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Offseason Primers: Denver Broncos

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The Broncos were definitely exciting in 2012. The addition of Peyton Manning was a success as Denver ran away with the AFC West title, was the No. 1 seed in the AFC with the best regular-season record and had an 11-game winning streak going into the playoffs.

While the reality is the Broncos under Manning went as far as they did under Tim Tebow the year before -- which was the Divisional Round of the playoffs -- Fantasy owners definitely benefited from Manning's presence. He turned the Broncos into a tremendous passing team and proved he's back as an elite Fantasy quarterback.

2012 Touches Leaders
1,069 total touches (rush attempts + receptions)
Willis McGahee 193 (167 car., 26 rec.) 18.0%
Knowshon Moreno 159 (138 car., 21 rec.) 14.8%
Ronnie Hillman 95 (85 car., 10 rec.) 8.8%
Demaryius Thomas 94 rec. 8.7%
Eric Decker 85 rec. 7.9%
All Others 443 41.4%

Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker blossomed into stars thanks to Manning, and we got success from two running backs. Willis McGahee started off the year with some positive moments before suffering a broken leg in Week 11, and Knowshon Moreno helped many Fantasy owners win a title with a strong finish, including double digits in Fantasy points in five of the final six regular season games.

This year, the Broncos hope to build off last year's success, and Manning and Co. should return for another solid campaign, especially with the addition of Wes Welker. Manning is locked in as a Top 5 Fantasy quarterback, Thomas, Decker and Welker are Top 20 receivers and we might have a new featured running back in Ronnie Hillman, depending on what happens with McGahee and Moreno this offseason.

It should be another exciting year for the Broncos in 2013.

Peyton Manning -- Still getting better

2012 Target Leaders
588 pass attempts
Demaryius Thomas 141 23.9%
Eric Decker 122 20.7%
Jacob Tamme 85 14.4%
Joel Dreessen 58 9.8%
Brandon Stokley 58 9.8%
All Others 124 21.0%

Can Manning be even better in 2013 than he was in 2012? Denver coach John Fox thinks so, and the addition of Welker will help. Fox said this offseason that Manning will be healthier this season as he continues to improve following his neck issues in 2011. That could make Manning a candidate to be the No. 1 Fantasy quarterback this year because he was impressive in 2012, his first year with the Broncos. Manning completed 68.6 percent of his passes for 4,659 yards, 37 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. It was the 12th time he passed for 4,000-plus yards (third time with 4,500 yards) and the seventh time he's thrown for 30-plus touchdowns. Manning will be 37 when the season starts, but he continues to play at a high level and defied all skeptics with his performance last year. He has arguably the best receiving corps in the NFL with Thomas, Decker and Welker to go with a solid running game behind a stout offensive line. We consider Manning a Top 5 Fantasy quarterback on Draft Day, and he's worth drafting with a pick toward the end of Round 2 or beginning of Round 3 in all formats.

Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker -- Worth the price

We like to point out third-year breakouts whenever possible, and Thomas and Decker were two of the best we've ever had. Getting Manning in their third year didn't hurt their chances of having a big season, but they definitely lived up to the billing. Decker set career highs in catches (85), yards (1,064) and touchdowns (13), while Thomas was right behind in leading the Broncos with 94 catches for 1,434 yards, and he finished second to Decker with 10 touchdowns. Thomas (23.9 percent) and Decker (20.7 percent) accounted for the majority of Manning's targets in 2012, and both should continue to improve this season – especially if Manning is getting stronger with his neck. The addition of Welker will cut into what Thomas and Decker are able to do, but don't be scared off by Welker joining the mix. Thomas is still the big-play threat on offense, and Decker is the red-zone option. Welker will definitely play a prominent role, but he's the third option in this passing game. You'll have to draft Thomas toward the beginning of Round 3, and Decker will likely be drafted in the middle to the end of Round 4. They are worth the price tag. Thomas is among a group of five receivers (A.J. Green, Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall and Julio Jones) vying for the No. 2 spot behind Calvin Johnson, and Decker is right behind that tier as a Top 15 Fantasy receiver. Both should once again dominate in 2013.

Ronnie Hillman -- Breakout

Expected 2013 Draft Averages
Peyton Manning 22-27 overall
Willis McGahee 58-66 overall
Ronnie Hillman 100-108 overall
Knowshon Moreno Undrafted
Demaryius Thomas 23-28 overall
Eric Decker 36-44 overall
Wes Welker 38-46 overall
Jacob Tamme Undrafted
Joel Dreessen Undrafted

Hillman is expected to take on a bigger role in his second season, and Fox indicated this offseason that Hillman is capable of being an every-down back. That's encouraging, but we don't expect Hillman to take on that kind of a workload this year -- at least when everyone is healthy. McGahee will likely get the most work, and Moreno could return as a reserve option. But Hillman will be No. 2 on the depth chart and get plenty of looks. His best game as a rookie was his last game in the playoff loss against Baltimore. With McGahee out and Moreno going down with a knee injury, Hillman had 22 carries for 83 yards and three catches for 20 yards. Overall, he finished the season with 85 carries for 330 yards and one touchdown and 10 catches for 62 yards. Pass protection was an issue for him, but the Broncos are excited about his potential. He is worth a mid- to late-round pick in the majority of leagues, and Hillman could develop into a quality Fantasy option as the year goes on. He's someone to monitor from training camp on, and we hope he has a breakout campaign in 2013.

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

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Player News
Titans OL Taylor Lewan pleads guilty to two misdemeanor charges
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:26 am ET) Titans rookie tackle Taylor Lewan pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges Thursday in Michigan stemming from an incident that took place last year following a Michigan-Ohio State game, according to The Tennessean. Lewan entered pleas to charges of disturbing the peace and being drunk and disorderly.

Under an agreement with prosecutors, Lewan is expected to get probation when he's sentenced Dec. 15. Lewan was initially charged with one count of misdemeanor aggravated assault and two counts of assault and battery. Two Buckeyes fans said Lewan assaulted them. Lewan had previously stated that he was breaking up a dispute and wasn't involved in a fight.


Jaguars might consider changing up linebacker corps
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:17 am ET) While the Jaguars were pleased with how J.T. Thomas performed at middle linebacker Week 8 against the Dolphins, coach Gus Bradley is considering making a change to the linebacker corps because rookie Jeremiah George is making a strong impression on the coaching staff. 

"We’re looking at the linebacker spot, what’s our best three on the field?" Bradley said, per The Florida Times-Union. "We know J.T. played well. [Otto] Dekoda Watson played pretty well. Jeremiah George is showing up a little bit in practice, so a chance to see him in there and throw him into the mix. We’re trying to find a way to see as of right now, what gives us our best opportunity and what guys are playing the best on the field."


Bills' Kiko Alonso starts to run, but still has ways to go in recovery
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:11 am ET) Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso is pleased with his progress as he is three months removed from ACL surgery.

"I’ve started running already," Alonso told Buffalobills.com. "I’m just doing straight line running, so I’m doing everything but cutting right now. Obviously I’m progressing to full speed running. I’m doing everything, but I’m limited."

Alonso said his knee feels great. However, he is being cautious with his recovery, which usually takes 7-9 months after surgery.

"My knee feels great," he said. "It definitely doesn’t feel like there’s anything wrong with it. It’s just a matter of time. You’ve got to let that ligament heal and strengthen the muscles around it. It feels probably where it should be right now."


Ben Roethlisberger deserves to start
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(10/29/2014) It goes without saying that Ben Roethlisberger's six-touchdown, 522-yard performance Week 8 against Indianapolis was a once-in-a-blue-moon thing, and I stand by my earlier assessment that he's too inconsistent to start in standard 12-team leagues. But that's more for those weeks when every quarterback is available. With six teams on bye, that's certainly not the case in Week 9.

For those owners accustomed to starting Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan or Jay Cutler, Roethlisberger may be the best choice. His matchup against Baltimore isn't great. The Ravens rank a suspect 22nd against the pass, giving up 256.0 yards per game, but having allowed just seven touchdowns through the air, they've surrendered the second-fewest Fantasy points per game to quarterbacks. Regardless of the matchup, though, Roethlisberger has a better chance than most of the quarterbacks who might be available of putting up the numbers you're accustomed to.

I'd prefer Carson Palmer, Nick Foles and Cam Newton to him, to name just a few fringy types, but Jamey Eisenberg and Dave Ricahrd both have Roethlisberger in their top 10 for this week.


Brandon LaFell not the only Patriots WR to consider
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(10/29/2014) It's time to give Patriots wide receiver Brandon LaFell a shot in Fantasy -- as in not just owning him, but starting him. If his 11 catches for 124 yards and a touchdown Week 8 against the Bears weren't enough to convince you, his matchup Week 9 against Denver should be.

It's not that the Broncos are so bad against the pass. They rank in the middle of the pack, allowing 242.9 yards per game. It's just that the Patriots' only hope against them is to beat Peyton Manning at his own game. Their passing attack -- at least the version they've shown in the last four weeks -- is good enough to beat anybody when they're motivated to use it.

LaFell appears to have leapfrogged Julian Edelman in the pecking order, but frankly, Edelman might not be such a bad play either. Tom Brady is going to need every weapon at his disposal to outscore Manning and company. Edelman is more of a desperation play than LaFell, I think, advisable only if you're short on startable wide receivers, but Dave Richard likes him enough with this matchup to rank him 24th at the position.


Shane Vereen a better choice than Jonas Gray
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(10/29/2014) By giving the previously unknown Jonas Gray 17 carries for 86 yards Week 8 against Chicago, the Patriots revealed that they'll stick with a two-man backfield even with preferred rusher Stevan Ridley out for the year with a torn ACL and MCL.

But Week 9 against Denver might be a better matchup for preferred receiver Shane Vereen, who also thrived in Week 7 against the Jets. The Broncos, like the Jets, have done a good job stopping the run this season. They rank No. 1, in fact, allowing 72.4 yards per game.

Plus, the Patriots will most likely have to throw more than usual just to keep up with the league's highest-scoring team. These days, a team's only real choice against Peyton Manning is to beat him at his own game.

So most likely, Gray will spend much of Week 9 on the sidelines while Vereen spends much of it in the backfield. Jamey Eisenberg and Dave Richard both rank Vereen among their top 20 running backs for this week.


Vincent Jackson not such a great play
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(10/29/2014) On a day when the Buccaneers couldn't get anything going offensively Week 8 against Minnesota, wide receiver Vincent Jackson was barely involved, catching one pass for 13 yards. He was targeted five times, but for a player who misses a lot of the balls thrown his way, both because of his role in the passing game and his issues with drops, that's a pretty low number. He averaged 10.0 targets in his first six games.

Even worse for Jackson, quarterback Mike Glennon has developed a nice rapport with both Mike Evans and Louis Murphy, and the Buccaneers passing attack isn't prolific enough to sustain three wide receivers. Is it more likely to sustain him than those other two? Yeah, probably. But it'll likely cut into his production regardless.

And it could cut into his production in a big way Week 9 at Cleveland. The Browns don't rank especially high against the pass, but they don't give up many touchdowns through the air, allowing the fourth-lowest quarterback rating of any team this season. Cornerback Joe Haden, who has played better in recent weeks after a slow start, is a big reason for that, and he'll likely go up against Jackson on Sunday.

Neither Jamey Eisenberg nor Dave Richard rank Jackson among their top 30 wide receivers -- and that's in a week with six teams on bye.


Time to the roll the dice on Denard Robinson?
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(10/29/2014) Sitting Denard Robinson the week after his breakout 127-yard effort against the Browns was understandable. It was an outlier performance achieved with an especially favorable matchup, and there was some big talk about Toby Gerhart still playing a big role. But now, after back-to-back 100-yard games, taking a conservative approach with Robinson just seems kind of silly.

Especially since his matchup Week 9 at Cincinnati is, at least on paper, a favorable one. The Bengals rank 29th against the run, allowing 140.7 yards per game, and have given up the eighth-most Fantasy points per game to running backs. And as tough as the Jaguars defense has played in recent weeks, you don't have to worry so much about the Bengals running away with the game, compelling the Jaguars to throw every down.

Calling Robinson a must-start is taking it a bit far. Some people have enviable depth at the position. But in Week 9, Jamey Eisenberg and Dave Richard both rank Robinson among their top 24 running backs, with Dave slotting him as high as 15th.


Is starting Andy Dalton a good idea?
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(10/29/2014) Jamey Eisenberg and Dave Richard both rank the Bengals' Andy Dalton among their top 12 quarterbacks for Week 9, presumably because he's facing the Jaguars. But how did that work out for Ryan Tannehill in Week 8, Brian Hoyer in Week 7 or, yep, even Ben Roethlisberger in Week 5?

I don't know about you, but I'm getting tired of the whole "start Player X against the Jaguars because they're bad" argument. Because they're not. At least not anymore -- not on defense, anyway. The Jaguars have allowed an average of 16.5 points in their last four games, and if not for the Dolphins' two defensive touchdowns in Week 8, it'd be 13.0

True, star wide receiver A.J. Green is looking likely to return from a three-game absence for a toe injury, which would certainly improve Dalton's chances. But again, quality quarterbacks -- namely, Tannehill and Roethlisberger -- have had their full arsenals when they faced the Jaguars, and they still underwhelmed against them. I'm not sure this is Dalton's week.

Now, with so many high-profile quarterbacks (such as Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan and Jay Cutler) on bye this week, you may want it to be Dalton's week, but I'd give Carson Palmer, Nick Foles, Cam Newton or Tannehill a shot before I turned to him.


Greg Olsen deserves your trust
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(10/29/2014) Panthers coach Ron Rivera mentioned Monday that the reason tight end Greg Olsen had only one catch for 16 yards in Week 8 is because the Seahawks rotated their coverage toward him, particularly in the red zone. You can understand why they'd do that after Olsen averaged 70.4 yards with four touchdowns in his first four games.

Unfortunately, since the Seahawks limited the Panthers to just nine points in that game, they've invited other teams to emulate them, and while the Saints, Olsen's Week 9 opponent, certainly aren't the Seahawks defensively, they've done good job of containing tight ends this season, giving up the second-fewest Fantasy points per game to them. And that's even though they rank 31st against the pass.

But just because you can make a reasonable case to sit one this year's most productive and reliable tight ends doesn't mean you should follow through with it. Week 8 was just the second time in eight games that Olsen's production didn't justify a starting spot -- a terrific ratio for any player, regardless of position -- and the Saints haven't really faced a team with a top-flight tight end until now.

If quarterback Cam Newton has big numbers in this game -- and the data suggest he should -- Olsen will, too. Keep him active.


 
 
 
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