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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
Browns extremely thin -- and short -- at wide receiver
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(6:19 pm ET) With wideout Josh Gordon facing a one-year suspension, the Browns are dangerously thin at receiver entering 2015. ESPN.com notes the Browns have two returning slot receivers in Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel and "an undersized situational receiver" in 5-10 Travis Benjamin.

Miles Austin is scheduled for unrestricted free agency after catching 47 passes for 568 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games. Tight end Jordan Cameron also is set to be an unrestricted free agent.

Hawkins, a 5-7, 180-pounder, led the team with 63 grabs for 824 yards, with two touchdowns. Cleveland failed to add a wideout in last year's draft but almost certainly must address the position in the 2015 draft.


Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas to practice this week
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:43 pm ET) Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told SiriusXM NFL Radio that cornerback Richard Sherman (elbow) and safety Earl Thomas (shoulder) will practice this week and should be "good to go" for the Super Bowl. Both got hurt in the NFC Championship Game.

Seattle is a 1-point underdog to the Patriots after opening as a 2.5-point favorite.


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(4:48 pm ET) A lot of people inside the NFL are optimistic Jaguars receiver Justin Blackmon is "overcoming his issues" and will be back in the league in 2015, reports Fox Sports. Blackmon got suspended in November 2013 following his third violation of the league's substance-abuse policy.

He checked into a treatment facility last September. General manager Dave Caldwell said recently he hopes Blackmon wins reinstatement, but is not counting on it.


Reports: Josh Gordon tests positive again, facing 1-year ban
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(3:55 pm ET) Browns wideout Josh Gordon tested positive for alcohol and "now will be subject to a one-year banishment," sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter. Gordon was suspended for the first 10 games this season for a repeat violation of the league's drug policy.

Pro Football Talk reports that because of Gordon's past DUI, alcohol was one of the substances for which he was being tested. The website said a one-year suspension is likely a "done deal."

The Browns also suspended Gordon for missing a Saturday walkthrough before the regular-season finale, and CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora reported then the Browns might be ready to part ways with the ultra-talented 23-year-old.

The Browns released the following statement regarding the news: 

"Clearly we are very disappointed to hear the latest report regarding Josh. At this point, due to the confidential nature of the NFL’s substance abuse policy, we have not been made aware by the league of a failed test. We are in the process of gathering more information and will provide further comment at the appropriate time."


Report: Jordan Cameron expected to leave via free agency
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(3:14 pm ET) Browns tight end Jordan Cameron is set to become an unrestricted free agent, and ESPNCleveland.com does not expect him to re-sign with Cleveland. A concussion and shoulder injury limited Cameron to 10 games this season.

The 26-year-old caught 24 passes for 424 yards and two touchdowns after a breakout 2013 season in which he made 80 grabs for 917 yards and seven scores.


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by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:53 pm ET) Patriots starting center Bryan Stork, who missed the AFC title game with a knee injury, practiced Sunday and "continues to show no noticeable signs of injury," reports ESPN.com. The rookie is on track to play in the Super Bowl.

New England is a 1-point favorite over Seattle after opening as a 2.5-point underdog.


Seahawks to make CB Byron Maxwell a free-agency priority
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:29 pm ET) Seahawks general manager John Schneider told the Seattle Times that one of his first priorities will be re-signing corner Byron Maxwell, who is headed for unrestricted free agency. "Now I think he, like a lot of our other unrestricted guys, I think he is going to be highly sought after and he should be," Schneider said.

"But we would at least like to have the opportunity to retain him."

Maxwell, 26, who starts opposite Richard Sherman, had 39 tackles and two interceptions in 13 regular-season games.


Packers' Sam Shields thinks Dez Bryant caught the ball
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(10:11 am ET) Along with the Cowboys, Packers cornerback Sam Shields said he also believes wide receiver Dez Bryant made the catch during the fourth quarter of the NFC divisional game, reports ESPN.

While Shields initially said 'The refs made a good call on that,' he now admits Bryant secured the ball properly.

"It was a catch," Shields said. "But the new rule and at the last minute what happened, that's what the refs came up with. I never said he didn't catch it. He made a helluva catch I was in great coverage. Like I said, it was good on good and he came up with the catch."


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by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(9:36 am ET) Quarterback Brian Hoyer is open to returning to the Browns in 2015, if he is given a chance to compete for the starting role, Hoyer's agent Joe Linta told NBC Sports.

Hoyer started the first 13 games of the season and went 7-6. However, he was replaced by Johnny Manziel.

"I think the only thing that would make him not [want to] come back is if they said Manziel or whoever we take in the draft or whoever we sign in free agency is going to be the starter and you will only be the backup," Linta said.

Hoyer is set to become a free agent in the offseason and Linta added he expects to meet with the Browns soon to discuss their options.


Colts' Andrew Luck considered skipping Pro Bowl
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1/24/2015) After losing 45-7 to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck admitted he thought about not playing in the Pro Bowl, reports The Indianapolis Star.

Luck felt embarrassed after the championship game and had to think about turning around and playing a week later.

"I mean, it is a privilege, but I am hurting in a sense," Luck said. "But I realize it's an honor to be voted in and the fans really enjoy it. So, I did it."

While Luck was proud of his team for advancing to the championship game, he said this season’s playoff loss was worse than the previous two.

"I think every loss in the playoffs leaves a really, really terrible taste in your mouth," Luck said. "But this one has been worse than the other two because we did get so close. And the way we lost, it was just embarrassing."


 
 
 
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