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2014 Fantasy Outlooks: Denver Broncos

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The Broncos made it to the Super Bowl last season but lost more than 40 percent of their offensive production with Knowshon Moreno and Eric Decker leaving as free agents.

Can they actually get better?

The simple answer is yes. Last we checked, Peyton Manning is back for another season, and the Broncos upgraded on defense -- at least in name recognition -- with the additions of DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward.

For Fantasy owners, the question becomes who will step up to replace Moreno and Decker, because those players should be popular options. You already know Manning, Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas will be the first players drafted at their respective positions, and Wes Welker will remain a Fantasy starter in the majority of leagues.

But is Montee Ball ready to take over for Moreno and be a Fantasy star? Can Emmanuel Sanders actually play as well or even better than Decker? We'll find out as the season unfolds, but Ball is someone to target with a late-first or early-second round pick in all formats. And Sanders should develop into a quality Fantasy receiver getting an upgrade from Ben Roethlisberger to Manning.

Denver set all kinds of offensive records in 2013 -- most points (606), total touchdowns (76), passing touchdowns (55) and passing yards (5,477) for Manning -- so the last thing we want to see is change. But Moreno and Decker had to move on, and we hope the replacement options in Ball and Sanders will keep this offensive juggernaut on track. We're confident it will happen.

Breakout star ... Montee Ball

There's trepidation with Ball because he was hyped as a rookie last season as the potential starter but watched as Moreno took the job and ran with it. Moreno was awesome with 241 carries for 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns and 60 catches for 548 yards and three touchdowns. He had 11 games with double digits in Fantasy points and was the No. 5 Fantasy running back in standard leagues.

We hope Ball is ready to fill those shoes, and he showed promise last year with 120 carries for 559 yards and four touchdowns and 20 catches for 145 yards. Ball played well when he had touches, with at least nine Fantasy points in four of the six games he had double digits in carries.

His best friend will be Manning. In 32 games as the starter for the Broncos in the regular season, Manning has helped Denver's running backs reach double digits in Fantasy points 23 times.

The Broncos made it clear he's the starter by not adding anyone of significance once Moreno left, so we're buying in as well. He's worth drafting toward the end of Round 1 or beginning of Round 2, and we hope Manning and the Broncos can produce another Top 5 finish for their starting rusher.

Career year coming ... Emmanuel Sanders

Sanders is not Decker, so don't expect the same results. Decker was a big target at 6-foot-3, and Sanders is more of a speed threat at 5-foot-11. Decker was predominately an outside receiver, but Sanders can also move inside and play the slot.

What we're trying to say is don't expect the exact same production. Decker had 87 catches for 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2013 on 137 targets, and Sanders is coming off a career-year with the Steelers with 67 catches for 740 yards and six touchdowns on 112 targets.

The Manning factor will help Sanders shine. This isn't a critique on Roethlisberger, who might have maximized the talent for Sanders. Only time will tell. But playing in this offense where he's the No. 4 option -- Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas and Welker are higher in the pecking order -- should allow for plenty of single coverage.

Someone has to pick up the majority of Decker's targets, and Sanders could easily crack 75 catches, 1,000 yards and score six touchdowns again. He's worth drafting as a No. 3 Fantasy receiver with a mid-round pick, but he could definitely be a Top 20 receiver by the end of the year.

Wait until 2015! ... Cody Latimer

2013 Touches Leaders
922 total touches
Knowshon Moreno 301 (241 car., 60 rec.) 32.6%
Montee Ball 140 (120 car., 20 rec.) 15.2%
Demaryius Thomas 92 rec. 10.0%
Eric Decker 87 rec. 9.4%
Wes Welker 73 rec. 7.9%
All Others 229 24.8%

I'm sticking to my theory that the Broncos drafted Latimer in the second round of the NFL Draft from Indiana to replace Welker in 2015 and not play a significant role this year. His time will come next season.

Welker is in the final year of his contract, and the Broncos laid out the plan for their receiving corps in 2015. They signed Sanders this season, and he will eventually be the slot receiver next year. Latimer will play outside, and they should be set assuming Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas sign contract extensions.

The key to it all is Manning playing at least one more season, so take that into account. But we like Latimer as a receiver to target in dynasty and keeper formats more than seasonal leagues. He will likely be the No. 4 receiver to open the season, but he could be No. 2 on the depth chart next year if things go his way.

Schedule analysis

The Broncos open the season with three-consecutive games against playoff teams from last year in Indianapolis, Kansas City and at Seattle. It will be interesting to see how Fantasy owners approach Manning against the Seahawks on the road after what happened in the Super Bowl. Denver only has six opponents that did not make the playoffs last season, and the Broncos get the unenviable task of facing the NFC West. The playoff matchups aren't easy for the Broncos either with road games at San Diego and Cincinnati, but you can expect Manning and Co. to still be started in the majority of leagues at that point in the year.

Training camp battles

Who's the No. 2 running back? We know Ball is No. 1 on the depth chart, but does he have a handcuff option? The battle for the backup job is between C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman, and the winner of the No. 2 role is worth a late-round pick. As much as we like Ball this season, there's still the chance he can fumble away the job or get hurt. As stated above, the starting running back for Manning has a good chance to shine, so keep Anderson or Hillman on your radar, with Anderson the likely winner.

Who's the No. 4 receiver? Latimer should win this job based on where he was drafted and how the Broncos want to use him in the future. But Andre Caldwell is a veteran, and Manning likes players he can trust. We hope you never have to use the No. 4 receiver for the Broncos, but we saw last year that Caldwell could do well when called upon after he had six catches for 59 yards and two touchdowns against the Chargers in Week 15. Latimer is worth drafting with a late-round flier in deeper formats if he earns the job, but Caldwell will be someone to watch just in case you need the No. 4 receiver in Denver for a one week spot start.

Bold prediction

It was great to see Moreno play as well as he did last season, but I consider Ball a better talent. I expect him to play at least at the same level as Moreno and post higher stats. He will never see a stacked line of scrimmage as long as Manning is starting and healthy, and he averaged 4.7 yards per carry compared to 4.3 for Moreno. He should do better at the goal line, and 15 total touchdowns wouldn't be a surprise. I was asked in a radio interview this offseason who was better between Eddie Lacy and Ball. Lacy is the safer pick because we know what he can do, but Ball has more upside. I have no problem taking Ball as early as No. 8 overall in all formats, and I expect you'll be happy if you follow suit.

Injury report

Cody Latimer (foot), questionable for start of training camp. ... Joel Dreessen (knee), questionable for start of training camp. ... Von Miller (knee), questionable for start of training camp.

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Player News
Colts OLB Robert Mathis plans to be ready for training camp
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(8:28 pm ET) Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis is not ready to run yet, he told Alex Marvez of SiriusXM NFL. Mathis added that he plans to be ready for the start of training camp.

Mathis was suspended for the first four games of last season due to violating the league's substance abuse policy. He then suffered a torn achilles, forcing him to miss all 16 games of the 2014 season.

During his 11-year career with the Colts, Mathis has collected 487 total tackles, 111.0 sacks, 15 passes defensed and 48 forced fumbles.


Lions TE Eric Ebron has been working out with Matthew Stafford
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(8:10 pm ET) Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said that tight end Eric Ebron has been working out with quarterback Matthew Stafford in Atlanta this offseason, reports the Detroit News. Lombardi also said that the plan is to have Ebron be the No. 3 weapon in the passing game this year.

Ebron, 21, finished his rookie season with 25 catches for 248 yards and one touchdown. 


Cowboys' Tony Romo: DeMarco Murray asked me to take a pay cut
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(7:44 pm ET) Eagles running back DeMarco Murray was really hoping to remain with the Cowboys this offseason. So much so, he asked quarterback Tony Romo to take a pay cut to remain with the team, Romo said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Tuesday, per the Dallas Morning News.

"DeMarco ended up asking me, 'Why don't you take a pay cut?' I said, 'I will. I would take a pay cut to go do this,'" Romo said. "I was like, 'They're going to restructure me.' That's the same thing in some ways, just for the salary cap purposes. He was like, 'OK, now we're back to being friends again.' I would take $5 million less if meant getting him back.

"He knew that. It was just funny how he was literally worried about that part of it for a week. I'm like, 'That's not the reason.' I'm like, 'Obviously I'll restructure. I would even take a pay cut.' He was like, 'OK, we can be friends again.' It's amazing what you think about in those moments."


Giants QB Eli Manning wants to take offense 'to another level'
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(7:42 pm ET) Giants quarterback Eli Manning is entering the second year in offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's system. Manning is ready to take the next step now that he is familiar with the system, reports the NY Daily News.

““This year will be a much easier transition, knowing that we have been through so much of it already,” said Manning, who recently had been working out at Ole Miss with some of their receivers and alumni. “It’s definitely a different starting point. I feel good about it. I feel that I have a good understanding of it.

“But there is still room to grow and that is why I try to keep it as fresh in my mind as possible. Looking at old game-plan sheets and calling plays in my head – throwing routes with receivers trying to call out plays to myself, so you don’t let it slip away. It was new last year and it wasn’t something I have been doing for 10 years, so you want to keep it fresh and go through your reminders and all your checks. So when we come back I haven’t taken a step backwards and have to re-learn things. It is still all there. There will be new stuff and we will be taking it to another level.”

Manning has started all 16 games in each season since 2005, throwing for 39,755 yards with 259 touchdowns and 185 interceptions.


Saints TE Josh Hill wants to grow into new role
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(7:30 pm ET) After trading trading Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks, tight end Josh Hill is ready to step into his new role with the Saints, according to the team's offical website.

“I think it might open a few opportunities for me as I continue to grow in my role and just do everything they ask me to do,” Hill said when asked about the trade of Graham to the Seahawks.

Hill recognized that Graham helped him transition from college to the professional level.

“It’s a big difference, especially coming from a smaller school and a smaller city," Hill said. "He was always there for me. We became pretty good friends over the past few years so it will definitely be different without him.”

Head coach Sean Payton believes that Hill is ready to step up.

“Josh Hill is a player that we value a lot," Payton said last week at the NFL annual meeting. "He’s not on anyone’s fantasy first three rounds, I promise you, but he’s a real good tight end. He’s versatile in the running game, in the pass receiving game, a special teams player.”

Hill, heading into his third year in the NFL, has recorded 20 receptions for 220 yards and six touchdowns. 


Cowboys QB Tony Romo excited about this offseason
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(7:00 pm ET) Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is excited about what the offseason holds for him, according to ESPN.

“This is the first offseason where I’ve been able to kind of get after it this early and be able to kind of improve in a lot of different areas that I think you aren’t able to until you get healthy enough to attack it,” Romo said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Tuesday. “I’m just excited about that, really.”

Romo, 34, is encouraged by the fact that he is able to do a lot of different things during the offseason process while working out.

“Now I’m able to do that while actually doing functional strength training through different versions of squats,” Romo said. “I’m not putting anything on my back and doing stuff like that but you are doing a lot of single-leg stuff and different things that I started getting into during the season that helped a lot. Now it’s nice to be able to do that in the offseason.”

Romo has thrown for 33,270 yards with 242 touchdowns and 110 interceptions in his 12-year career. 


WR Dwayne Bowe looks to revitalize himself with Browns
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(6:28 pm ET) Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe is looking to revitalize his career now that he has joined the Browns, reports ESPN. Bowe was cut by the Chiefs in the middle of March.

"I have a chance to revitalize myself," Bowe, 30, told ESPN.com via telephone Tuesday. "Just sit back and watch."

Browns general manager Ray Farmer has familiarity with Bowe from their time with the Chiefs. The two sat down and watched tape from the 2010 season when he racked up 15 touchdown receptions.

"Him knowing what I can do, seeing me in practice, making crazy plays, splitting the safeties, he knows I still can do that," Bowe said. "I couldn't showcase that last year. He was pulling up old plays, saying, 'We are going to use you just like that.' Moving around, going on motion, trying to hit the deep ball, trying to break plays."

The 30-year-old wideout appreciated his time with the Chiefs and he has no regrets.

"It's been up and down, but it's been fun," Bowe said. "I don't regret nothing. People can talk about the NFL and playing wide receiver -- I feel I still have a good four more years in me."

Over his eight-year career, he has totaled 532 receptions for 7,155 yards and 44 touchdowns.


Report: Texans interested in DT Antonio Smith
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(6:04 pm ET) The Texans are interested in signing defensive tackle Antonio Smith, according to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport. The team is in discussions about bringing back Smith.

Smith, who played for the Texans for five seasons, was released by the Raiders on Tuesday. The 33-year-old has started at least 15 games in each of the last six seasons. Over his 10-year career, he has racked up 302 total tackles, 44.5 sacks, eight passes defensed and 11 forced fumbles.


Report: Chargers sign G Michael Huey, waive Baca, Alecxih
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(5:23 pm ET) The Chargers have signed guard Michael Huey of the Arena Football League, according to the UT San Diego. The team also waived offensive lineman Jeff Baca and defensive lineman Chas Alecxih.

Huey is a three-time All-AFL member, playing for the Arizona Rattlers. He spent three weeks with the Chargers during the 2011 preseason. The Rattlers won the league championship in each year that Huey was there.

Baca, 25, was brought in as insurance as an interior offensive lineman last season after the Chargers went through five starting centers.

Alecxih, twice a member of the team's practice squad, did not see any regular season action in 2014. 

 


Report: RB Jacquizz Rodgers signs with Bears
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(5:03 pm ET) After visiting wth the Bears on Tuesday, running back Jacquizz Rodgers has signed a one-year contract with the team, according to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport.

Rodgers, formerly with the Falcons for four seasons, has totaled 1,116 yards rushing, 1,104 yards receiving and 10 total totuchdowns in his career. 


 
 
 
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