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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
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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