For years under Mike Shanahan, the Broncos were considered a fantasy dreamland for running backs. Being the starting running back, or even potentially being the starting running back, for the Broncos was an immediate +100 to your fantasy profile. (Please note +100 is an arbitrary made-up number and thing I just came up with. +100 would be getting this job, 0 would be getting the third WR position in Tampa Bay, and -100 would be anything involved with Alex Smith as your quarterback)
Going back to Terrell Davis, examples of how important of a job this was include: Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, Tatum Bell, and Reuben Droughns. Then in 2008 it just stopped. Carries were split between 5 backs over the course of the season, and Peyton Hillis led Denver backs with 343 yards rushing.
Knowshon Moreno was drafted early in the first round in 2009 to seemingly take over the majority of carries in Denver and be the next mega-yardage back for the Broncos, but he disappointed owners with 947 yards and 7 TDs. More on him later.
Last season the Broncos offense wasn't terrible, finishing 19th in scoring and 13th in yards, but their defense was atrocious and the Broncos may have been the worst team in the league overall. The schedule gets tougher this year too, trading the NFC Wests creampuffs for the NFC North, with stops in Green Bay and Minnesota. So, how will the major players perform in 2011?
Is it possible that this is the hottest QB controversy in the history of the league that was of almost no consequence? "Oh geez, who is going to be the quarterback on one of the leagues worst teams? This one guy who most people think is a bottom tiered-starting QB or this other guy that most people think isn't even close to be an NFL starting quarterback?"
In fairness, Orton isn't nearly as bad as people sometimes make him out to be. But give credit where credit is due. Here's a guy who was drafted in the fourth round and immediately thrust into a starting position and the Bears went 10-5 with him in his rookie year. Then he was completely forgotten again and became the starter again in 2008, going 9-6 with decent numbers. Then the Bears felt no remorse moving him for Jay Cutler and he completed 62% of his passes in 2009 with 21 TDs, 12 INTs and 3,800 yards. Through 5 games last year he had over 1,700 yards passing 8 TDs and 3 INTs. Unfortunately over his last 8 games he completed just over 50% of his passes and just 12 TDs against 6 picks. He's not spectacular, but he's come a long way from where he started in Chicago and he's a lot safer bet than this next guy.
So after all the news that Orton would be traded to Miami so Tebow could take over, now the most recent news speculates that it will be Tebow on his way out of Denver. Potentially to Miami? I was discussing this possibility with a friend and I have to be honest; is there a more perfect fit for either team? If the Dolphins still wanted to run a Wildcat formation a few times a game, would there be a better player in the entire league to do so than Tebow? I can't sit here and say that he's one of the better quarterbacks in the league, or even starting quality in your typical NFL offense, but as a direct snap option QB? I admit that I kind of like that idea.
Asking Tebow to drop back, sit in the pocket, and throw it 30 times a game sounds ludicrous right now. He'd probably complete just barely 50% of his passes and be forced into poor decisions. But ask him to direct snap, roll-out, option throw or run it 10 times a game? It might harken back to the original days of the Dolphins Wildcat offense that worked so well. In Denver, John Fox is the new head coach and Josh McDaniels is out, so there's no connection between the current head guy and Tebow. There's no reason to believe that he will or has built any kind of offense just for Tebow. There are NFL teams that are prepared or could use him, but I'm not sure Denver is it. Tebow could probably be a scoring machine in the right offense and put in the right position, but he's not a fantasy QB until he actually goes out there and proves it. Nothing he did last year or in college proves he'll be used in such a manner in 2011 or beyond.
One former "franchise QB" lost in the shuffle is Quinn. As of now, he's a nobody, but he could become the backup QB during the preseason, and then he is just a snap away from playing at any moment. Which is certainly a thing.
Over the last two seasons Moreno has ranked as your average RB2 in fantasy and still been considered a major disappointment. He's basically been good enough to start in many leagues as a rookie and sophomore on a team that's so bad they're forced to throw-throw-throw after the first quarter. Now only 24 years old, Moreno has averaged 4 YPC, 60 YPG, 2.2 receptions per game for 20 yards, and 17 total touchdowns.
Now, he goes from Josh McDaniels Broncos to John Fox's Broncos. In 2009, Fox successfully ran a ball-share between Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams and they both topped 1,000 yards. Moreno will lose carries to McGahee, but there's no doubt that he's "the guy" as far as who the primary ball carrier is. You can grab Rashard Mendenhall at the top of the 2nd round, or Moreno at the end of the 4th, and I'll make the bold argument right now that they'll finish the year with nearly the same amount of fantasy points.
In 2009, McGahee grabbed 12 touchdowns as the backup to Ray Rice in Baltimore, leaving a bitter taste in fantasy owners mouth that McGahee behind any running back is a curse. But don't let that fool you. Last season he carried the ball just 100 times for 380 yards and 5 TDs, and now he'll be turning 30 this year. Moreno is the guy, McGahee will snag 100 carries in a backup role, and while he may vulture a couple scores he won't be a big hurt on Morenos fantasy value.
Ball is the #3 for now, but I'm not even sure he'd get the starting job if something happened to the first two. I feel like the Broncos would sign someone else. Ball's years in the NFL have been very un-noteworthy.
I'm an old guy (I'm not that old! But certainly when you get to your late 20s, it's the first time you start to feel like an old guy) so I still remember Lloyd on draft day. Back then, the draft was a holiday to me and I'd spend all day just watching the draft and all the pre-draft coverage had me like a kid in a candy store. I remember Lloyd's game tape and being impressed. I remember watching some ESPN rookie coverage of Brandon Lloyd, the Niners 4th round pick, and how he seemed much more impressive than an average 4th round pick.
Certainly his 3rd year numbers (48 catches for 733 yards) were great for being a 4th round pick. But you still felt like there was more. You felt like he wasn't producing the same amount of numbers that should correlate with his amount of talent. Lloyd could make highlight catches with the best in the league. Don't be fooled, he really does have some of the best grabs of the last decade. But NFL players simply don't breakout when they are 29 years old. If it hasn't happened by then, it never will.
Okay, rules have to have exceptions. He had 2 forgettable years in Washington, a forgettable year in Chicago, and a forgettable year in Denver. Then last season everything finally clicked: 77 catches, 1,448 yards, 11 TDs. He had 2,370 yards and 15 TDs in his first 7 seasons.
Now Lloyd, last seasons top fantasy WR, is going 20th in drafts on average for WRs. Twentieth? I know he's not in the elite class. And I'll give you the young exciting players like Mike Wallace and DeSean Jackson. But he's going after guys like Brandon Marshall, Marques Colston, and Steve Johnson. Lloyd probably won't repeat what he did last season, but he's a top 12 WR without much doubt for me. You want me to draft him in the 5th round for you? Okay, I'll do that. I know that the Broncos will pass less under Fox, but that just stresses the fact that Lloyd is being undervalued. Orton loves Lloyd, and vice versa, and Fox had Steve Smith put up huge numbers in Carolina for him.
Remember Eddie Royal? The former 2nd round speedster exploded on the scene with 91 catches for 980 yards, 5 TDs, and some explosive kick returns. He was one of the more exciting rookie WRs in the last decade. Then... nothing. Over his last 2 seasons combined he's barely eclipsed his rookie numbers: 96 catches, 972 yards. With Demaryius Thomas on the PUP list to start the year, Royal will start opposite Lloyd (if his hip is fully healed) and could be an interesting sleeper pick. Through 4 games last year he had 25 grabs, 299 yards and 2 TDs. Give him a shot at the end of the draft.
As stated, the 2010 first round pick for Denver is starting the year on the Physically Unable to Perform list, meaning he'll miss at least 6 weeks. In his 2010 NFL debut he had 8 catches for 97 yards and a TD. You want to love him, but you gotta stay away.
He was a 3rd round pick out of Minnesota as a WR/KR last year. Because he has the KR label, that always makes me semi-interested. If Royal sucks or isn't healthy enough to go, Decker should be next in line. He had 3 catches for 39 yards in the last preseason game.
No Denver tight end is going to be drafted in fantasy. Fells comes over from St Louis where he had 41 catches for 391 yards and 2 TDs last season. Isn't that neat? For years Fox went with Jeff King and Dante Rosario as his two tight ends, and which one of those guys did you roster in fantasy?