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Fantasy Opportunity Spotlight: Denver Broncos

A team-by-team analysis of coaches’ tendencies and using them to help create realistic fantasy football projections. @TubaDeus takes a look at the Denver Broncos.

Welcome to the new home of my yearly Fantasy Opportunity series! For those who didn’t see this series on Reddit last year, I try to take a different approach to fantasy projections than your run-of-the-mill analyst. The basis of my process is that the number one indicator of fantasy success is opportunities to touch the ball. Obviously, individual player skill can (and will) affect that, but at the end of the day, players are at the mercy of playcalling and play design. Therefore, if we want to make accurate projections, we need to look at each coach’s scheme and how they like to spread the ball around.

As a result, this series is very coach-centric. I’ll touch on individual players, but only as they relate to their coaches’ schemes. On a related note, this series will only aim to establish projections on how touches will be split up, not what individual players will be able to accomplish with those touches. That will come later once depth charts settle through training camp. Think of this series more as a basis for realistic expectations.

Make sense? Good. Let’s dive in.

Most of my stats are pulled from Pro Football Reference. Please support them. They are awesome and are my primary source of statistical information.

Denver Broncos

Last Year’s Accuracy
Total PlaysRush Attempts (Rush %)Passing Plays (Pass %) – Includes SacksSacks Allowed (Sack %)WR Targets (WR Target %)RB Targets (RB Target %)TE Targets (TE Target %)
2020 Projections1015395 (38.9%)620 (61.1%)35 (5.6%)310 (53.0%)150 (25.6%)105 (17.9%)
2020 Stats1030442 (42.9%)588 (57.1%)32 (5.4%)313 (56.3%)72 (12.9%)148 (26.6%)
For league wide stats, see this spreadsheet.
Coaching Changes

It was a disappointing year all around for the Broncos. Denver slipped from 7-9 to 5-11 in Vic Fangio’s second year as head coach, the result of an offense that failed to improve and a defense that struggled through injuries. Fangio, along with offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, avoided the chopping block this year. Still, things will have to improve, or all three coaches might be in danger of losing their seats.

Was Pat Shurmur the right choice to develop Broncos QB Drew Lock?
Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post
Coaching History

Shurmur’s offenses have adopted a curious trend over the last five years. During his two years in Minnesota, his offense was among the slowest in the NFL. His offense then sped up to being just a bit above average both years as head coach of the Giants. Last year with the Broncos, his offense was among the fastest in the league. Meanwhile, the number of plays per drive his offenses have managed to put together has done the exact opposite; top 10 in Minnesota before gradually slipping to 31st last year. The end result of all this being that somehow, Shurmur’s offenses have managed to stay right around league average in total plays for the last five years.

Interestingly, he’s done this with a variety of playcalling tendencies and not necessarily in a correlated manner. In 2016, 2018, and 2019, Shurmur’s offense was incredibly pass-heavy (between 62-64% pass rate). In 2017, his Vikings offense only recorded a 52.5% pass rate. As noted above, his 2020 Broncos offense sat right in the middle at a 57% pass rate. Broadly speaking, there seems to be some correlation to the quality of the defense Shurmur worked with, but it’s hard to call it any more than a loose correlation.

There’s slightly better consistency in what position groups Shurmur has featured in the passing game at each stop, but not by much. The one constant is that his wide receivers have almost always commanded a target share between 55-60%, with the lone exception being a 53% mark in 2018. He also tends to lean heavily on tight ends, hitting a 23% mark for positional target share three times in the last five years. Running backs under Shurmur, however, have been all over the place. They commanded as high as a 26% target share in Saquon Barkley’s one fully healthy year, as low as 13% this last year, and everything in between. To a degree, it seems like Shurmur may just be tailoring his offense to the weapons at his disposal, although even that only has a mild correlation to support it.

Looking Ahead

Let’s start with the thing Shurmur has at least shown some consistency with; positional target shares. Denver may not have the best wide receiver corps in the NFL, but it certainly has one of the deepest. They hardly missed a beat after top wideout Courtland Sutton tore his ACL. His return should provide the wide receivers a boost in-group target share, but don’t expect any major swings. Similarly, it’s difficult to take away targets from the tight ends given Shurmur’s historical love for the position and the depth Denver boasts at it. With no logical reason why targets should be removed from the wideouts or tight ends, it’s difficult to project any sort of increase in targets for the running backs despite the presence of capable receiving back Melvin Gordon.

Courtland Sutton injures right shoulder during practice | KRQE News 13
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

The high-level offensive numbers are more difficult to predict thanks to Shurmur’s inconsistency over the years. At least as far as pace goes, his variance has been easily sorted by team. If that trend continues, Denver will likely continue to operate one of the faster offenses in the league in 2021. Whether they can improve their number of plays per drive remains to be seen, however. The Broncos may have addressed their running back depth issue in the draft, but they still have a massive question mark at quarterback even with the signing of Teddy Bridgewater (no, this doesn’t count). The offensive line is still struggling as well, with little effort put into fixing it this offseason. Shurmur may try to push the Broncos to be a bit more run-heavy this year, but that could prove difficult if the offense continues to struggle.

Of course, what will help the total play volume are all the upgrades on defense. On top of returning a few key members of the unit from injury, Denver went on a spending spree to upgrade the secondary in free agency. A return to respectability for the defense after a mediocre 2020 should help boost the number of drives for the offense, which in turn should translate to more total plays (assuming the offense holds up their end of the bargain).

2021 Projections
Total PlaysRush Attempts (Rush %)Passing Plays (Pass %) – Includes SacksSacks Allowed (Sack %)WR Targets (WR Target %)RB Targets (RB Target %)TE Targets (TE Target %)
2020 Stats1030442 (42.9%)588 (57.1%)32 (5.4%)313 (56.3%)72 (12.9%)148 (26.6%)
2021 Projections (17 Games)1134490 (43.2%)644 (56.8%)39 (6.1%)348 (57.5%)81 (13.4%)151 (25.0%)

Previous Entry: Dallas Cowboys

Next Entry: Detroit Lions

Find this article helpful? You can follow me on Twitter and Reddit as @TubaDeus, though I spend most of my time on Discord.

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