Last updated: August 11th at 11:34pm ET.
Broncos 2016-2018 Offensive Profile
2016-2018 Pass Attempts Rank: 17th, 12th, 8th
2016-2018 Rush Attempts Rank: 15th, 8th, 21st
2016-2018 Play Volume Rank: 26th, 2nd, 13th
2016-2018 Yards Per Play Rank: 26th, 28th, 18th
Unaccounted for Targets from 2018: 104 (21st)
Unaccounted for Carries from 2018: 27 (26th)
Projected Starting Lineup
QB: Joe Flacco
RB: Phillip Lindsay
WR1: Emmanuel Sanders
WR2: Courtland Sutton
SLWR: DaeSean Hamilton
TE: Noah Fant
LT: Garett Bolles
LG: Dalton Risner
C: Connor McGovern
RG: Ronald Leary
RT: Ja’Wuan James
Broncos Passing Game
Denver acquired Joe Flacco from Baltimore for its fourth-round pick and won’t open the job to pre-season competition from second-round pick Drew Lock. Although a hip strain paved the way for Flacco to cede Ravens quarterback duties to Lamar Jackson, Flacco played competently prior to the injury with his highest QBR (58.7) and adjusted yards per attempt (6.4) since 2014. Unfortunately, Flacco’s utter lack of mobility, annually decreasing aggressiveness, and growing injury proneness render him a low-ceiling and low-floor QB2/3. Flacco’s skill set is also a questionable fit for rookie OC Rich Scangarello’s offense, an offshoot of Kyle Shanahan’s system that traditionally requires signal callers to make throws off play-action bootlegs. Flacco did shine in Gary Kubiak’s similar scheme in 2014, but he’s no longer the same athlete with back and hip problems going on age 35. With defensive mastermind Vic Fangio in as head coach, Denver projects as one of the run-heaviest teams in the league.
Courtland Sutton projects to lead the Broncos in Air Yards after doing so last season with 1,176, which ranked 21st among NFL receivers. Unfortunately, Sutton executed on only 703 of them (60%) with a sub-par 50% catch rate and the league’s second-most drops (9). Sutton never reached 90 yards in 16 games. It doesn’t help that Flacco’s deep ball has faded sharply; he finished 31st among 33 qualifiers in PFF’s Deep Passing Accuracy metric in 2018. Sutton’s job security remains safe as Denver’s primary outside receiver, where he ran 82% of his rookie-year routes. Albeit slight, Sutton offers opportunity-based breakout potential after becoming just the eighth second-round rookie wide receiver to clear 700 yards in the last decade.
DaeSean Hamilton became Case Keenum’s go-to possession target down last year’s stretch, parlaying Demaryius Thomas’ trade to Houston and Emmanuel Sanders’ Achilles’ tear into 25 receptions over Denver’s final four games (an 100-catch pace). Sanders appears likely to be much less of a factor early this season, while Hamilton’s skill set reminds of Derrick Mason, Flacco’s first-ever No. 1 receiver when he broke into the league. Hamilton ran 63% of his routes in the slot as a rookie and figures to stay there between Sutton and either Sanders or Tim Patrick. Penn State’s all-time leader in catches and receiving yards, Hamilton is a route technician capable of becoming a PPR slot machine.
Tim Patrick, Emmanuel Sanders, and sixth-rounder Juwann Winfree compose the potentially-fantasy-relevant back half of Denver’s wideout corps. Although Sanders has been openly optimistic about his Achilles’ recovery, medical experts believe Sanders is a poor bet to regain explosiveness at age 32. No matter how many positive reports emerge from training camp, I’ve scratched Sanders off my cheat sheets entirely. Patrick is no slouch with 4.47 speed at 6-foot-4, 208 and flashed on a handful of clutch plays late last year, where he averaged a team-high 60.5 yards over Denver’s last four games. Winfree never topped 325 yards in a college season but created buzz at offseason practices.
The Broncos used the No. 20 pick on Iowa’s Noah Fant, who set a school record for career touchdowns by a tight end (19) despite leaving school early. An athletic phenom, Fant blazed 4.5-flat with a 39 ½-inch vertical and twitched-up 6.81 three-cone time at 6-foot-4, 249. Fant has a ways to go as a blocker and dropped too many passes in Iowa’s sleep-inducing offense, but his tape was Hernandezian on the field. As is typical, Fant’s biggest obstacle is his rookie tight end profile. Just 1-of-8 tight ends drafted in the first round in the last decade cleared 500 yards as a rookie (Evan Engram), and Fant may lose situational snaps to Jeff Heuerman and Troy Fumagalli. Ultimately, Fant is a better Dynasty than re-draft prospect.
Broncos Running Game
Strangely ignored in the 2018 draft despite breaking Colorado’s all-time record in yards from scrimmage (4,683) and clocking 4.38/4.41 at the Buffaloes’ Pro Day, Phillip Lindsay attacked his underdog label with vigor as a rookie, outplaying fourth-rounder Royce Freeman and pedestrian veteran Devontae Booker from the jump. Lindsay became just pro football’s third undrafted rookie to rush for 1,000 yards since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, averaging 5.4 yards per carry with ten touchdowns on 227 touches. Although Lindsay was clearly Denver’s top back last year, his 184-pound build, lengthy rehab from severe wrist surgery, and the Broncos’ coaching change create reasonable doubt about Lindsay’s year-to-year sustainability. Up front, Denver’s loss of C Matt Paradis should be offset by the additions of RT Ja’Wuan James, stud OL coach Mike Munchak, and second-round pick Dalton Risner. Although Scangarello has spoken of increasing Lindsay’s usage in the passing game, the Broncos’ July 31 signing of Theo Riddick lowered my receptions projection for Lindsay by 10. Early in training camp, ex-Falcons assistant Scangarello compared Lindsay to Tevin Coleman.
Royce Freeman, Devontae Booker, and early-camp signee Theo Riddick round out Denver’s backfield. Freeman and Booker logged 28.5% and 29.3% of last year’s offensive snaps, respectively. Whereas Booker settled in as a passing-game niche player, Freeman’s playing time was cut by a Week 7 high ankle sprain that also limited his effectiveness down the stretch. Both backs get clean slates under Scangarello, whose Shanahanian running game was built on scatback-bodied Matt Breida (5’9/195) last season and 230-pound banger Carlos Hyde the year before. Although Lindsay clearly outplayed Freeman in 2018, Freeman’s yards after contact per rushing attempt (3.22) were far superior to Lindsay’s (2.35), and Freeman’s Success Rate was only slightly inferior (49% to 46%) despite playing the second half of the season hurt. After burning many fantasy owners as a talked-up rookie, Freeman is in prime post-hype position as a middle-round pick. Riddick’s training-camp shoulder injury likely locks Booker into an early-season spot on the final 53.
2019 Vegas Win Total
The Broncos’ Win Total is 7.0 games, a mark they failed to reach in each of the last two seasons. Last year’s club did underachieve, falling 1.4-2.6 victories short of its Pythagorean Win Expectation and going 4-6 in one-score games. Their point differential was only -20, suggesting the 2018 Broncos should have been closer to seven or eight wins than six. Working against Vic Fangio’s club is the NFL’s second-toughest schedule based on Opponent Win Totals, scheme change on both sides of the ball, and what projects as a bottom-ten passing game at best. I think under seven wins is the smart play here.