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2012 Fantasy outlooks: Denver Broncos

Senior Fantasy Writer
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When most teams lose in the second round of the playoffs, they typically re-tool the roster as necessary without making major changes. The Broncos replaced their quarterback of the future with someone else's quarterback of the past and present.

Go figure that John Elway, the Broncos' Hall of Fame quarterback and current Executive Vice President of Football Operations, would jump at the chance to sign Peyton Manning. After chasing him and signing him, the Broncos jettisoned last year's hero -- Tim Tebow -- and steered the direction of the franchise in a whole new direction.

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But it's not a cinch for Elway: Manning had multiple surgeries to repair his neck last year, surgeries that ultimately cost him his 2011 season with the Colts. When Indianapolis released Manning, it wasn't because the team thought he was done -- it was done to make room for Andrew Luck. But no one in Indianapolis or Denver or anywhere in between can say with absolute certainty that Manning will be healthy for 16 games given the state of his neck. One big hit and ... well, we'd just assume not think about it.

But that doesn't seem to matter to many Fantasy owners, especially after Manning threw with trademark accuracy and almost all of his velocity during offseason camps with his new teammates. Armed with a pair of exciting young receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, Manning should be in good shape to reclaim his 4,000-yard, 25-touchdown form. In this day and age of football that's pretty good but not elite production. Manning will likely get drafted accordingly.

With Manning's arrival, the entire focus of the offense changes. Last season the Broncos led the NFL in rushing attempts and yardage because of the scheme that best suited Tebow. You can bet your Rocky Mountain Oysters the Broncos will try more than the league-low 429 pass attempts they had in 2011.

With Manning, the Fantasy draft plan is simple: Until we see him look like his old self in the preseason, aim for him with a pick in Round 6 or so. If you draft early on that could pay off because once Manning makes some highlights against live competition his stock will soar. Potentially, he could be a Round 3 selection just before the start of the season.

Fantasy Value Chart
Player Draft Day value Estimated round
Quarterbacks
Peyton Manning 6
Running Backs
Willis McGahee 6
Ronnie Hillman 10
Knowshon Moreno ND
Wide Receivers
Demaryius Thomas 4
Eric Decker 7
Andre Caldwell ND
Tight Ends
Jacob Tamme 9
Joel Dreessen ND
Kickers/Defense
Matt Prater 14
Broncos DST ND
ND - not expected to get drafted

Breakout ... Demaryius Thomas, wide receiver
This one is obvious on the surface: Top playmaking wide receiver on a team that adds a quarterback with a laser-rocket arm. But Thomas has scary potential -- Calvin Johnson-like potential. We're not just saying that because they went to the same college, but because they're both big, strong, fast receivers that are tough to match up with. Thomas has never played regularly at 100 percent with a good quarterback, much less a passer like Manning, so there's some untapped potential here. Though he's an injury risk given his preseason issues over the last two years, he's in his third NFL season and should be acclimated to what he sees in coverage by now. And he clearly has the skills to catch mid-range and deep passes and burn past defenders. If there ever was a breakout candidate to get behind, Thomas is it. Round 4 isn't too early to take him.

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Sleeper ... Jacob Tamme, tight end
If Thomas is roaming as the big-play receiver and Eric Decker does his thing on the other side of the field, then the offense is just a tight end away from being similar to what Manning has been operating in throughout his career. Tamme not only should be that tight end, but he's a guy who followed Manning to Denver from Indianapolis and is the only young pass catcher on the roster with experience working with the quarterback. In 2010 when Dallas Clark got hurt, Tamme stepped up and caught 67 passes for 631 yards over 10 games with four touchdowns. Two years later, Tamme has the potential to exceed those numbers in 16 games. Figure him to line up all over the place and be used in matchup situations against smaller, slower defenders. His potential is good enough to draft him as a starting Fantasy tight end once the rounds get to double digits.

Bust ... Willis McGahee, running back
On the basic premise that the Broncos won't run as much as they did last season, you cannot expect another big campaign from McGahee. Averaging an unbelievable 4.8 yards per carry on 249 tries, McGahee's four rushing touchdowns came on 249 reps with another touchdown among his 12 receptions. His total yardage? 1,250. Turning 31 this October and creeping up to 2,000 career carries, McGahee would have to keep drinking from the fountain of youth while fending off rookie Ronnie Hillman and low-end veterans Lance Ball and Knowshon Moreno to even put up good numbers. McGahee finished 2011 as a low-end No. 2 rusher but shouldn't be counted on this season as anything more than a No. 3 with limited upside. Figure that McGahee is a running back you settle for, not aim to have on your roster.

Schedule breakdown

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
PIT @ATL HOU OAK @NE @SD bye NO @CIN @CAR SD @KC TB @OAK @BAL CLE KC

Tough start for the Broncos going up against the Steelers, Falcons and Texans in Weeks 1 through 3. After that, the Broncos appear to be in for some shootouts with consecutive games against the Patriots, Chargers, Saints and Bengals (three of which are on the road). The good stretch for Peyton Manning & Co. comes at the end of the year with a five-game stretch that offers only a game at Baltimore as a challenge for this offense. It's a good but hectic schedule.

Training camp topics

2011 Touches Leaders
Player Touches
Willis McGahee 249 carries, 12 catches
Lance Ball 96 carries, 16 catches
Knowshon Moreno 37 carries, 11 catches
Eric Decker 44 catches, 1 carry
Demaryius Thomas 32 catches, 1 carry

Manning's arm will be dissected daily by the media hordes, that much is certain. But assuming he's back to his old self, the talk around the team will go away from Manning's arm and to the Broncos' hands. Thomas and Decker have their spots sewn up and Tamme should see a lot of playing time, but Joel Dreessen was also added this offseason to serve as a threat and could take some work away from Tamme (and the receivers). There's also a battle for the third receiver spot between Andre Caldwell and Brandon Stokley, two receivers with good hands but questionable speed. Unless a receiver emerges in camp, we could see a lot of the two-tight end set from the Broncos this year.

Meanwhile, it's safe to assume we'll see only one running back on the field at a time, typical for a Manning-led offense. McGahee might get the bulk of work at first but there are plenty of people who will be nipping at his heels for snaps in camp. Ronnie Hillman is a back in the Marshall Faulk mold (he even broke some of Faulk's records at San Diego State). Knowshon Moreno is still on the team and could stay there if he proves that he's over his torn ACL injury last season. Lance Ball did some nice work backing up McGahee last season. Hillman has the speed and fresh legs to make the biggest impact, especially if he can improve his pass protection this summer. As for the notion that John Fox doesn't trust rookie running backs, go check out Jonathan Stewart's rookie season. We love the idea of drafting Hillman with a speculative mid-to-late pick.

Even the Broncos' kicker is worth a draft pick. Matt Prater signed a contract extension this summer and will attempt to at least maintain his NFL-record 75 percent accuracy on kicks of 50-plus yards. He's only finished as a Top 10 kicker once in four seasons with Denver but the Broncos' offense didn't exactly afford him a lot of chances to kick. That should change: In the 13 years Manning played for Indianapolis, his kicker finished as a Top 10 option seven times. Remember Prater's name in the final round.

Defensively, the Broncos have a chance to make offenses hurt. The combination of Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller rushing the passer is always dangerous and the secondary got a lot of really good depth with the additions of cornerbacks Tracy Porter and Drayton Florence, both of whom signed after Manning joined the Broncos. Top pick Derek Wolfe also provides depth against the run, which ranked 22nd in the league last season. We could see the Broncos DST be effective in weeks against poor offenses but they might have their hands full otherwise.

So long as Manning can do the same to the defenses he faces, the Broncos have a very realistic shot at going back to the playoffs -- and lasting longer than they did in 2011.

Injury update

Peyton Manning (neck; probable for the start of training camp) ... Eric Decker (knee; probable for the start of training camp) ... Knowshon Moreno (knee; questionable for the start of training camp) ... Andre Caldwell (knee; probable for the start of training camp) ... Julius Thomas (ankle, probable for the start of training camp.

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
Chris Harris targeting midway point of preseason
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) Broncos cornerback Chris Harris, who's coming back from ACL surgery, told ESPN he expects to be cleared for full participation by the midway point of the preseason. Harris said the exact timetable hinges on his upcoming visit to his surgeon, Dr. James Andrews.

"I’m doing everything, there’s really nothing I can’t do right now," Harris told the network. "I still have to go see Dr. Andrews at the end of the month and get checked up and he’ll pretty much let us know the plan from there."

Harris had 65 tackles and three interceptions last year before getting hurt in the playoffs.


Dimitri Patterson a starter by default
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) Unable to land a high-end free agent cornerback, the Jets "were forced to settle for journeyman Dimitri Patterson as a consolation," notes The Star-Ledger. Patterson, who projects to start opposite Dee Milliner, is on his sixth team in 10 seasons and has played all 16 games just once in his career.

If Patterson falters, third-round pick Dexter McDougle could get a shot.


Fred Jackson in danger of losing carries
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) Bills running back Fred Jackson might not approach the 207 carries he received last year. According to WGR550.com, Jackson will once again split time with C.J. Spiller but also potentially lose snaps to the team's additions at running back, Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon.

The website said Jackson, 33, who's entering the last year of his deal, will be trying to prove how much he has left.


Teammate: Bitterness won't linger from Jimmy Graham standoff
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) Saints tight end Benjamin Watson told ESPN that the the team's arbitration fight with Jimmy Graham over whether he's a receiver or a tight end won't have a longterm detrimental effect. Watson is hopeful the sides will reach a multiyear contract agreement by Tuesday's deadline.

"I’m very confident that it’ll be resolved the right way and guys can move forward," Watson said. "Obviously it’s always tough when you go through litigation with somebody, and it can probably get heated. And I’m sure there are emotions on both sides. But that is the business side of the game. 

"And it’s unfortunate that it came to that and that it was so public. But I really think -- I know, I don’t think -- I know that Jimmy loves New Orleans and I know that he loves our team and the organization and he loves playing here. And we love him, everybody wants him here, coaches included. So when it comes down to contract situations, that’s just a necessary evil ... not even evil, but just a necessary progression of getting a player here."


Dallas Thomas eyes starting job
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) Dolphins coach Joe Philbin named Dallas Thomas one of the team's most improved players, and he has a good chance to start at left guard, according to the team's website. A third-round pick in last year's draft, Thomas played only four offensive snaps last season.

Thomas worked with the first team during spring drills and is much further along than he was in 2013. He stayed in South Florida throughout the offseason to get better prepared.

"You’ve got to know your material, you’ve got to know what you’re doing on the field because stuff happens so fast," Thomas said. "You’ve got to be able to just react to it and not even think about what’s happening on the field."


Spencer Nealy hit with four-game ban
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) The NFL suspended Vikings defensive end Spencer Nealy four games for violating the league's policy on performance enhancing substances. An undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M, the 24-year-old Nealy did not play in a game last season.

Nealy apologized and took responsibility in a statement, saying he took a supplement containing a banned stimulant.


Jarrett Boykin will be 'hard to dislodge'
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) Jarrett Boykin improved dramatically last season and "will be hard to dislodge" from the Packers' No. 3 receiver job, reports the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Boykin will have to hold off second-round pick Davante Adams, fifth-rounder Jared Abbrederis and seventh-rounder Jeff Janis.

Boykin, 24, caught 49 passes for 681 yards and three touchdowns last season.


Trent Richardson might not get long leash
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) Averaging 2.9 yards a carry, like he did last year, will get Trent Richardson benched quickly, reports ESPN.com. Richardson "will have to produce right away because it's unlikely the Colts will wait for him to get going" if running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard are healthy and productive, the website said.

Richardson likely will get the first shot at the starting job. He has a much better grasp of the playbook than he did in 2013 and the belief is he'll be able to run on instinct as opposed to overthinking, the report said.


Bruce Ellington trying to overcome stature
by Jeff Borzello | College Basketball Writer
(7/11/2014) At 5-foot-9, Bruce Ellington is the shortest receiver on the 49ers' roster. But the fourth-round pick out of South Carolina should not be discounted, his high school coach, Jerry Brown, told the Sacramento Bee.

Brown said Ellington is relentless at finding open space and catching everything thrown his way. "Football's played on a big field and it's hard to track someone like Bruce who's got so much agility," Brown said.

Ellington believes he has lots of room for growth because he only gave up basketball last year. Also a former track competitor, Ellington clocked a 4.45 forty at the combine.

"I'm just going to work hard, give it a hundred (percent) every time I step on the field and keep on chasing the dream," he said.


Colts dump LaVon Brazill, sign Aaron Burks
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) The Colts waived suspended wideout LaVon Brazill and signed receiver Aaron Burks, an undrafted free agent from Boise State. Brazill, 25, is suspended for at least a year for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

Burks caught 18 passes for 309 yards and three touchdowns for the Broncos last season, averaging 17.2 yards per catch.


 
 
 
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