If things go well for the Broncos, they will be playing for a Super Bowl title in a couple of weeks. If you’ve followed the team closely, this is amazing, considering the season long uncertainty the team has endured at the quarterback position.
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Although he’s clearly a future Hall of Famer, quarterback Peyton Manning just hasn’t been the same player this season. It’s understandable. After all, he is nearing age 40 and lost some important pieces off his offense from the previous season. With that said, there were some obvious signs that Manning was slowing down, including a career low completion percentage and routine weak-armed throws. After Manning appeared bruised and battered, the team announced he would miss some time as they turned to his backup. Eventually, Manning returned to action for the team’s current playoff run, but he and the entire offense have relied on the running game to get them this far. Although Manning is under contract for another season, it is now widely assumed he will retire following the season. Even if Manning does not opt to call it a career, the Broncos would be hard pressed to keep Manning as their starter entering the 2016 season.
After three long seasons of patiently waiting, Broncos’ backup Brock Osweiler finally saw some significant action as he stepped in and took over for an injured Manning. Osweiler started strong, throwing for 250 yards and a pair of touchdowns in his first career start. For the most part, Osweiler was just average from there, though the Broncos kept winning. With the top seed in the AFC on the line, Osweiler flopped in the final game of the regular season. After three first half turnovers, Osweiler was benched and the team was back in Manning’s hands. What makes this entire situation very tricky is that Osweiler is entering free agency following this season. With Manning expected to retire, the Broncos will have to decide if they saw enough from Osweiler’s eight-game stint to reward him with a long-term contract. Considering the weak quarterback market, I expect Osweiler to be back with Denver in 2016, though his ceiling is likely a mid-range QB2.
Denver’s third string quarterback is rookie Trevor Siemian, whom the Broncos drafted in the seventh round of last year’s NFL Draft. Even with the uncertainty ahead of him on Denver’s depth chart, I don’t see Siemian ever being a fantasy factor. If both Manning and Osweiler leave the team this off-season, put this strapping 6-foot-3, 210 pound rookie on your deep watch list.
Running back Ronnie Hillman has been on the radar of dynasty owners since his rookie year in 2012. Either due to injuries or simply being outplayed by his backfield mates, Hillman has never lived up to expectations. This season was different though. For the first time in his career, Hillman played all 16 games and it resulted in a career high 974 yards from scrimmage. Hillman, who had previously been taken out of the game when the Broncos entered the red zone, more than doubled his career touchdown production with seven scores. Like Osweiler, the team finally gets some production from Hillman as he is nearing free agency. While I wouldn’t expect Hillman to be a priority signing for any team, I can see the Broncos wanting to stick with him and have a repeat of this season in which he was able to effectively share the backfield. Of course, that does not bode well for the fantasy prospects of any Denver running back. Regardless of where he lands, Hillman would be a player I would be looking to sell this off-season based on his career best season.
After an amazing run to end the 2014 season, Broncos’ running back CJ Anderson became a near consensus first-round pick in seasonal leagues and a hot asset in dynasty leagues as well. Through the season’s final eight games in 2014, Anderson was the RB1 and looked like a safe bet for a full season of high end production. Instead, Anderson struggled with nagging injuries and the poor quarterback play handcuffed him. Anderson never received more than 15 carries in a game this season and exceeded 100 rushing yards just twice. Despite the overall disappointing season, Anderson has been on a hot streak as the season winds down and might allow the Broncos to let Hillman walk if his price gets too high. Anderson is also a free agent, but the restricted variety, making it very likely he is back with the Broncos in 2016. If Hillman does bolt, Anderson’s value will see a big increase. Regardless of Hillman’s future, I like Anderson as a running back to invest in for contending dynasty teams.
In 2014, Juwan Thompson was a nice surprise as a rookie, totaling nearly 300 yards from scrimmage in a reserve role. Thompson became a hot waiver wire target this off-season, even though he was expected to play behind both Anderson and Hillman. Thompson barely got on the field this season though, managing less than 100 yards from scrimmage, while also dealing with a neck injury that cost him some time in the middle of the season. I still get the feeling that Denver likes Thompson and would feel comfortable using him in they lost one of their top two backs.
While still viewed as one of the top receivers in the league, the dynasty value of Demaryius Thomas took a slight hit this season. With Manning slowing down, many have been concerned about Thomas’ future without the Hall of Famer, but I think we can put that worry to bed after this season. Thomas’ numbers were actually better with Osweiler this season. With the Broncos’ scoring down this season and the offense relying more on the running game, Thomas saw his touchdown numbers drop to a four-year low, but I can see that reverting back to double digits in 2016, even with some uncertainty at quarterback. Thomas’ age (he turned 28 during the season) also has some owners hesitating on the idea of building around the former Georgia Tech star. As someone who almost always builds around youth, I can understand that, but Thomas can still be a league winning player, so if he is being sold below his actual value, I’ll be buying.
When he arrived in Denver, Emmanuel Sanders’ career clearly took a turn in the right direction. After four seasons as a complimentary receiver in Pittsburgh, Sanders joined a crowded depth chart that included Thomas and former Bronco Wes Welker, muddying an already confusing situation. As it turned out though, Sanders has flourished with back to back seasons of over 1,000 yards. His numbers did fall off a bit this season, telling me that it might be Sanders, not Thomas, who we should be worried about post-Manning. Like Thomas, Sanders is 28-years-old, meaning you might get a bit of a discount in both startup drafts and existing leagues this off-season.
With the departure of the aging Welker, the Broncos knew they would need a receiver to step up and they tried many options in that role. Among them was veteran Andre Caldwell, but he was essentially outplayed by a couple of lesser known (and younger) wideouts. Caldwell caught just 10 passes on the season and making that number even less impressive, he only had 72 receiving yards. Caldwell is a free agent and you have to think the team will look to replace him and his (lack of) production.
We all know the Broncos were hoping it would be second year receiver Cody Latimer, their former second-round draft pick, who would step up and claim the job. Instead, he barely even saw the field, catching just six balls all season. Latimer has lost essentially all dynasty value after two seasons of doing next to nothing. While he is under contract for two more years, he’s done nothing to earn a role with this team. Considering they need some youth and upside on their receiver depth chart, I would presume Latimer is back with the team for another season in 2016, but it might be his last. I wouldn’t use a roster spot on him in a dynasty league.
These are the two receivers who actually played well for Denver this season. Unfortunately, I don’t see much of a future for either. The Broncos used them only in desperation mode and will have some work to do this off-season to revamp the back part of their receiver group. Norwood has bounced around the league a bit and is already 29-years-old. He’s entering free agency and is likely interested in staying in Denver. Fowler is a 24-year-old rookie and likely did enough to stick with Denver.
The Broncos were missing production at their tight end position following the departure of Julius Thomas and made some moves to fix that in the past few months. They added veteran Owen Daniels via free agency last off-season and he finished as the team’s top option at the position, catching 46 balls for over 500 yards and three scores. Daniels is due a big raise in 2016 and has a March roster bonus, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the team gave him his walking papers as they continue to look for the answer at tight end.
Denver also made an aggressive move at the trade deadline to acquire Vernon Davis from the 49ers. The soon to be free agent never really made an impact with Denver and continued to struggle with dropped passes, which has often been an issue for Davis. There’s almost no chance Davis is back in Denver, nor should he be on your dynasty roster at this point.
A personal favorite of our own Eric Dickens, Virgil Green enjoyed a career year in 2015. Unfortunately, a career year for Green consisted of just 12 receptions for 173 yards and a touchdown. Green was a favorite of the metrics crowd as he entered the league five years ago, but has been hampered with injuries and inconsistencies with career numbers that would constitute a nice three game streak for Rob Gronkowski. Green’s 2016 salary is more than double his current rate and the team may not see fit to pay that. He’s yet another tight end who could be with a new team in 2016.
So, if Daniels, Davis and Green could all be gone, who will actually get the snaps at tight end in 2016 for the Broncos? One player I’ve been snatching off the waiver wire lately is rookie Jeff Heuerman,who tore his ACL in rookie camp last off-season and never saw the field in 2015. There are some encouraging signs for the former Ohio State big man though. First, Denver spent a third-round pick on him, showing how they valued him through the draft process. Secondly, even after his injury, the Broncos still signed him to a four-year contract, again showing their commitment to Heuerman.