivers plus his tight end, meaning that as long as Decker stays healthy again in 2012, he has a chance to secure a WR1 designation, but it shouldn’t be penciled in.
Much like Thomas above, we don’t see Decker as a WR1 and he shouldn’t be drafted as such. Draft him as a slightly lower WR2 with a lot of upside.
See more about Caldwell as we highlight our selection for Denver’s 2012 sleeper.
Stokley was anything but rosterable in fantasy over the past three years, and arguably in the past seven. Not since 2004, when he played with Peyton Manning did Stokley put up fantasy relevant numbers. Now with Manning back in the mix, can Stokley leverage his past chemistry out of the slot to make a run at the WR3 position? Word from camp, thus far, is that Andre Caldwell has the lead for the WR3 with Stokley and Jason Hill a bit behind. We believe Caldwell will win the WR3 role ultimately keeping Stokley on the fantasy waiver wire.
Watch the situation in Denver closely because the WR3 role in a Manning-led offense can be very fantasy relevant.
Now with his third team, Hill finds himself fighting for a roster spot in Denver. Never amassing more than 367 yards receiving (2011), it’s hard to spend any time suggesting something more from Hill in 2012. In all likelihood, he’ll nail down the last receiver slot, but that doesn’t amount to much in dynasty leagues.
Fighting for the last spot on receiver depth chart. Likely a practice squad player, at best.
There’s little doubt that Tamme was brought to Denver due to his chemistry with Manning. In 2010, Tamme turned in a notable performance when Dallas Clark was lost to injury, hauling in 67 receptions for 631 yards and four touchdowns. While not flashy, he does have the ability to be productive. Tamme, not rostered in many leagues in the off-season, has been a second round selection in rookie/free agent drafts. It’s a high price to pay, but a gamble that could well pay off.
It’s arguable which tight end should receive top billing in Denver, as they also brought in the former Houston Texan Joel Dreesen as a worthy competitor for the TE1 position. It’s a camp battle to watch closely as the winner could post fantasy TE1 numbers. While there isn’t much to highlight about Tamme, including his style of play, he’s proven that he has chemistry with Manning and that’s enough for us.
The soon to be 30-year old former Texans tight end was added by Denver in the off-season, much to the delight of Owen Daniels’ dynasty owners. The durable Dreessen teased with relevant fantasy production for the past two years, starting either due to an injury to Daniels or as the TE2 in Houston. While his reception count (28) in 2011 was lower than in 2010 (36), his touchdown total rose by 50% to six. The question for 2012 is what role will he have in Denver’s offense now that Tamme has been added?
It’s hard for us to believe that Dreessen will be a full-time starter as the TE1 in Denver. Manning has too much chemistry with Tamme to keep him on the sidelines. It’s our belief that Tamme and Dreessen will be the two tight ends in Denver’s shift to the two tight end movement made popular by New England. Make no mistake that a Tamme/Dreessen combination represents nothing close to the Gronkowski/Hernandez pairing in New England, but Dreessen is athletic enough to post meaningful numbers if Denver is able to pull it off. Dreessen is flying a bit under the radar currently as all eyes are on Tamme. If Dreessen should somehow win the job outright or find himself with quality snaps, he’ll be a valuable asset off your waiver wire. Watch this battle and the events tied to it closely.
One reception, five yards. Those are Thomas’ career stats to date.
Thomas was a fast riser in drafts in 2011. Big, athletic and from Portland State, many believed Thomas was the second coming of Antonio Gates. Those beliefs were crushed this past off-season as Denver made the move to bring in quality veteran leadership within the position through the signings of Tamme and Dreessen. We believe Thomas is still a worthwhile add in very deep leagues, but he’s likely better left in the free agency pool until such time as there is movement above him. He’s still young, athletic and has a lot of upside.
Battling Thomas for the rights to the TE3 position. Likely a practice squad player.
We’ll continue our team-by-team capsules with the Detroit Lions up next.
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