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Fantasy Forecast: The Denver Broncos

The Broncos had a rough 2019, but after building around Drew Lock this off-season they’re ready to soar in 2020.

Last season seemed promising for the Broncos in August. The team was coming off a great 2018 draft and appeared to snag a number of weapons, including a potential franchise QB in Drew Lock and TE in Noah Fant. The Broncos also welcomed new coach Vic Fangio, who figured to make the most of a talented defense and added veteran quarterback Joe Flacco. Fans were talking playoffs. Then the team started 0-4, including a heart-breaking home lost to Fangio’s former team, the Bears in Week 2. Flacco went 2-6 as a starter before being lost for the season with a neck injury, and it became clear the Broncos would miss the playoffs for a fourth straight season.

A New Hope

But a ray of hope emerged in December as Lock came off IR and got his chance to start. He went 4-1, and the Broncos ended a frisky 7-9 on the season, second place in the AFC West. And in the course of that finish, the team produced a couple of good pieces on fantasy. Second-year running back Phillip Lindsay went over 1,000 yards again, finishing as RB19 in PPR, while rookie Fant caught 40 passes for 562 yards and three TDs. Second-year receiver Courtland Sutton was even better, snagging 72 passes for 1,112 yards and six TDs, good enough to be WR19 in PPR.            

Not content with their late-season success, the Broncos spent the off-season building around Lock. The team turned to Pat Shurmur, former Giants’ coach, as their new offensive coordinator. Active this off-season, the Giants added pieces in free agency (guard Graham Glasgow and running back Melvin Gordon) and the draft (center Lloyd Cushenberry III, receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler) to build around Lock. The Broncos are committed to the second-year QB, have built around him, and are looking to pick up right where they left off in 2019. Let’s look at their fantasy prospects.

Courtesy of Bleacher Report

Quarterback

Lock is the man here for the Broncos, and a man I’d like to have on my team. He threw for 1,020 yards, seven TDs and three INTs. He also added 72 yards rushing on 18 carries. It’s not a ton to go on, but he looked confident and was a winner, and that was with a lesser supporting cast and play-caller. Lock has QB1 upside but should be viewed as a QB2. That makes him a solid deal in Superflex and 2QB formats, as his ADP is QB22 in PPR and QB23 in Standard. I think he could easily exceed that draft price, though it’s not without risk. The Broncos have been searching for a franchise quarterback since Peyton Manning retired, and they think they found one in Lock. He did enough to impress the team and front office last December, and they’ve spent the off-season building around him so he can succeed. Among second-year quarterbacks not named Kyler Murray, he seems to be in the best situation.

Courtesy of NFL on Twitter

Running Backs

Melvin Gordon

The Broncos made a splash this off-season, snagging Gordon from their division rival the Los Angeles Chargers. Gordon played his first five years there out of Wisconsin, racking up 4,240 yards and 36 TDs. He also added 224 receptions for 1,873 yards and 11 TDs. He figures to be a big part of the plans for Shurmur and the Broncos. But he has a wide range of outcomes. If he’s the true bellow, he could be an RB1 in this offense. If he splits time, he’s more of an RB2, possibly even a high end RB3. He’s currently going as RB17 in PPR and RB19 in Standard, so right in the RB2 range of the draft. And a big part of the reason why is Lindsay.

Phillip Lindsay

The undrafted free agent won a place on the roster as a rookie in 2018. He quickly gained a place as a featured back in the offense and a featured player in the hearts of fans. Lindsay grew up in the Denver area and went to the University of Colorado, so he’s a local kid made good. Lindsay has run for 2,048 yards and 16 TDs, 1,000-plus in each season, and caught 70 passes for 416 yards and a TD. And the Broncos have said he’ll be involved; the question is how much? He’s currently going as RB40 in PPR and RB38 in Standard, but I think he could easily out produce that. In fact, I think Lindsay ends up as the best running back on the Broncos, yet again. In which case, he’s an absolute draft steal.

The Handcuff

The odd man out here in Denver is Royce Freeman. A third-round pick in 2018 out of Oregon, Freeman, was supposed to be the man in Denver. But Lindsay outplayed him, and he took a back seat. With Gordon in the mix, Freeman seems little more than a handcuff heading into 2020. His best value, particularly in dynasty, could come if he’s traded or moves on from Denver. For now, he’s little more than a deep bench stash.

Courtesy Clutch Sports

Wide Receivers

A Stud in the Making

This is the group the Broncos have seemed to work on the most this off-season. But what won’t change is the man atop the depth chart, Sutton. He had a strong sophomore campaign, topping 100 targets and moving into the Top 20 for the first time. There’s no reason to believe he won’t take a step forward again in 2020, especially with more time working with Lock. I think he has WR1 upside, but his draft price is cheaper than that. He’s currently going as WR18 in PPR and WR24 in standard. There are concerns that increased competition could hold him back, which is possible, and that he didn’t have incredible chemistry with Lock in 2019, which is true. But I love the upside, and I think he’s a steal at that ADP.

The Rookies

Elsewhere the Broncos committed to improving their receiver group in the draft, taking Jeudy and Hamler. Jeudy was a star for Alabama, catching 159 passes for 2,742 yards and 26 TDs, including 77 for 1,153 and 10 TDs in 2019. Hamler was a speedster at Penn State, who also figures to be a potential weapon on Special Teams. But he also caught 56 passes for 904 yards and eight TDs last season. Both are good dynasty assets. Jeudy is typically going in the first round among the Top 3 receivers in this class. But in terms of production in 2020, I would moderate expectations. I think Jeudy could be a WR3, but more likely a WR4. And Hamler’s role remains unclear.

Rolling the Dice

In addition to the new receivers, the Broncos return DaeSean Hamilton, another Penn State product, entering his third year and Tim Patrick. Hamilton caught 30 passes for 243 yards and a two TDs as a rookie, but added just 28 for 297 yards and a TD last year. Patrick is also entering his third year, an undrafted free agent from Utah. The Broncos like his potential, and he’s shown a few flashes, catching 39 passes for 539 yards and a TD in two seasons. Further down the depth chart, the Broncos have Diontae Spencer, who is mostly regarded as a returner, and Juwann Winfree, entering his second year after playing at the University of Colorado. None of these four really established themselves in 2019, and now with Jeudy and Hamler in the mix, it’s not clear who will make the final cut. None of this group is more than a deep stash in dynasty, but if pressed, I’m still hanging on to Hamilton as a potential contributor.

Tight Ends

Noah Fant

The Broncos currently have eight tight ends on the roster. But, there is only one that truly matters for fantasy is Fant. He was a first-round pick in 2019 and really started to come on in the back half of the season. Fant finished as TE16 in 2019 and could be poised to be even better in 2020. He’s a top dynasty option at tight end, and I think he has TE1 potential in 2020. I predict Fant will end up as the second-best receiving option for the Broncos and Lock.

The Dart Throw

The team also signed veteran Nick Vannett, who will likely compete for a spot with returning veteran Jeff Heuerman. Vannett is viewed as a strong blocker, which could give him an edge. The most interesting addition to the unit is rookie Albert Okwuegbunam. He was Lock’s former teammate at Missouri and taken as part of re-making the receiving group. Albert O caught 43 passes for 466 yards and six TDs from Lock in 2018. He doesn’t figure to make a significant impact in 2019, but I like him as a deep dynasty stash. The rest of the depth chart includes some recent draft picks like Jake Butt and Troy Fumagalli, along with blocker Andrew Beck and Austin Fort. There figure to be some tough cuts here for the Broncos, but for fantasy, it’s more clear cut.

Credit: Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

IDP

The Broncos have a talented group on defense that should be in line for a good season with Fangio and defensive coordinator Ed Donatell. In terms of team defense, I think they have some sneaky value. But the team also has some solid assets if you’re playing in the IDP format.

Todd Davis

While he’s not a sexy name, Todd Davis is a solid option at linebacker. He led the Broncos with 134 tackles, including 78 solo tackles in 2019. I also think an under-rated option is his running mate in the middle, Alexander Johnson. The Broncos like Johnson, and once he moved into the starting lineup, the team got better, and Johnson flourished. He started 12 games, garnering 93 tackles, including 51 solo tackles. He also had an interception, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, four quarterback hits, and three passes defensed. He’s under the radar a bit right now, but I think he could end up being one of the better values on defense for Denver.

Justin Simmons

Elsewhere, the team has some appealing assets in the secondary and among pass rushers. Justin Simmons is the Broncos’ all-world safety and a great young option at the position. Last season Simmons had 93 tackles, including 65 solo tackles, and led the team with four INTs and 15 passes defensed. The Broncos liked him enough to franchise tag him.

The Pass Rush

On the pass-rushing side, the team has veteran Von Miller, Super Bowl 50 MVP, and Bradley Chubb, who is looking to return strong after an ACL Tear diminished his 2019 season. In their last full season together in 2018, Chubb had 12 sacks and Miller added 14.5. In a full season with Fangio, they could be monsters. The Broncos also added defensive lineman Jurrell Casey from the Titans. In nine seasons with the Titans, Casey has had 493 tackles and 51 sacks, and figures to be a force on the line for Denver.

2020 Prediction

Few teams did more to try and build up their offense than the Broncos. Adding Shurmur as offensive coordinator and adding weapons like Jeudy, Hamler, and Gordon around Lock puts the young quarterback in a position to succeed. The Broncos’ defense remains strong, and if the offense can keep up what was happening in December, the Broncos could be a team to surprise some people by making a playoff run. And fantasy owners who invest in their young talent will reap the benefit. While many players for the Broncos should be viewed with a long-term investment for dynasty, I like the potential for Lock, Sutton, and Fant to all take steps forward this season, while Gordon and Lindsay form a fierce duo in the backfield. I’m buying the Broncos on the field and in fantasy in 2020.

You can find more from Matthew Fox on Twitter @knighthawk7734 or as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast, part of the Drive In Podcast network at www.musiccitydrivein.com.

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