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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
Giants pulling long-term contract offer to Jason Pierre-Paul
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(7/6/2015) In the wake of a Fourth of July fireworks mishap, the Giants on Monday pulled their long-term contract offer to defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who remains hospitalized in Miami, per NFL.com insider Ian Rapaport. 

The Giants had applied the franchise tag to Pierre-Paul this offseason, but the player has not yet signed it, technically leaving him not under contract with the team. The Giants move to yank the longer deal is a bit of gamesmanship, since according to Rapoport, Pierre-Paul was not going to sign the $60 million deal anyway. 


Bills sign veteran tackle Wayne Hunter
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(7/6/2015) The Bills took another step to shore up their offensive line, signing veteran tackle Wayne Hunter to a one-year deal Monday, per the National Football Post. 

Hunter, who has not played in the NFL since 2012, did spend three years with the Jets under new Bills coach Rex Ryan from 2009-2011. 

Hunter's deal is reportedly worth $870,000.


RB Khiry Robinson could be odd man out in Saints backfield
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(7/6/2015) Running back Khiry Robinson is a fan favorite with the Saints, but the third-year pro, who once was viewed as a breakout candidate for the team, may find his role squeezed by the presence of Mark Ingram and C.J. Spiller, per ESPN.com. 

Robinson dealt with a broken arm last season, which limited him to 12 carries and 32 yards over the final 10 weeks of the year. The Saints then re-upped with Ingram and brought in Spiller to replace Pierre Thomas, meaning Robinson will have to fight hard in training camp to establish a role. 

"I just gotta keep working," Robinson said. "It's all love in the backfield. We all work together, try to help each other. So I think it's a good thing we've got a full backfield again. So if anybody goes down, we've got another player right up there to do the same thing."


Report: Giants Jason Pierre-Paul hurt in fireworks accident
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(7/5/2015) Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul reportedly hurt his hand in a Fourth of July fireworks accident in Miami, according to the Daily News

The paper reports that the injury is not considered career-threatening, but that varying accounts of what happened have been reported. The Giants have not confirmed nor denied the incident. 

The Giants applied the franchise tag to Pierre-Paul this offseason, but the 26-year-old has not yet signed it as he seeks a long-term deal, meaning that he technically is not under contract. 

Pierre-Paul had 53 tackles and 12 1/2 sacks last year for New York. 


Report: Torn pectoral sidelines Vikings CB Josh Robinson
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(7/4/2015) The Vikings secondary took a hit last month when cornerback Josh Robinson sustained a partially torn pectoral muscle, a league source has told ESPN.

The nickel back played in 690 snaps last season and was expected to battle several others for playing time. The injury could sideline him from training camp and land him on the PUP list.


Report: Packers' Andrew Quarless arrested on gun charges
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(7/4/2015) Packers tight end Andrew Quarless was arrested for firing a gun twice in Miami on Saturday, per the Miami New Times.

Quarless was involved in a fight at South Beach and fired the gun into the ground. 


Titans receivers can thrive in YAC with Marcus Mariota's accuracy
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(7/3/2015) The Titans wide receiving corps could gain more yards after the catch this season because of rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota and his accurate throws, per ESPN.com.

The Titans were 24th in the league in yards after the catch last season, but with Mariota under center that can all change.

“If you have an accurate quarterback, it allows us to get more yards after that catch,” wide receiver Harry Douglas said. “And that’s one thing that makes a receiver dynamic -- first being able to catch the ball and then being able to do some things with it after you catch it. I feel like [to this point] Marcus has done everything he needs to do to get the ball to his receivers.”


Saints RB Khiry Robinson doesn't feel he's on outside looking in
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(7/3/2015) Saints running back Khiry Robinson might be the least known of his backfield counterparts, but he doesn't feel like the off man out, per ESPN.com.

Robinson knows the team is heavily invested in the likes of Mark Ingram and C.J. Spiller, but he's still confident he can thrive in whatever role the Saints put him in.

“I’m the type of person, I’m gonna get what I get and do what I do with it. So whether it’s 20 carries or one carry, I’m gonna do the best of my ability every play,” Robinson said.

Robinson has shown flashes of success during his three years in the league. Injuries played a key role against him last season, which can ultimately put him as the third back on the depth chart. He will use the offseason to continue to improve and challenge his counterparts for playing time.

“I just gotta keep working,” Robinson. “It’s all love in the backfield. We all work together, try to help each other. So I think it’s a good thing we’ve got a full backfield again. So if anybody goes down, we’ve got another player right up there to do the same thing.”


Browns OL Michael Bowie itching to compete for starting spot
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(7/3/2015) Browns offensive lineman Michael Bowie is not required to report to training camp until the end of July. But never mind that - he's heading out after the last Independence Day firework explodes in the sky.

Bowie is itching to get started. He missed all of last season due to a shoulder injury after starting for Seattle on its Super Bowl title team in 2013. He is seeking to stay in tip-top shape in an attempt to land a starting spot on a Cleveland line that is the strength of the team.

"It's up to them to decide who is the best five," Bowie told the team website. "All I can do is take care of my business. Hopefully I can get a shot. That's what I'm working for."

Bowie participated fully in the offseason program, working mostly with the second team at right tackle. That will likely be the spot at which he competes for a starting job. Incumbent Mitchell Schwartz has not performed particularly well there and Mike Pettine has vowed there will be competition all over the field in camp.


Skins LB Ryan Kerrigan nearly recovered from knee surgery
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(7/3/2015) Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan appears to be on target to join the team for training camp after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery that prevented him from participating in earlier offseason activities.

Kerrigan, who registered a career-high 13 1/2 sacks a year ago, had the operation to alleviate pain in the area.

"My leg feels really good and I'm glad I got the surgery -- not just for football, but it makes my everyday life feel better, so I'm glad I got it done," he told CSN Washington. "Now it's just a matter of getting stronger and getting into shape."

Kerrigan added that he's been running and now only needs to regain strength to insure his place at training camp.


 
 
 
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