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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
DeAngelo Williams could play Sunday wearing a cast
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:38 pm ET) Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams is getting fitted for a cast he'd wear if he returns to action Sunday against the Browns, reports ESPN.com. Williams fractured his right hand in the Week 13 loss at Minnesota.

Williams was limited in Thursday's practice. He hasn't caught passes, and the team is concerned about how the injury will affect his blocking, the report said.

But if Williams returns, he'll cut into the sizable workload Jonathan Stewart has received the past two weeks when he averaged 21.5 touches.


Jaguars announce QB Blake Bortles will start Thursday night
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:21 pm ET) Jaguars rookie quarterback Blake Bortles, who was questionable with a mid-foot sprain, will start Thursday night's game against the Titans, the team announced. It will be Bortles' first primetime appearance.

Bortles made a quick recovery from the injury, but how effective he'll be remains to be seen. He's thrown 10 touchdowns against 17 interceptions. Tennessee will start quarterback Charlie Whitehurst following injuries to Zach Mettenberger and Jake Locker.

Jacksonville is favored by 3.5 points -- the first time it has been favored in 43 games.


Edelman, LaFell, Vereen still limited for Patriots
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(5:20 pm ET) The Patriots received limited participation in practice from Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell and Shane Vereen on Thursday.

All three players were limited on Wednesday, so there was no change in their status. Edelman is battling a thigh injury and a concussion. LaFell has a shoulder issue. Vereen is dealing with an ankle injury. The team will release a final game status for each player following Friday's practice. 


Broncos TE Julius Thomas (ankle) practices fully
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:14 pm ET) Broncos tight end Julius Thomas practiced fully Thursday as the team readied for Monday night's game in Cincinnati. It's a positive step for Thomas, who was limited last week due to his ankle injury.

Thomas played 29 snaps and caught a 30-yard pass in the Week 15 win at San Diego. He could be primed to return to his normal workload Monday.


Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles practices in full Thursday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4:59 pm ET) Ankle and knee ailments could not prevent Chiefs standout running back Jamaal Charles from putting in a full practice Thursday. He was limited in the Wednesday session.

Charles in a roll. He has 515 yards on 86 carries in the last six games for a 6.0 YPC average.


DeMarco Murray increases workload in Thursday's practice
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(4:53 pm ET) Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray was listed as limited in Thursday's practice, but he said he did a lot more than he was able to do Wednesday, reports the Dallas Morning News. Wearing a special glove with padding to protect his surgically-repaired left hand, Murray participated in some team drills.

"It’s good," Murray told the paper. "I feel good."

Murray was asked if he'll play Sunday against the Colts, if the decision is left up to him. "I’m a very competitive person and I want to help this team out as much as I can," he told the paper. "I’ve had two good days and we’ll see how it goes."

Owner Jerry Jones said he was encouraged that Murray, the NFL's leading rusher, is "so aggressive in his thinking about playing."

Murray underwent surgery Monday to fix a broken bone in his hand. If he sits out, Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar would rotate at tailback. Dallas is favored by 3 over the Colts at nearly every sportsbook.


Lions new CB Josh Thomas: Jets coaches didn't help me
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4:46 pm ET) Cornerback Josh Thomas, who has hooked on with the Lions after being cut from the Jets, had some pointed words for his former team. He was let go after having his playbook stolen from a New Jersey hotel.

Thomas said the stolen playbook was not mentioned when he was told of his forced departure. But he added that the Jets never tried to improve his game.

"I feel like I wasn't given the attention necessary as far as being engaged from the coach-to-player standpoint and know the things I need to work on," Thomas told ESPN. "It became where I was there as a player and wanting and desiring some feedback that wasn't given. So sometimes I may have been standing there with a [deer-in-headlight] look in my eyes trying to figure out what I needed to do."


Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph unable to practice again
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(4:31 pm ET) Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph (ankle, knee) missed another practice Thursday as the team prepared for Sunday's visit to Miami. Rudolph set season highs with seven catches for 69 yards Week 15 at Detroit.

If Rudolph can't play, Chase Ford would start.


Texans LB Whitney Mercilus fine for Sunday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4:16 pm ET) Texans linebacker Whitney Mercilus has recovered from a back injury that prevented him from playing in Week 15 against Indianapolis and is ready to roll for the Sunday game against Baltimore.

Mercilus has played in 13 games this season with 11 starts. He has recorded four sacks.


Texans TE Garrett Graham a near-certain no-go Sunday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4:10 pm ET) Texans tight end Garrett Graham is destined to miss his third straight game Sunday against Baltimore with a high ankle sprain.

If he remains sidelined in Week 17, he will finish the season with just 18 catches for 197 yards.


 
 
 
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