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Offseason Extra: The Peyton Effect

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Denver is the next place Peyton Manning will call home. Of all of his potential landing spots this offseason, it's the best fit for him. He'll be on a well-run team that proved it will do anything and everything to make a Super Bowl run happen in 2012. The offense has pieces in place and the defense has potential to be very stout. The division is winnable.

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For Fantasy purposes, it's also the best fit.

Manning is coming off of multiple neck surgeries that cost him all of the 2011 season and reportedly caused some nerve damage in his throwing arm. No one can say for sure that he's "back," but Manning has worked out for the Broncos, as well as other interested teams, so signs seem to point to Manning being capable of throwing the ball.

Offensive line

Manning lands behind an offensive line that boasts a Pro Bowl left tackle in Ryan Clady, an up-and-coming right tackle in Orlando Franklin but not much else. The line is probably considered a bit below-average after allowing 42 sacks last year (eight teams allowed more) and finishing 31st in ProFootballFocus.com's Pass Blocking Efficiency Rankings. To be fair, Tim Tebow was sacked 33 of those 42 times (three per start) whereas Kyle Orton was sacked the other nine times over five games (almost two per start). The O-line isn't quite as bad as these stats make them out to be, and chances are long-time Colts teammate Jeff Saturday will be added to steer the big men from the center spot and keep Manning protected. There's room for improvement there but it shouldn't be considered a weakness.

Wide receivers

There's not as much room for improvement from the receiving corps. Denver's fortunate to have one of the league's most explosive young talents in Demaryius Thomas, who was a big reason for Tebow's success in 2011. Thomas totaled 42 catches for 844 yards (a sick 20.1 yard average) and five touchdowns over 13 games (includes the postseason). And that's with Tebow, a career 47.3 percent passer, at the helm. Significant injuries have slowed Thomas down considerably in the past, so he's a bit of an injury risk, but his potential with Manning is sky-high.

The Broncos have another big weapon in Eric Decker, who didn't play quite as well with Tebow as Thomas did but also didn't have many opportunities to do well due to how Tebow went through his reads and his own injuries slowing him down. He doesn't quite have the explosiveness of Thomas but is a good volume-type receiver who can find mismatches in the end zone that Manning will like.

The Broncos added a quality possession-type receiver in Andre Caldwell, and he's a candidate to work exclusively in the slot and be a chain-moving option for Manning in the mold of Austin Collie. Caldwell doesn't have much speed and has missed time with injuries, so he's not exactly a great choice. He could catch 50 passes and be useful in PPR leagues.

We could see the Broncos add some more speed and depth to their receiving corps, but Thomas and Decker should catch the majority of Manning's passes. Jason Hill is a potential sleeper (he had some good moments as the Jaguars' top receiver for part of last season) but he's not yet worth drafting. Thomas should be drafted as a very solid No. 2 Fantasy receiver based on his potential (he could potentially be the best receiver in Fantasy if he can stay healthy and mesh with Manning); Decker should be drafted as a quality reserve with potential to finish as a Top 30 producer.

Tight ends

There was talk that Dallas Clark would sign with the Broncos, giving Manning another familiar face to throw to, but he hasn't signed as of yet. Instead, another Colts tight end joined the Broncos, and he might be even better and is definitely healthier. That would be Jacob Tamme.

Tamme had just 177 yards on 19 catches in 2011 with one score last year, but he worked behind starter Dallas Clark in a Manning-less Colts offense. Instead, our focus is on his 2010 numbers: In 10 games without Dallas Clark, Tamme caught 67 passes for 631 yards and four touchdowns.That's a lot more attractive.

The Broncos have also reportedly signed ex-Texans tight end Joel Dreessen, who is good as an in-line blocker and No. 2-type receiver. He'll vulture some touchdowns from Tamme and the rest of the Denver offense but he'll ultimately benefit Manning. Tamme's the one we're looking at as a potential breakout, well worth a middle- to late-round pick as a borderline No. 1 Fantasy tight end to start the year.

Running backs

The track record of running backs with Peyton Manning is pretty obvious: Marshall Faulk (one), Edgerrin James (five), Joseph Addai (two) and Dominic Rhodes (one) have all run for over 1,000 yards with Manning under center. Only four times has a running back not had 1,000 rush yards while with Manning; two were because of injuries (2008 and 2010) and two still totaled over 1,100 yards (James in 2002, Addai in 2009). And in Manning's 14 seasons in Indianapolis, his running backs have totaled at least a dozen touchdowns 11 times. Point being, if you run in Peyton Manning's offense, you're going to have a great shot at some very good numbers.

That jells with how successful running backs have been on John Fox-coached teams. Last season the Broncos led the NFL in rushing thanks in large part to Tebow's 660 rush yards, but Willis McGahee outperformed expectations with 1,199 rush yards of his own. He only scored four times on the ground (five times total) but was largely considered a huge success. Combine the Broncos' already-strong run game and run principles with how rushers have done playing with Manning and there's a lot to like about whoever runs the ball in Denver.

But that would mean we're assuming that there will be one guy running. That's a terrible assumption. McGahee is likely to get some company. The Broncos probably didn't envision McGahee rushing nearly 250 times last season -- he averaged effectively 10 carries per game when Knowshon Moreno played. The belief is that the Broncos will add another back and thus put a cap on McGahee's expectations this year. The younger and fresher the running back, the less appealing McGahee will be for Fantasy owners. Figure McGahee to end up as a No. 3 option and be a potentially decent mid-round draft pick.

Knowshon Moreno is coming off of a torn ACL and could struggle to be ready for the start of the season. There are already murmurs about his time in Denver being up even if he comes back strong from the injury. Lance Ball is a nice role player who pitched in admirably last season but the Broncos probably wouldn't want to lean on him. Again, look for the Broncos to add some talent here, and for whoever that talent is to be a good Fantasy option.

Placekicker

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You might think that the kicker associated with Peyton Manning's teams in Indy was a lock to be among the best at his position in Fantasy. But it's not the case. In the 13 seasons Manning played for the Colts, his kicker finished as a Top 10 option seven times.

Matt Prater is the Broncos' placekicker, a job he's had for four years. In those four years he's finished as a Top 10 kicker in Fantasy just once. Not all of that is his fault as the Broncos offense was a mess over the last two years. He's hit 80 percent of his field goals over that time, which isn't bad but isn't great either. To his credit, he's nailed 12 of 16 field goals from 50-plus yards. Prater's fine with a final-round pick but don't be married to him if he's not productive right away.

And finally ... Quarterback

In the past, Manning was considered as safe as they come. But after being out for a year and having issues with his arm while recovering from neck surgery, there's obviously some risk. Tack on Manning being in a new city with new teammates (and probably his old offense) and he's not the easy choice he once was.

Many are nervous about an injury ending his season early and it's all right to be cautious with Manning for now. Roughly one out of every two Fantasy owners I polled on Twitter said they need to see more from Manning before being confident enough to draft him. Those jittery owners should indeed see more.

If Manning is the guy we once came to know and love, we'll see it before the start of the season. He'll take part in training camp and preseason games (Manning values scrimmaging to work out any kinks in the offense). If he looks as good as we remember, he'll be in the discussion as the seventh quarterback taken in drafts, right behind brother Eli, in Round 3 or 4. If he's not quite as smooth but clearly on track to play, he'll be more of a fifth-round pick with the likes of Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger. And if he's not playing at all but still expected to be ready for the season, Fantasy owners might start gambling with him starting in Round 6 or 7.

And if he's not practicing and if there aren't encouraging reports, Fantasy owners should run away from him.

Between now and then, play it cool and take a wait-and-see approach. But know this: no one knows better the importance of good quarterback play than Broncos vice president and Hall of Famer John Elway. If he's making a $96 million bet on Manning, then it can be assumed that he's satisfied with where the quarterback is at in his recovery is glad to trust him with the Broncos offense. If it's good enough for John, why shouldn't it be good enough for us?

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard and on Facebook .

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Player News
Bills move Corey Graham to safety
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2:01 am ET) The Bills have moved cornerback Corey Graham to safety, the Buffalo News reports.

Graham said that he and the team have discussed the move all offseason and decided to give the position change a try on Tuesday when the team held its first workout of OTAs.

"He’s got that unique ability where he can do both things," coach Rex Ryan said. "So let’s see what we have out there. And this is no slam on Duke or on Rambo or on Meeks or any of those guys, but this is us doing what’s best for the team. And if that means we feel good about [Graham] playing safety, then that’s where he’ll be."

Graham is enthusiastic about playing the safety position full-time.

"I want to try to really learn it and see where it goes, see how much my grasp is, see how I’m playing at it, see where it can take me," he said. "I look forward to it. It’s a challenge for me, but I’m actually very excited about it."

Graham recorded 84 total tackles last season, his first in Buffalo, while intercepting two passes.


Vikings' Bridgewater 'extremely comfortable' with leadership role
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/27/2015) Vikings second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is embracing his role as leader of the offense, the Star Tribune reports.

"I’m a young guy still on the team, but guys are pushing me forward to say something in the huddle, or break the team down, or break the offense down," Bridgewater said. "That just gives you that confidence in yourself, confidence in your leadership and I’ve been extremely comfortable doing that so far."

Coach Mike Zimmer is satsfied with the work Bridgewater has done during the offseason.

"It’s hard to never not be pleased with Teddy because he’s such a hard worker," Zimmer said. "We wanted him to get bigger and stronger; he looks a little bit bigger to me. He’s always worked real hard. The leadership things are starting to come better. I think he’s been doing a good job the two days we’ve been out here against the defense."

Bridgewater made 12 starts in his rookie season and played 13 games in all, racking up 2,919 yards, 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions while completing 64.4 percent of his passes.


Broncos WR Emmanuel Sanders hoping to reach 1,000 yards
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(5/27/2015) Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders believes the new offensive scheme in Denver will effect his numbers, accoridng to the team's website.

Sanders is working with new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison and coach Gary Kubiak to install the team's new offense and noted it's very different from last year's spread attack.

"You talk about going from a no-huddle offense to an offense that's huddling up, to an offense that is predicated off running a football and then throwing it. It's different," Sanders said. 

"It's a totally different set up, but I tell you what, the more and more I'm in it," said Sanders. "Because we can get the run game going and just use my vertical speed on cross routes and all these different combinations of routes is based off the play action, then I think the offense will be successful with Peyton Manning at the helm."

Sanders, who totaled 1,404 yards and nine touchdowns in 2014, doesn't think he'll accomplish the same numbers.

"Of course obviously it's not going to be one of those offenses, well I'm praying that it is, but obviously it's not going to be one of those offenses where you catch it and you're going to have two receivers catching over 100 passes," said Sanders. "Hopefully, my goal is really to try to get a 1,000 yards to just help this team win ball games."


Cowboys rookie La'el Collins taking reps at RT in OTAs
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(5/27/2015) Cowboys rookie offensive lineman La'el Collins started offseason team activities on Wednesday taking reps at right tackle, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Collins, who was signed as an undrafted free agent, could also see time at left guard. But the rookie is taking his first reps with the team at right tackle with Darrion Weems while Doug Free recovers from ankle surgery.

"We think he has the physical ability to play a couple of different spots," coach Jason Garrett said. "He was a tackle for most of his career in college but did play guard. We see him as a guy who can maybe do both of those things as he goes.

"The big thing for him is to try to get him acclimated as quickly as we can. So right now he's going to play right tackle for us. He and Darrion Weems are competing at that spot in Doug Free's absence and we'll just see how that unfolds." 


Vikings' Adrian Peterson on absence from OTAs: 'It's business'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/27/2015) Vikings running back Adrian Peterson said in a statement on Wednesday that his absence from OTAs has "nothing to do with wanting to be traded," ESPN reports.

"The reason I'm not attending OTAs has nothing to do with wanting to be traded. It's about securing my future with the Vikings. It's business, not personal and I understand that firsthand. Go Vikings."

It was reported earlier Wednesday that coach Mike Zimmer said that Peterson could "either play for us or not play." The running back has expressed frustration with team management for not showing him support during his legal case for child abuse.


Report: Falcons' Dezmen Southward undergoes knee surgery
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(5/27/2015) Falcons defensive backs Dezmen Southward underwent a minor-knee operation Wednesday, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Southward did not attend Tuesday's OTA and it is not known how long he'll be sidelined.


Julius Thomas trying to fit into Jaguars' offense
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(5/27/2015) Jaguars tight end Julius Thomas said after Wednesday's organized team activity that he intends to make it work with quarterback Blake Bortles, reports The Florida Times-Union.

"There is no 'Here's me coming in, and Blake's going to get on my page.' I'm going to be on Blake's page," Thomas said. "Whatever he expects, that's what I am going to do. He's the quarterback. He's the one in control of that huddle, and I like catching passes so I will make sure I do exactly what he wants."

With Thomas entering his first season with the Jaguars, he said it will take time to develop a rapport with Bortles.

"I think that getting good chemistry with a quarterback probably takes a couple of thousand passes," Thomas said.


Cowboys RB Darren McFadden not concerned with playing time
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(5/27/2015) With the Cowboys just beginning their organized team activities this week, running back Darren McFadden said he just wants to concentrate on becoming familiar with the team, reports the team's official website.

"For me, I'm just going out there grinding," he said. "However the coaches put me out there – whether it's first team or second team. When it comes time for them to make a decision, it's totally up to them. I'm just trying to get that playbook down and take advantage of this opportunity."

McFadden is competing with Joseph Randle to be the first-team running back, and he said he just wants to work hard and not worry about how many repetitions he's receiving with the first team.

"Once you've been in a place so long like Oakland, you can get set in your ways," McFadden said Wednesday, after his second OTA practice with the Cowboys. "Coming out here and being around guys that work so hard, it just brings out the best in you. It's something I look forward to."


Chiefs' Mike Catapano on his health: I feel better than ever
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(5/27/2015) After missing the entire 2014 season with a gastrointestinal virus, Chiefs defensive end Mike Catapano was able to participate in the team's OTA on Wednesday, reports The Kansas City Star.

"Every time I step on the field now it's with purpose and with extra vigor that I never really had," Catapano said. "It feels great. I feel better than ever."

Catapano played in 15 games during his rookie season in 2013 and he totaled four tackles and one sack. He said he's ready to surpass that in 2015.

"I'm ready to show that I offer a lot to this team. I'm ready to step up in big situations and starting situations," Catapano said. "I just want to keep getting better every day… and play to the best of my abilities."


Broncos' Manning, Sanders keeping up with Thomas during holdout
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/27/2015) Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas is holding out of offseason workouts while he continues to negotiate a long-term deal with the team, but teammates Emmanuel Sanders and Peyton Manning have been keeping up with the star receiver, the Denver Post reports.

"One thing a lot of people don’t realize is when you’re playing on a one-year deal, there’s a lot of things going through your head," Sanders said. "As much as you guys want to say, ‘Don’t think about it,' of course it’s going to cross your mind because you’re talking about a lot of money at stake. When you’re playing these one-year deals, it’s a lot of stress on you. No matter how much you don’t want it to be, it’s going to happen. We’re all human."

Manning would like to have Thomas in workouts but understands the business aspects of his decision.

"I keep up with Demaryius. He’s my buddy," Manning said. "They got that business side of it to work out, but he’s been a great teammate to me, been a great friend to me since I’ve been here in Denver, so I keep up with him. Obviously want him to get back here as soon as possible, but we want what’s best for him, and he certainly deserves what’s best for him."

Thomas has started 16 games for three straight season, topping 90 receptions, 1,400 yards and 10 touchdowns in each.


 
 
 
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