Despite winning a Championship, Denver wasn’t exactly a treasure trove of fantasy goodness in 2015. In fact, it was pretty bad last season. Peyton Manning’s declining health culminated in a nose-dive of statistical production and true-to-form, Gary Kubiak deployed a running back by committee approach. Now that Manning has retired and MARK SANCHEZ (ugh…) appears to be the front-runner for starting QB in 2016 the once fantasy rich Denver Broncos are looking like a dangerous proposition in our favorite game.
WR Demariyus Thomas
The fantasy football community is down on Demariyus Thomas heading into the 2016 season and for good reason. Mark Sanchez seems to be the early favorite for starting quarterback (which terrifies fantasy owners) and Thomas’ 54 receptions, 834 yards and 6 touchdowns over his first 21 career games (prior to Manning’s arrival in 2012) doesn’t exactly suggest he is QB proof. Last season, Thomas suffered a few lapses in concentration leading to drops (9 – tied for third most in NFL) and it was the first time he did NOT have double digit touchdown receptions after doing so in three consecutive seasons. The explosive plays were lacking too. Of the seven receivers that posted 100+ catches in 2015 only Jarivs Landry (10) had fewer receptions of 20+ yards than Thomas (14); and Landry works primarily out of the slot. In fact, three tight ends had more gains of 20+ yards than Thomas including Gary Barnidge (16). However, even with sketchy quarterback play throughout 2015 Thomas managed a 105/1304/6 line. Those reception and yardage totals were good for 6th and 7th most in the NFL. No longer a 1st round fantasy receiver despite the “zero” running back philosophy, Thomas remains the “X” receiver in the Kubiak/Shanahan offense so the targets will be plentiful. He’s also been durable. The 28-year-old wideout hasn’t missed a contest since 2011. At worst he’s a WR2 and at best he has Houston Texans — Andre Johnson type upside; but like Johnson who was all too familiar with questionable QB play in Houston, don’t expect big TD totals.
WR Emmanuel Sanders
I mentioned Demariyus Thomas being the “X” receiver earlier and while that may be cause for concern for some considering the type of offense the Broncos will be running, to be fair Andre Johnson, Julio Jones, or Pierre Garcon (2013) for that matter didn’t exactly have an Emmanuel Sanders lining up opposite of them. Sanders gave us WR1 production in 2014 only to be slightly over-drafted after returning WR2 type production in 2015. He like Thomas, suffered through Peyton Manning’s ailing body and the inexperience of Brock Osweiler. And now he will likely share a huddle with the aforementioned Mark Sanchez. No bueno. I actually think that Mark Sanchez can be effective when the pocket is clean and his primary target is open. But this isn’t 7-on-7 drills; and how often will Sanders be the primary target? Sanders still represents legitimate fantasy football value. But with substantial question marks at QB and the Broncos likely to deploy a more run-heavy offense Sanders may be relegated to a FLEX play in 2016.
RB C.J. Anderson
After bursting on the scene in 2014 seemingly out of nowhere, the expectations of C.J. Anderson were high heading into 2015. His ADP suggested as much, as he was routinely selected in the second or third round and in some cases as early as the bottom of the first round. However, Anderson seemingly rested on his laurels and reported to camp out of shape. Additionally, fellow running back Ronnie Hillman took to new head coach Gary Kubiak’s zone running-scheme faster than Anderson. Nothing is worst for a running back than to be in the doghouse of a coach that will gladly use a committee approach. Despite being out-touched by Hillman 207-to-152 Anderson was every bit as effective in 2015 as he was in 2014 as evidenced by his 4.7 yards per carry average in both seasons. While it was disappointing that Anderson didn’t get the “workhorse” volume we were anticipating during the regular season; it’s encouraging that the Broncos leaned on Anderson during their championship run. In fact, Anderson’s playoff line of 54/234/2 compared to Hillman’s 32/54/0 as well as a long-term contract suggests that the lion’s share of the carries will go to C.J. Anderson in 2016.
Others of Note:
- RB Ronnie Hillman
- RB Devontae Booker