Denver Broncos Offense Preview: How Much Of A Difference Does a Manning Make?

"Can you help me get better?" "I can help the Broncos get better!" "Okay, thanks!" "hehehe"

As perhaps the most talked-about quarterback of the last five years, trading away Tim Tebow could have been the lead story in Denver this year. After all, it's not like Tebow still doesn't have his fans. People love a "winner" and whatever the hell he did to ruin the Broncos chances at winning last year, he managed to make up for it in the last four minutes almost every time.

I wish I could make up for all of my mistakes in the eleventh hour. Maybe then Dad would come home.

But Tebow's departure has been overshadowed by the man that replaces him, perhaps the greatest quarterback of all-time. Sure, Manning might not go 5-for-30 and then throw two game-winners in the last two minutes, but he's still okay. The real question here is how Manning will do in his return to the field and how much he'll elevate the players around him. If he's the same old Peyton, then Denver's offense just got a few new stars that were already there.

2012 Record: 8-8

Drafted Skill Players: Brock Osweiler, QB (Round 2), Ronnie Hillman, RB (Round 3)

Dearly Departed: Tim Tebow, Eddie Royal, Brady Quinn, Dante Rosario, Daniel Fells

QB

Peyton Manning

It's not a storyline that anybody is really talking about, but veteran Peyton Manning is the new quarterback for the Denver Broncos. It's rare that a team makes the playoffs, wins a game in those playoffs, and then finds itself scrambling to replace the young quarterback that "led" them to the playoffs. But that's what the Broncos had to do with Tim Tebow if they wanted to have continued success while they've got a potentially great defense. There's no better quarterback in the modern era than Peyton Manning. There might not have ever been a better quarterback than Manning. The Broncos have scored 400 points in a season three times in their history. Manning did it with the Colts ten times.

But that's not going to tell the whole story. How is Manning going to look after a year away from football? How are his throws going to look if the nerve in his neck doesn't fully regenerate by the start of the season and he doesn't have the same zip that he used to? How can anyone predict what Peyton Manning can do outside of a Colts uniform? I'll try...

I got burned by Manning last season. A couple of weeks before the season we held our draft in one of my leagues, and I felt that at worse he'd miss two games because he's Peyton Manning. But as insurance, I also grabbed Stafford when he fell further than I felt he should fall, so I ended up still getting an awesome statistical quarterback. Right now it doesn't look like Manning is going to miss any games, but he hasn't gotten hit yet. He hasn't played in a game yet. What kind of risk does he take every time he steps on the field and what kind of risk do you take by drafting him?

I like the offense put around Manning with Decker, Thomas, Tamme, Dreessen, Hillman and McGahee but I can't put 100% trust into Manning's health anymore and he deserves to fall in the draft because of it. I'm going to take a stab at it and say he misses four games, just because that's what I'm going to value his health at. His interceptions have also been trending upwards for the last few years of his career.

2012 Projection: 12 games, 65% completions, 3,000 yards, 22 TD, 14 INT

Brock Osweiler

If Manning does miss time this season (and there's no guarantee that he will, I'm just preparing for it) then the rookie Osweiler is going to have to step up soon. The 6'7" QB out of Arizona State is a great project which is why Denver drafted him in the 2nd round despite signing Manning, but he's also thought to just be a project. Ideally, they want him to spend three years behind Peyton, learning the game of football and quarterbacking, but it's possible that he's going to have to learn on the job.

Denver signed Caleb Hanie, but he's terrible. The early news in camp is that Osweiler looks good and Hanie does not.

2012 Projection: 3 starts, 54% completions, 750 yards, 3 TD, 5 INT

Caleb Hanie

Ewwww

2012 Projection: 1 start, 7 interceptions, and somehow the Bears lose by 14 even though he's not on the team anymore.

RB

Willis McGahee

Who would have guessed that McGahee would be in the NFL this long? He has recently said that he wants to run until "his wheels fall off" which they nearly did while he was at Miami and his leg snapped in ways that it shouldn't, but he's still going strong ready for his ninth NFL season.

After playing three years with the Bills and four years with the Ravens, McGahee re-energized his career with the Broncos last season by making his most starts since 2007, 1,199 yards and 4.8 yards per carry. He only scored four touchdowns though and caught just 12 passes for 51 yards, so McGahee is not a RB1 but he's a good option to have around. I'd be wary of starting the 31-year-old every week, but he'd be great as the first guy off of your bench. He's just going to have to share the load more this year and I'd be surprised if he tops 200 carries or 1,000 yards.

2012 Projection: 190 carries, 855 yards, 5 TD

Ronnie Hillman

He was one of my personal favorite players in this years draft. Listed at 5'9", 196 lb, impossible to stop at San Diego State, I think he's a great get for the third round a great sleeper this season. A potential perennial fantasy starter once he gets going.

He's compared to players like Darren Sproles and Dexter McCluster, which means that he's explosive and can catch a lot of passes. Sounds good to me. His ability to grab passes out of the backfield and McGahee's inability to do so means we're probably going to be seeing a lot of Hillman early on this season. And if Manning can't go deep as often as he likes to, you know what that means: more checkdowns. He's also being looked at as a kick returner, so keep that in mind for you in return leagues.

He's a jack of all trades. A sleeper with a higher ceiling than some might expect.

2012 Projection: 100 carries, 540 yards, 45 catches, 400 yards, 10 total touchdowns and some kick returns.

Knowshon Moreno

Eh, once upon a time I really liked Moreno too. He just got back onto the field, eight months after he tore his ACL. I don't expect to see much of him right now. He'll be eased into everything.

Lance Ball, Mario Fannin, and Xavier Omon round out the backs in camp with Ball as the presumptive favorite to keep a job.

WR

Demaryius Thomas

The signing of Manning has made people all aflutter over Thomas, a former first round pick that's built like a number one, had an excellent junior season at Georgia Tech, and then had several big games with Tim Tebow as his quarterback including 297 yards in two playoff games.

It's pretty hard to get a read on what Thomas can do with Manning because it's hard to get a read on what anyone can do after two seasons with Tebow, but certainly the writing is on the wall. However, some people are rating him as a WR1 and I'm not ready to do that until he consistently performs on the field. I like the idea of Thomas, but I'm probably not going to pay for the idea of Thomas unless I have to. I'm also worried, again, about Manning playing a full season.

2012 Projection: 55 catches, 900 yards, 6 TD

Eric Decker

Something tells me that I'll prefer Decker at a lower price. He's the same age as Thomas and the same height, but reports in camp are that he's clicking well with Manning. I feel that Decker could have better hands and will see at least as many targets, but go a few rounds after Thomas.

I'll go out on a limb and say he also has a better season.

2012 Projection: 70 catches, 1,000 yards, 8 TD

Andre Caldwell

Things get pretty dicey after Decker and Thomas and honestly, this might be a two-receiver, two-tight end, running back kind of passing offense anyway. Caldwell was signed over from Cincinnati where he had 37 catches for 317 yards a year ago. He could be a good pickup if Thomas or Decker go down, but I wouldn't count on more than that.

2012 Projection: 30 catches, 300 yards

Jason Hill, Brandon Stokley, Matthew Willis and others will fight for position.

TE

Jacob Tamme

Like Thomas, Tamme shot up boards when it was apparent he'd be back hooking up with Manning after catching 67 passes for 631 yards with Peyton in 2010. Good luck with that. Tamme caught 19 passes for 177 yards and a touchdown with the Colts last season, and while we all know how bad the quarterbacks were for Indianapolis last season, I'm not going to rate a tight end highly that's coming off of 177 yards.

Not only that, but I think Joel Dreessen is the touchdown vulture of tight ends.

Could Tamme have a good season? Of course! But I'm not going to pay him as a TE1 when he's clearly deserving of a TE backup spot on fantasy rosters.

2012 Projection: 40 catches, 500 yards, 5 TD

Joel Dreessen

You know who had twice as many yards as Tamme last season? Yep, Joel Dreeeeeessssssen.

He also caught six touchdown passes.

2012 Projection: 30 catches, 250 yards, 5 TD

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