Kyle Orton has been the most valuable player in fantasy football after the first four weeks.
As Kurt Angle used to say, “It’s true. It’s damn true.”
There was a moment during the offseason when it looked as if Orton’s fantasy value had actually decreased into the negatives. Yes, corpses had better fantasy values than Orton.
Denver had traded for Brady Quinn and drafted Tim Tebow, while sending Orton’s favorite target, Brandon Marshall, to Miami. So, at best, Orton was going to be quarterbacking a team without one above-average receiver on the roster. At worst, he was going to be a third-string guy chatting with Tebow and Quinn about their college successes on the sidelines.
Remember how the Denver Broncos used to play under Mike Shanahan? His teams turned mediocre, no-name running backs into carbon copies of Barry Sanders. Olandis Gary ring a bell? Mike Anderson win you a fantasy league once? Reuben Droughns bulldoze his way into your heart?
Different head coach, different system in Denver these days. Now Josh McDaniels is turning a so-so quarterback and an average-at-best group of receivers into the next coming of Warren Moon’s run-and-shoot Houston Oilers.
There is no Shanahan around to transform Laurence Maroney into Terrell Davis, but McDaniels is molding what looked on paper as a suspect passing attack into something the CFL would be proud of.
Orton has more passing yards than EVERYONE in the NFL. Yes, everyone, as in Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, and even fantasy golden boy Aaron Rodgers. You think super sophomores Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman have gotten off to great starts? Well, Orton has more yards than those two combined.
It is not just the passing yards where Orton has been ruling the roost. He has more touchdown tosses than Carson Palmer and Eli Manning, a better QB rating than Tony Romo and Matt Schaub, and a better completion percentage than Matt Ryan and Jay Cutler.
But fantasy football is mostly about yards, and because Orton has been the king at racking those puppies up, his fantasy stock has risen quicker than Mike Singletary’s blood pressure after a 49ers loss or when he is mocked by David Letterman.
So why is Orton throwing all these 300-yard games? Is he getting tips from John Elway, or are the Broncos not putting their footballs in a humidor anymore? Here are the real reasons:
1. Orton Is Actually Getting an Opportunity To Throw
No quarterback in the NFL has more pass attempts than Orton does. This is not only because McDaniels prefers passing over running, which is obvious if you watch past New England Patriots games where he was calling the plays, but because Denver’s running “attack” has more problems than the Octomom’s financial adviser.
The Broncos have rushed for a league-low 220 yards and are averaging an unthinkable 2.2 yards per carry. And Maroney (29 yards on 23 carries this season) is not the magic potion that will fix the problem. So Denver has no choice but to have Orton chuck the ball.
Orton was known as a clock manager when he was with the Chicago Bears. That was the nice way of saying he was not Rex Grossman—an interception machine. Orton's job was to either throw short, safe passes or not throw at all, while the Bears attempted to win 13-9 every week on the strengths of their defense and power running game.
People thought of Orton as a lower-tier starter or an upper-tier backup. They never envisioned him to be a guy who could sling 40 passes a game like a bartender at a hopping club.
His arm strength is nothing to write home about. His career completion percentage is under 60 percent. But maybe Chicago held him back. Maybe McDaniels and the Broncos coaches have taught him how to be a Pro Bowler. Maybe all he needed was to be “the man.”
2. Denver’s Receivers Have Stepped Up
Fantasy owners probably thought that Orton’s value would take a hit because he lost two of his favorite targets from 2009: Brandon Marshall’s 100 receptions did not look as if they would be replaced, and tight end Tony Scheffler was an unsung hero, a safety valve who bailed out Orton.
The Broncos do not have a shortage of pass catchers, though. In fact, they are overflowing with sticky-fingered, fleet-footed weapons. Eddie Royal is actually playing like the Wes Welker wannabe we thought he could be, snagging 25 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns.
Dependable veteran Jabar Gaffney (22 catchers for 240 yards) is still making the tough catches on third downs. And first-round pick Demaryius Thomas (11 receptions for 149 yards) has shown flashes of brilliance—he is a physical specimen with the ability to be a superstar receiver in the future.
But the biggest revelation has been Brandon Lloyd, who has piled up 25 receptions and a team-high 454 yards. This dude has always been highly touted, but was routinely routed by cornerbacks throughout his career. During stops with San Francisco, Washington, and Chicago, Lloyd never finished with 50 catches or 750 yards in any season. And he was coming off a scintillating eight-reception campaign with the Broncos last year, so he was lucky just to make the team out of training camp.
Lloyd has three 100-yard games in four weeks and has been the biggest surprise at wide receiver in fantasy football. No one could have expected or predicted this. No one can expect or predict this to continue, though; but even if Lloyd fades as he has in years past, Royal, Gaffney, and Thomas give Orton more than enough to work with.
Some naysayers think Orton will struggle to put up decent fantasy numbers the next two weeks when Denver faces Baltimore (No. 1 versus the pass) and the New York Jets, two of the NFL’s staunchest defenses. I think he will be just fine, though.
He might not put up 476 yards as he did against Indianapolis two weeks ago, but Baltimore is still missing Ed Reed and has not been tested by a big-time passing attack yet, and the Jets are ranked 23rd against the pass because of spotty play from Antonio Cromartie and Darrelle Revis’ hamstring injury.
Unless Knowshon Moreno returns and runs with authority to cause Denver to call fewer pass plays, or unless Orton starts throwing wobbly ducks like Joey Harrington, Orton should continue to put up monster numbers and be one of the most valuable players in fantasy football. The more a quarterback throws, the more chances he has to accumulate points for his fantasy owners.