The NFL Season is quickly approaching and TheSportsCannon.com has been working furiously to give you the best fantasy football rankings of 2011.
Part of determining fantasy football sleepers, busts and projections is analyzing each NFL team. In our 2011 NFL predictions, we analyze the pending NFL trade rumors, NFL free-agent signings, coaching schemes and strength of schedules.
In each team preview, we will try and give you the best fantasy football draft strategy for picking up your favorite player, and which player you should avoid.
In our sixth installment of the Fantasy Football Team Previews, we will analyze the 2011 season for the Denver Broncos.
The Broncos got off to a bad start when their star defensive player, and only true pass rushing threat, Elvis Dumervil tore a pectoral muscle in the preseason. Though having one of the most potent passing offenses in football, the Broncos ended the season 4-12, last in the AFC West. Defense does win championships—and divisions.
Kyle Orton and Brandon Lloyd proved to be a pretty good pair on offense, but it didn’t win games and Tim Tebow was given the reigns in the final two games to some fantasy success. The running game, however, never found its groove. Knowshon Moreno did nothing to help eliminate that “bust” mantra he is carrying, and the team ran for a total of six touchdowns, two by Tebow.
There were some major fantasy studs on the Broncos offense last year, and they will look to repeat in 2010. But will the change of schemes and another poor defensive year be too much for any sort of fantasy repeat?
The team gave up on the Josh McDaniels experiment after two hectic years and the team traded Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall, and over-bet on Demaryius Thomas and Tim Tebow. Now the team is going to rebuild with a defensive-minded coach with a run-heavy history.
Is it a big jump in one year? Yeah, probably.
There will undoubtedly be bumps in the road for new head coach John Fox this year, but he brings a winning mentality and a more pragmatic approach to coaching. In his past he has been run heavy with an emphasis on defense, and this year will have his hands full with turning around Knowshon Moreno’s career and one of the league’s worst defenses.
Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy has a long history working with John Fox, but was part of the previous coaching regime in Denver, which is why his job was safe when Fox took over.
Before taking over as OC with the Broncos in 2009, McCoy spent eight years working on the offense in Carolina. McCoy was the passing game coordinator with the Panthers before coming to Denver, and needless to say that part of the offense clicked last season.
McCoy will again be the offensive coordinator and will be in charge of the passing game while John Fox focuses on the running game. McCoy is really good at what he does and was sought after by many teams this offseason.
Dennis Allen will take over as the Broncos’ defensive coordinator this season, after spending the previous two as the secondary coach for the New Orleans Saints. While coaching both the secondary and defensive line in New Orleans, Allen saw great successes and learned under the tutelage of the extremely aggressive Gregg Williams.
Allen will have his work cut out for him this season as he will take the league’s worst defense and will also be in charge of a new scheme. This is really John Fox’s defense, at least for the year until Allen becomes comfortable controlling the defense. Allen’s coaching prowess will be focused on the secondary this season.
Probably the most interesting position battle going right now is the fight for the Broncos’ starting quarterback spot. There were more than enough NFL trade rumors swirling that Kyle Orton would be traded to the Miami Dolphins, but those talks have since fallen through.
It is unclear whether the new Broncos’ staff didn’t think they were getting fair value from the Dolphins, or if it is their lack of faith in Tim Tebow that derailed the talks.
The real issue against Tebow right now is that he was Josh McDaniels’ guy, and McDaniels isn’t regarded too highly in the Mile High City these days. Not many in the Broncos front office are jumping to defend Tebow, including Mike McCoy, who was in charge of the passing game last year.
Instead it appears as if the Broncos are set on starting Orton under center this season. Orton may be the most underrated quarterback in the NFL right now, and is coming off of a career year.
Last year, Kyle Orton was on pace to break all of his prior career highs before being benched in favor of Tebow. The Broncos’ losing ways had more to do with a lack of running game and porous defense than it did Orton’s poor play. In fact, Orton didn’t play poorly, fantasy wise, up until his final game against Arizona.
We understand the lack of faith in the Broncos’ pass attack this season with the addition of conservative, run-heavy coach John Fox. We have to disagree however—Fox always had a somewhat decent running back at his disposal, and to this point there has been nothing but disappointment in the Broncos’ backfield.
The defense is a long ways away from keeping the Broncos in contention, so expect the Broncos to be forced to throw more often than expected. If that is the case, we still think Orton can get the job done but at best as a QB2.
Ah yes, the running game. The exact area of the Broncos’ offense that John Fox is supposed to fix this season. The same unit that saw a quarterback lead the team in rushing touchdowns and ended the season 26th in rushing yardage.
Needless to say Fox has his work cut out for him, but Broncos’ fans should be excited to have Fox in the Mile High City. The main ball carrier in Denver is Knowshon Moreno and to this point in his career, Moreno has been labeled as a bust since being drafted 13th overall in the 2009 NFL Draft.
Is it too soon to give him that label, however? The Denver media has criticized the Broncos back for his inability to break tackles and lack of burst we saw from him in college.
It appears that Moreno may have been hearing all that criticism too, and is trying to prove his naysayers wrong. Moreno showed up for camp in the best shape of his two-year Broncos’ career and has already showed the speed many thought he was missing.
Right now Moreno is being drafted 39th overall, and as the 19th running back overall. Moreno will face the ninth-toughest schedule for fantasy running backs but will have right tackle Ryan Harris back which will help the running game a ton.
There is some concern over Moreno’s value thanks to the signing of Willis McGahee in the offseason. If the Broncos' first preseason game tells us anything, it's that there will no doubt be a back-by-committee approach in Denver. Maybe not to the same degree as the former John Fox Panthers teams, but McGahee should see around 100-125 carries.
Probably the biggest blow to Moreno's value is the fact that McGahee is the team's short yardage back, which means when the Broncos get in close to the end zone, it will be McGahee scoring the touchdowns.
John Fox and Mike McCoy teams don't have a history of utilizing their backs as receivers either, so if you are in a PPR league it may be wise to look for a receiver instead of Moreno.
Last year Brandon Lloyd was the best receiver in fantasy football, mostly thanks to the Broncos’ incredibly high pass count. That doesn’t mean that Lloyd is overrated, however.
Lloyd has never had his athleticism or skills questioned in his tumultuous eight-year career. He has been in a coach’s doghouse once or twice before in his career, which may have added to his poor career stats.
Lloyd is a dynamic receiver who has had virtually all of his career success with Kyle Orton as the quarterback. Even in his short stint with the Bears, Lloyd recorded nearly all of stats in the early going with Orton as the quarterback.
We don’t expect Lloyd to record over 1,400 yards again, and would be shocked if he did better than 11 touchdowns this season. That being said, Lloyd is now the most proven receiver on the team with the departure of Jabar Gaffney to Washington.
Lloyd will likely still record around 65-70 catches, but you can certainly expect a regression. Right now, Lloyd is being drafted 49th overall, and is typically the 18th receiver off of the board in fantasy football drafts.
We think Lloyd should be looked at cautiously because of his injury-riddled past and questionable mental toughness. Lloyd is going to be the main receiver for Orton, however, so he may be worthy of being in the top 15 this season.
Starting opposite of Lloyd will be either Eddie Royal, who is coming off of hip surgery, or Eric Decker. Royal represents a very quick possession receiver playing the slot. Decker is more of a down-field threat. Whoever wins the battle for No. 2 represents a far greater value than the other in this offense.
In other words, don’t expect too many three-receiver sets in Denver.
The Broncos drafted two very talented tight ends in Julius Thomas and Virgil Green. Both will likely fight for the starting gig come Week 1, but to this point it is Thomas’ job to lose. Thomas is a very tall, athletic tight end that has been dominating in red-zone drills so far in training camp.
Green is also incredibly talented and is also impressing the coaching staff in Denver. He comes with some injury concern and may not be as polished as Thomas, however. Daniel Fells is also near the top of the depth chart, but he will likely fall behind Thomas and be used mostly as a blocker.
The Broncos have a lot of work ahead of them on defense. The addition of rookie linebackers Von Miller and Nate Irving should surely help the Broncos weak pass rush and run defense.
Elvis Dumervil is back from a torn pectoral injury and will be a DE in the Broncos’ 3-4 defense. Although this may reduce Dumervil’s sack count, it is incredibly important to the success of the 3-4 to have a defensive end that can still rush the passer when linebackers drop back in to coverage.
We are most interested to see how the Broncos’ secondary will react to new defensive coordinator Dennis Allen. Allen turned the Falcons’ secondary in to a fearsome unit at one time, and will try to resurrect the league’s 25th-ranked secondary.
The Broncos have skilled, yet aged defenders in Champ Bailey and Brian Dawkins, and will no doubt be better off this season. We are intrigued to see how highly touted rookies Rahim Moore and Quinton Carter will progress this preseason and regular season. Don’t expect the Broncos defense to have any fantasy value this season.
The Broncos resigned Matt Prater for one year after an injury-riddled 2010. Prater is incredibly accurate, but we don’t expect him to be a huge force in fantasy this season, mostly because the Broncos offense will not be nearly as aggressive as they were last season.
Julius Thomas—The Broncos may have just found an awesome red-zone threat. If the offense can get there, Thomas will be a great choice in deep leagues.
Tim Tebow—Despite the fact the Broncos have yet to trade a quarterback and Orton is the starter on the depth chart, Tebow is still being drafted ahead of Orton. Wake up, people!
Knowshon Moreno—Moreno is looking slimmer and faster this year, and under a new offensive system could really shine...but, he is going to be splitting carries and won't be adding any PPR value. I know what you're thinking, "It worked for both backs in Carolina! It will work for Moreno too!" The difference is the Broncos offensive line isn't nearly as good as Carolina's. And also, I think it is safe to say that DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are better running backs than Knowshon and Willis McGahee.