Fantasy Football Denver Broncos: Analyzing the Value of the Broncos' Top Stars

Jason Muckley@@jamuckleySenior Analyst IIAugust 17, 2011

Fantasy Football Denver Broncos: Analyzing the Value of the Broncos' Top Stars

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    Putting the Josh McDaniels era behind us, the Denver Broncos look to move forward with the new attitude and team philosophy that head coach John Fox brings to the Mile High City.

    John Fox is known for being a defensive guy who runs the football a lot more than he passes. This style will affect the main contributors on the offense as far as fantasy football ratings in 2011.

    I will break down each major contributor for the Broncos and how the new management will affect your choice of fantasy football picks in 2011. 

    (Note: When I refer to fantasy football points from 2010, I am referring to the fantasy football points as calculated in the ESPN.com fantasy football league).

Quarterback, Kyle Orton

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    Kyle Orton is the Broncos' starting quarterback in 2011. Among the other options in Denver, Orton appears to be the most fundamentally sound and experienced. He can handle the spotlight and he knows the offense very well.

    Last season, he put up a respectable 200 fantasy points, which was two-thirds of the points that Michael Vick posted in 2010 (Vick had 300 points, leading all quarterbacks). Granted, the Broncos tested out Tim Tebow after it became a foregone conclusion that the Broncos' season was over, and Orton sat out the final three games of the season.

    His fantasy football season in 2010 was a roller-coaster ride. He put up some huge numbers to start the season, and as the Broncos started losing more and more games, by midseason his production plummeted faster than the Tower of Down at Elitch Gardens.

    Orton lost head coach Josh McDaniels, an offensive mastermind who loved to pass the ball, and is stuck with Fox, a run-first coach, with the conservative offensive coordinator, Mike McKoy, calling the plays.

    I see Orton as a non-factor in fantasy football this season. His production will significantly drop off compared to last season, and he might even be benched for Tebow or Brady Quinn if the team gets off to a very slow start.

    In all 16 games, he won't reach his total from last season of 200; I see more like 180 fantasy points in 2011.

Quarterback, Tim Tebow

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    In only three games in 2010, Tim Tebow almost earned half the fantasy football points that Kyle Orton made in 13 games. From a fantasy football perspective, if Tebow can stay healthy running the football as much as he does, he could potentially be on the same level as Michael Vick, who led all quarterbacks last season.

    However, Tebow needs to start first.

    If he isn't starting, Tebow is not worth the risk as a fantasy football player. Tebow starting, however, may not be too far off from what some people think. He doesn't have the accuracy to be the starting quarterback in the NFL yet, but he does have the intangibles. His throwing motion is still a work in progress, but his leadership skills are off the charts. He doesn't always make all his reads, but he has a knack for making a play when it seemed like there was nothing there at all.

    One day in the NFL, Tebow will be very special. It may not be this season though.

    In John Fox's run-first offense, Tebow might get some looks in the red zone as an H-back or in the Wild Horses formation. In these formations he will get a chance to run the ball and scramble for a touchdown. This would further diminish Kyle Orton's value, and possibly the value of running backs Knowshon Moreno and Willis McGahee.

    Last season, Tebow racked up 95 fantasy football points.

    This season, I predict Tebow will eclipse the 100-point mark, but will not do much better than that (unless he is named the starter and remains the starter all season; then all bets are off).

Wide Receiver, Brandon Lloyd

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    Brandon Lloyd had the best season of his career in Josh McDaniels' pass-happy offense in 2010. He made it to the Pro Bowl and got to "stick his tongue out" at all of his previous coaches for giving up on him.

    All throughout the season, Lloyd made some amazing circus catches and beat numerous defenders deep, out-jumping the corners and safeties consistently.

    Along with his Pro Bowl performance, he also led the league among wide receivers in fantasy point production with 203 points. Lloyd has major upside for fantasy football, even in the run-first Fox offense. 

    Fox will still look downfield occasionally, and Lloyd will be either quarterback's top option in the red zone. Even if Tebow is brought in for Orton, in the three games Tebow started, Lloyd still produced about 12 points per game. If he averaged 12 points per game all season, he would still have a top fantasy point value of 188 points (only 15 fewer than last year).

    A lot of fantasy owners are wary of drafting Lloyd very high, which will make him a huge steal in later rounds. 

    Lloyd will continue to produce in 2011; his numbers will be down, but not too far down. I predict that he will produce about 175 fantasy points this season.

Wide Receiver, Eddie Royal

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    Eddie Royal has yet to return to the form he displayed in his rookie season in Denver in 2008. Last season was another forgettable one for Royal and he believes this is the season to turn things around.

    Last season Royal battled injuries all year, culminating in hip surgery in the offseason. His paltry fantasy output tells the story. Active in all 16 games last season, Royal only recorded 75 fantasy points. Royal not only is the team's slot receiver, but he also is the team's kick returner.

    His struggles in 2009 and 2010 make him a big risk for 2011. There is no confidence in fantasy football owners to suggest that this season will be different. He has to prove to owners that indeed he has returned to form before I would suggest adding him to your fantasy team.

    I predict this season he will improve, but only modestly. I project Royal to rack up about 100 fantasy football points in 2011.

Running Back, Knowshon Moreno

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    Knowshon Moreno didn't look like anything special last season at running back, and his nondescript fantasy points reflected it. He finished the season 17th among running backs with 150 fantasy points.

    Cumulatively, rushing and receiving, Moreno broke the 1,000-yard mark in 2010 and scored eight touchdowns. His receiving yards saved his mediocre season rushing the ball.

    In Fox's run-first offense, Moreno will be given the opportunity to show everyone if he is cut out to be a running back in the NFL. He is going to get a big workload with lots and lots of carries, and it will show whether or not he is a No. 1 running back.

    As insurance, the Broncos brought in the bigger, more experienced, red-zone threat Willis McGahee to compete with Moreno and to lend his veteran leadership qualities.

    Moreno would do well to learn from McGahee, and I think that the new regime will bring positive results to Moreno's game. Look for his run production and receiving production to increase in 2011.

    Look for Moreno to increase his fantasy production about 50 points to the 200-point range, putting him among the tops in the league. He will break the top 10 among running backs in 2011.

Running Back, Willis McGahee

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    In 2010, Willis McGahee saw his carries across the board in every situation decrease as the Baltimore Ravens relied more heavily on the quicker Ray Rice. Rice carried most of the load and McGahee's opportunities and fantasy value sharply declined.

    The Denver Broncos brought McGahee in on a four-year contract worth $10 million this offseason.

    That isn't the kind of money you pay backups.

    The Broncos are expecting McGahee to carry a much heavier load than he has become accustomed to in his years in Baltimore. Look for him to get the bulk of the carries in the red zone and on short-yardage situations.

    This will hurt Moreno's value, but not so much that he will not make an impact in fantasy football. 

    With the new responsibilities that is bestowed on McGahee look for his numbers to greatly increase from last year's dismal 68 fantasy points. This season I expect McGahee to be around 130 fantasy points, making him a reasonable third running back option or backup, especially if Moreno is banged up throughout the season.

Tight End, Daniel Fells

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    Daniel Fells was acquired by the Denver Broncos through free agency this offseason from the St. Louis Rams. Fells started 2010 as a backup tight end, but became the starter after rookie Mike Hoomanawanui went down.

    Fells was near the bottom of the barrel in 2010 in regards to fantasy production with only 43 points. Surprisingly, however, in the Broncos' first depth chart of the preseason Fells was named the starter. Fox sees something in Fells and his ability to be the every-down tight end in blocking and receiving ahead of the many other tight ends on the roster.

    In 2011, I have no high expectations for Fells. I see a slight improvement over last year's production with about 60 fantasy football points.

Tight End, Julius Thomas

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    As far as tight ends are concerned, I am much more excited to watch rookie tight end Julius Thomas play in 2011 compared to my expectations for Daniel Fells.

    Thomas is huge target with great hands and athletic ability. Every team is looking for the next Antonio Gates among tight end prospects and the Broncos believe they may have found one.

    Thomas has some work in the pass blocking area to do to be an every-down tight end, but I envision Fox and McKoy working Thomas in as a third receiver running seam routes, or outs that end right at the 1st-down marker. Thomas could also play a significant role in red-zone packages and haul in some great touchdown passes in the back of the end zone. He definitely has the vertical to go up against top safeties to pull those touchdowns in.

    As a rookie tight end, he is not going to be on anybody's radar. I believe he is going to turn heads this season and will produce about 90 fantasy points in 2011.

Kicker, Matt Prater

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    Matt Prater is among the best in accuracy of kickers in the NFL at this stage in his career. 

    In addition to his accuracy, Prater has the thin air of kicking at a mile high. Also, his head coach is conservative and will rely on his accuracy more and more to keep the Broncos in the game instead of gambling on short 4th-down tries.

    Prater should see his attempts increase in 2011 and that will increase his fantasy points. Prater ended 2010 with only 82 fantasy points, but missed the final four games of the season with an injury. If he were to have been healthy all season, he would have had probably around 110 fantasy points, which is a bit more respectable.

    This season Prater should be around the 130 fantasy points range with the new conservative offense in Denver.

    The biggest question mark for Prater will be if the league disciplines him for the recent DUI arrest and suspends him for multiple games. If this is the case, wait to pick up Prater until your kicker's bye week or if your kicker gets injured.

Defense/Special Teams, Denver Broncos

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    Last season the Denver Broncos were dead last among all defense/special team units in fantasy football. They only had 24 fantasy points for the entire season.

    Denver's defense last year was deplorable. It was ugly and embarrassing. Their poor play in 2010 was the major reason that management decided to employ John Fox for 2011. They needed a defensive-minded coach who has displayed extraordinary talent on the defensive side of the ball to restore fear into opponents' offenses when they played against the Broncos.

    The Denver defense is a work in progress. It is a rebuilding year for sure in Denver and Fox will not have the Broncos turned around in only one offseason, shortened by a lockout.

    The front office has made significant changes and improvements on defense. However, I would wait and see before I went out and selected the Broncos defense for my fantasy team.

    I predict the Broncos to be about middle of the road on defense in 2011 with around 100 fantasy points.