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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
Kenny Britt looking for fresh start in Week 1 vs. Vikings
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:34 am ET) Rams wide receiver Kenny Britt ended an up-and-down career in Tennesse by catching only 11 passes for 96 yards last season. Reunited with former Tennessee head coach Jeff Fisher, the embattled receiver will look to begin his tenure with his new team on the right foot in Week 1 against the Vikings.

Britt has flashed big-play ability in the preseason, catching a 36-yard pass from starter Sam Bradford in Week 3 before the quarterback succumbed to a season-ending injury. He then tacked on a 32-yard completion from backup Shaun Hill on the team's second drive. If Britt can find chemistry with his new starting quarterback quickly, he has the opportunity to emerge from a muddled Rams receiving corps and become the team's No. 1 option in the passing game.

Will it happen? The Vikings were one of the worst teams in the league at defending the pass last year, ranking 30th in pass-defense DVOA, according to Football Outsiders. The results, however, look much better in the early-going this season. In the team's third preseason game, the defense held Kansas City starter Alex Smith to 140 yards on 14-of-24 passing with no touchdowns and two interceptions.

If that same defense comes to play Sunday, Hill may have nothing but trouble trying to move the chains consistently. But if the upgraded offensive line can keep the Vikings at bay, the Hill-to-Britt connection has the potential to surprise. Consider Britt a quality free-agent add in advance of Sunday's game on the chance that he and Hill show something.


Zac Stacy could struggle vs. Vikings
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:20 am ET) Rams running back Zac Stacy lost his starting quarterback for the season during preseason competition. This is nothing new for the second-year back, as he had to play the second half of 2013 without Sam Bradford as well.

Though Stacy ripped off four 100-yard games after Bradford's injury, he mixed in several ugly lines as well, managing only 62 yards on 26 carries against the Colts, just 25 yards on 14 carries against the Cardinals and only 15 yards on 15 carries as the Seahawks exacted their revenge in Week 17.

Stacy's Week 1 matchup this season is a Vikings team that played well against the run last season. The Vikings finished seventh in the league in rate stuffing the running back at or behind the line of scrimmage. The defense surrendered just shy of 3.9 yards per carry, which is right at Stacy's per-carry rate from last season.

The Rams will likely try to remain committed to the running game with a second stringer at quarterback, but the Vikings have the personnel to sniff out a conservative gameplan and more or less shut down the running game. CBSSports.com Fantasy experts are split on Stacy's stock this week, with Jamey Eisenberg slotting him eighth at the position and Davie Richard ranking him 20th.


Wes Welker expected to be suspended for Week 1
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9/2/2014) Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker will be suspended for Week 1, according to the Denver Post.

Mike Klis initially reported that there was a chance Welker's suspension wouldn't kick in until after Week 1, but issued an update later. While the NFL has yet to officially announce the suspension, the Broncos have been informed of the move. The team is expected to send out a press release confirming the information Tuesday.


Report: Wes Welker may play Week 1
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9/2/2014) Update: Welker will be suspended for Week 1, according to the Denver Post. The team is expected to send out a press release shortly.

Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker may play Week 1 against the Colts, according to the Denver Post

Welker is expected to be suspended for four games after reportedly testing positive for amphetamines. The league, however, has not officially announced the suspension. Suspensions are typically announced by Tuesday, according to Pro Football Talk. Since the NFL has yet to announce the move, it's thought Welker could be available for Week 1, but would serve his suspension once the NFL announced the move. 

There are a lot of uncertainties regarding the situation at this time. The club expects Welker to be available, provided he passes concussion protocal, but it remains to be seen how the NFL will handle this suspension. 


Randall Cobb to be tested Week 1
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9/2/2014) Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb should be in for a tough test Week 1 against the Seahawks.

Cobb caught just three passes during the preseason, picking up 34 yards and a score. His lack of work shouldn’t be a huge concern, as the Packers offense doesn’t need any fine-tuning. The main thing here is that Cobb is 100 percent healthy after playing in just six games last season due to a leg injury.

His Week 1 production could be dampened by a strong Seahawks DST. Seattle was exceptional against the pass last season, holding opposing wide receivers to just 14.79 Fantasy points per game. That figure was the second-lowest rate in the league. On top of that, Cobb may have to deal with Richard Sherman, who is considered one of the best cornerbacks in the league. Sherman may spend the majority of the game stopping Jordy Nelson, but he could find his way over to Cobb on a few occasions.

Cobb’s versatility makes him a strong candidate to be moved around the Packers’ offense. If Green Bay can create some nice matchups, and Sherman is preoccupied with Nelson, Cobb could be in for a better game than people might expect. 

Despite that, expectations should be tempered. Seattle’s DST was strong last season, and while Green Bay boasts a strong offense, things should be muted Week 1. Cobb is a fine start, considering his upside, but he carries more risk this week due to the matchup.


Jordy Nelson in for a tough test Week 1
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9/2/2014) Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson should be in for a difficult test Week 1 against the Seahawks.

Nelson had a quiet preseason, catching just two passes for 19 yards. One of those catches wound up being a touchdown. Despite the lack of action during the preseason, Nelson’s upside with a healthy Aaron Rodgers is well-known among Fantasy owners. That said, he’s going to have to work for everything he gets against Seattle.

The Seahawks rated as the best defense in the league last year. They were strong in every facet of the game. Seattle held opposing wide receivers to just 14.79 Fantasy points per game, the second-lowest figure in the league. To make things even more difficult for Nelson, he’ll likely be covered by Richard Sherman. Sherman, by many counts, is arguably the best corner in the game. 

Still, it’s tough to pass up Nelson’s upside with a healthy Rodgers. The Packers boast an overabundance of weapons, and it’s possible moving Nelson around before the play could put him in a more favorable matchup. Even if Sherman covers him the entire game, Nelson is a good enough receiver to make some noise. While he doesn’t have a great matchup, Week 1 is not the time to take a player as good as Nelson out of your Fantasy lineup. 


Eddie Lacy to have his hands full Week 1
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9/2/2014) Packers running back Eddie Lacy will have his hands full Week 1 against the Seahawks.

Lacy is coming off a tremendous rookie season, in which he rushed for nearly 1,200 yards and scored 11 touchdowns. He didn’t get a ton of use during the preseason, but seemed to be in midseason form. Lacy rushed for 61 yards on 11 carries, good for a 5.5 average over two preseason games. He also managed to run in a touchdown.

Though he looked strong in the preseason, Lacy should have a tough time against the Seahawks Week 1. Seattle allowed just 12.32 Fantasy points per game to opposing running backs last season. That was the second-lowest rate in the league. While the Seahawks lost three defensive linemen during the offseason, the club is thought to still have the top-rated Fantasy defense.

In many circles, Lacy was considered a strong Fantasy pick after the elite four running backs were off the board. With that in mind, it’s unlikely he’ll be benched in many leagues Week 1. There are better matchups out there, but Lacy is a tough player to sit. Given Green Bay’s offensive capabilities, he’s still a decent start even against the best Fantasy defenses. 


Aaron Rodgers taking on a tough task Week 1
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9/2/2014) Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has his work cut out for him Week 1 against the Seahawks.

Rodgers entered the season as one of the top Fantasy options at quarterback, but will take on the best defense in the league. Last season, Seattle held Fantasy quarterbacks to just 10.89 points per game. That was the lowest rate in the league. The Seahawks DST ranked tops in the league in limiting points and yards last year. On top of that, the team forced the most turnovers.

While Seattle lost three members of the defensive line during the offseason, the club is still expected to have one of NFL’s best defenses. If Seattle struggles to get to Rodgers, that could open things up for the Packers offense.

Given the cost to acquire Rodgers, in a snake or auction draft, he’s probably going to start for most Fantasy teams despite his tough Week 1 matchup. While there are better quarterback options for this week, Rodgers still has a strong potential for dominance. He’s healthy and still has a bevy of weapons at his disposal. It might not be Rodgers best game of the season, but he’s shown that he can put up numbers against even the best defensive clubs.


Percy Harvin looking to start the year on the right foot
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9/2/2014) Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin is looking at a strong matchup Week 1 against the Packers.

A quiet preseason was a good preseason for Harvin. After missing nearly all of last season due to a hip injury, Harvin was able to play in all but the final game of the preseason. He missed the fourth game due to a personal issue, and not because of an injury. Harvin caught seven balls for 92 yards in August.

The Packers didn’t boast a strong pass defense last season. The team allowed opposing wide receivers to average 22.94 Fantasy points per game. That wasn’t one of the worst rates in the league, but it was below-average. The team attempted to address this during the offseason, taking Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round. Despite that, there’s no guarantee the team will perform better in the defensive backfield.

Despite the fact that Harvin is a five-year veteran, there are questions about how he’ll be used with the Seahawks. While Harvin was able to play during the club’s playoff run, it was unclear whether he was actually fully healthy last year. Harvin has shown the ability to be a game-changing wide receiver, so it’s assumed the Seahawks will find ways to get arguably their best playmaker the ball. The club has been been incredibly run-heavy over the past few seasons, but a healthy Harvin could make them more balanced. 


Marshawn Lynch ready to roll Week 1
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9/2/2014) Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch is looking to get off to a good start Week 1 against the Packers.

Lynch had an abbreviated preseason, carrying the ball just three times for 16 yards. That’s probably not a bad thing considering his high workload over the past couple years. Lynch also had a brief holdout during the offseason, but reported to camp in shape, and should be ready to roll.

The Packers weren’t particularly strong against the run last season, giving up 19.18 Fantasy points per week to running backs. That was the eighth worst figure in the league. While the team tried to shore up things defensively during the offseason, the loss of B.J. Raji should make it easier for teams to gash the Packers up the middle. 

With that in mind, Lynch should be a strong start. The Seahawks modus operandi the past couple years has been the run game, and that probably won’t change now. There are concerns about Lynch’s workload and lack of preseason reps, but his pedigree and matchup make this a strong start Week 1. 


 
 
 
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