Quarterback Kyle Orton: Fantasy Phenom or Mile High Mirage?

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Quarterback Kyle Orton: Fantasy Phenom or Mile High Mirage?
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Kyle Orton has passed for 1,078 yards, most by a Broncos quarterback since 1962.

There’s no doubt that Kyle Orton is more unlikely to be any fantasy owner’s first choice at quarterback, but this season you could do a whole lot worse and not be any more wrong.

Don’t worry, I won’t parade around and sing his high praises as the second coming of Elway, but the former Boilermaker is quickly changing the opinion of many of today’s fantasy owners. Nothing more than a mid-round fantasy back-up quarterback, Orton is raising some eyebrows. 

If anyone would have told me that Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton would have more passing yards than Peyton Manning, Matt Schaub, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees after three weeks I would have told that person to find a bed and lie down. They must be sick.

What is sick is Orton’s 359 yards passing per game, his 68% completion percentage, and his 21 fantasy points per game thus far this season. His four touchdown passes are nothing to jump up and shout about yet, but when you consider the full package Orton is playing at a high level and there seems to be much room for improvement.

We must also take note that his most potent and best scoring threat was traded in the offseason; once his gets the new horses fully broken in the scoring numbers could change—scary! 

So what has been the biggest difference, why the jump into the fantasy scoring stratosphere this season? It’s not easy to put a finger on just one thing, but really should anyone be surprised? 

It’s easy to say Kyle Orton has yet to reach his full potential as a passer since arriving in the NFL. After four lackluster seasons in Chicago where he managed basically a run-oriented offense, it appeared the NFL had seen all it would see of Orton as a signal caller; this was until his arrival to the Mile High City. 

When you trace his steps Orton has always been a capable quarterback, but capable of so much more we are finding out. Back in the days of Purdue, we saw some of the Orton we are seeing today. What was missing for Kyle in Chicago; he had no real deep threats or playmakers, and the offense lacked any kind of imagination. 

In 2009, head coach Josh McDaniels and the Bronco’s traded their franchise quarterback away for the services of Orton. On the surface it didn’t really appear to be their first choice; something about a kid in New England, but it certainly appears to be working out just fine for the folks in Denver. 

Since he arrived in Denver Orton has done played pretty well under center, but without question he’s elevated his game this season. With a full year under McDaniel’s tutelage, he’s grown at the position and now has full command of the system. 

Sure we are talking about Kyle Orton who is a veteran in his sixth year, but who says you can’t teach a not-so-old dog new tricks. Let us also not forget that McDaniels is the same coach and then offensive coordinator who took Brady to new fantasy heights in 2007 (50 touchdowns, 4,800 yards passing).

He also resurrected an irrelevant and non-existent Matt Cassel who had not started a game since high school, to the tune of 21 touchdown passes and 11 wins in 2008.

And that’s the fantasy secret here that is no mirage my friends. We are just now seeing what Kyle Orton is capable of when in the right system, in the right situation, and with the right weapons. What Orton currently has could certainly be classified as a cast of misfits, but a group of unheralded and perhaps under-rated and very talented receivers might be more fitting. 

With second year receiver Eddie Royal (91 catches as a rookie) he slot and a pair lanky and very athletic receivers (Brandon Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney) on the outside, the Broncos and Orton truly have a nice compliment of pass catchers to distribute the ball too. They also drafted a very nice looking up and coming talent in rookie Demaryius Thomas (arm injury).

It’s no coincidence that this array of weaponry is a huge contributing factor to Orton early passing success in 2010. With Lloyd (leads the team with 339 yards), Royal (17 receptions-tied for team lead), and Gaffney (leads team with 26 targets) each playing significant roles in the passing attack it makes it difficult for opposing defenses to know where to key.

One of Orton’s strongest assets has been his decision making, couple this with his accuracy and he is one of the leagues top passers (97.4 passer rating-7th in the NFL) in this early 2010 campaign. 

The Bronco’s are without their best ball carrier (Knowshon Moreno-hamstring) and likely won’t see him for another week or two. As long as the running game is second best, the team will likely continue to lean heavily on its’ flourishing and effective passing game. 

Even with the team’s current struggles in the red zone don’t expect Josh McDaniels to veer too far from what’s working, but rather focus more on finding ways of getting his ball club into the end zone. And that’s good news for Orton who has benefited greatly through the air this season. His four touchdowns thus far are rather pedestrian and a far cry from a fantasy phenom, but leave it to McDaniels to correct that.

As the team works toward finding a better balance I expect to see Orton’s success continue and actually help the team find the answers they seek. He won’t be posting 50 plus passes very often, but in the neighborhood of 40 looks realistic and only means good things for fantasy owners. 

Some experts believe success on the ground can open up things in the air, but maybe for Kyle Orton and the Denver Broncos some mile high magic in the air can create some space for the running game. One way or the other Orton looks like the real deal in Denver.

Just my take.

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