QB: Peyton Manning
In this case, the easy way out is probably correct; Manning will regress. He was incredible last year, but there’s a good reason why his 55 touchdowns record is considered historic. Looking back with some hindsight bias, his only matchup that ended up as an above-average pass defense was the Ravens. He also struggled in the week 12 game at Foxborough, and faced the Chiefs when the defense was ravaged by injuries. What more could have gone right?
In 2014, Manning will throw to Emmanuel Sanders and Cody Latimer instead of the underrated Eric Decker. Last season, the Redskins’ DeAngelo Hall wasn’t sure who the #1 receiver on the team was, Demaryius Thomas or Decker, before ultimately shadowing Thomas. This season, no defensive player is comparing Thomas and Sanders, he is just taking Thomas.
RB: Montee Ball, C.J. Anderson, Ronnie Hillman
After Knowshon Moreno ran away with the lead role last year, Ball will have the first shot to start this year. Some people remember Ball from his breakout 2011 college season, when he was a Hesiman Trophy finalist, and others will note that he was a second round pick. Compared to Moreno, it looks like Ball will be able to step it up a notch, but I’m not convinced.
Ball, unlike some backs, is a patient runner with good vision to see holes develop. With vision and average skills alone, Ball could turn this opportunity into a valuable fantasy season, just like Moreno did last season. However, Ball lacks any special agility, burst, or elusiveness that would add another edge to his game. On the ground, it looks like he’ll just get what is handed to him.
While Hillman might get some work, Anderson is the real backup. The Broncos really like him, and I think he’s a better fit for the Manning offense than Ball is. Like Ball, Anderson is a decent receiver with good hands, and is a patient zone runner. But Anderson is a superior pass blocker to Ball, and has a lot of lateral quickness. If Ball’s ball security issues pop up again, don’t be surprised if Anderson breaks out.
WR: Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Emmanuel Sanders, Cody Latimer
If Manning’s stats will decrease, so will his receivers’. Thomas and Welker should easily post top-20 seasons if health allows, but I think Welker’s 2013 touchdown pace prior to injury was unsustainable. It was interesting to see him as a red zone threat instead of a target monster, but it means that Welker is a little riskier than he seems. Last season, he failed to record 10 catches or 100 yards in a single game.
Replacing Decker is tough to do, especially when he and Sanders are completely different football players. Sanders should get targets, but he is a much smaller than Decker and isn’t likely to be the same red zone threat. On Fantasy Football Calculator, he is WR27 on ADP, which doesn’t really generate any value. Latimer, the team’s 2014 second round pick, looks a lot more like Decker’s replacement, with the size and hands needed to be a red zone target. He’s an interesting late round pick.
TE: Julius Thomas, Jacob Tamme, Virgil Green
After his breakout season, Thomas is being drafted near or above Rob Gronkowski, which is probably a mistake. Gronk is the best per-game tight end in fantasy, but has injury problems. Meanwhile, Thomas has struggled with ankle injuries throughout his career—remember, he was drafted in 2011—and will also see touchdown regression. Should Thomas miss action, I prefer Tamme, who is proven at the NFL level, over Green.
The Broncos had a pretty rush defense in 2013, although it wasn’t used much. If DeMarcus Ware can stay healthy, he can replace the departed Shaun Phillips and maybe do more. Aqib Talib pretty much replaces Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, but the additions of safety T.J. Ward and rookie corner Bradley Roby mean the secondary as a whole is improved. In my D/ST rankings, I placed the Broncos D at #17, so they can be streamed in the right matchups.