College football’s all-time most productive passer, Case
Keenum, went undrafted and has bounced around the league, from
the Texans to the Rams to the Vikings but he might have finally
found a place to stick on the Broncos who gave him a two-year
$36 million deal. Denver has been struggling to find a quarterback
since the retirement of Peyton Manning, with young quarterbacks
like Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch seemingly
failing in every opportunity they’ve been given. A veteran
presence at quarterback should bring some stability to this offense.
Keenum only started 15 games with Vikings but he made his presence
felt, leading the team to a 12-3 in those games, including a playoff
win over the Saints. Keenum’s 22 touchdown passes on the
season won’t dazzle you but his 22-to-7 touchdown-to-interception
ratio was one of the big reasons why the Vikings were in control
of as many games as they were. That’s great for the Broncos
who still have one of the league’s most threatening defenses,
but it doesn’t do a lot for us fantasy owners who will need
to see more in order to make Keenum a fantasy starter on a week-to-week
From a personal standpoint, Keenum walks into a situation that’s
not all that different from the one he saw in 2017 with the Vikings.
Like the Vikings, the Broncos have two established outside wide
receivers who are capable of winning in multiple areas of the
field, there’s a young running back who is expected to get
much of the early down work, and they have an offensive line with
some question marks heading into the season. The big difference
is that the Broncos are simply not as deep as the Vikings, who
also had the likes of pass catching specialist Jerick McKinnon
at running back and Kyle Rudolph at tight end.
At the moment, Keenum projects to be a streaming option at the
position who does see some seemingly favorable passing matchups
against divisional opponents like the Raiders and Chiefs, but
he’s probably not someone who will be drafted in anything
other than two-QB or superflex formats.
Reports out of Denver are that the team is still not sure who
will lead the team in touches out of the backfield, but that’s
exactly the type of news that we expect to hear from the majority
of NFL coaching staffs that play the “rookies need to learn
the system” game rather than just admitting that, on game
day, they’ll be putting the best players on the field in
the majority of situations. For the Broncos, that’s clearly
rookie running back Royce Freeman.
Denver selected Freeman in the third round of April’s NFL
Draft, securing themselves a college workhorse who put together
over 6,400 total yards of offense and 64 touchdowns during his
four-year collegiate career at Oregon. He finished his career
as college football’s seventh-leading rusher all-time. Freeman
was a high-level high school recruit and stepped right into the
Marcus Mariota-led Ducks offense, producing 1,365 rushing yards
along with 19 total touchdowns as a freshman. The moment was not
too big for Freeman as a freshman stepping into a high-level program
and it won’t be too much for him when he gets onto the field
for the Broncos early this season.
Only Devontae Booker and DeAngelo
Henderson stand in the way of Freeman who, at 6-0 and 229-pounds,
can lower his shoulder and deliver a boom to defenders or use
his upper-percentile size/speed combination and agility to simply
evade tacklers. Freeman is also a solid pass protector which should
earn him at least some passing down work and is he’s a decent
enough pass catcher, something that has been missing out of the
Denver backfield for a long time.
It would be too bold to predict that Freeman will be the NFL’s
Offensive Rookie of the Year this season with fellow running backs
like Saquan Barkley, Darius Guice, Sony Michel and Rashaad Penny
all being drafted ahead of him, but Freeman should be given a
big role this season in Denver and it would not be at all surprising
to see him finish among the top rookie performers in fantasy football
An early-season wrist injury cost Devontae Booker significant
playing time this past season, which is disappointing because
many believed that he would end up out-scoring veteran C.J. Anderson
in the Denver backfield if he was given the opportunity. Despite
playing in 13 games, Booker failed to reach even 300 yards on
the ground and faded into relative obscurity as the season went
Booker is likely considered the “starter” heading
into camp but don’t be fooled by that. The Broncos selected
Royce Freeman in the third round of the draft and there’s
really no question that he’s the preferred option for fantasy
purposes. Booker simply lacks the size, speed or strength to be
an every down workhorse and despite his production in the passing
game, he’s not good enough there to completely keep Freeman
off the field in all passing downs.
Booker is a late-round PPR option at best but he would almost
certainly take over as the top back on the roster if Freeman were
to go down with an injury, so there’s some upside there
It’s been painful to watch Demaryius Thomas suffer through
some of the worst quarterback play in the league over the past
few seasons and Thomas finally failed to reach 1,000 receiving
yards this past season for the first time since 2011, his second
season in the league. Thomas finished tied for 10th in the NFL
in 2017 with 10 red zone receptions, but he got a bit unlucky
as he only finished with five touchdowns on the season. The 30-year-old
wideout may not possess the incredible 4.41 speed that made him
one of the biggest freak athletes at the position when he came
into the league, but Thomas still creates major mismatches, especially
in the red zone, with his size and strength.
The bright side for Thomas is that, while his counting stats
have been down in recent seasons, he’s still seeing a ton
of targets and the efficiency of those targets should go up with
even semi-competent quarterback play. Thomas now will get to play
with Case Keenum, who finished second in the NFL, behind only
an all-time NFL record performance by Drew Brees, with a 67.6
completion percentage in 2017. Keenum doesn’t specialize
in down-field passing but he should be a significant step up from
the dumpster fire of a situation that Thomas has been dealing
with as of late.
The Broncos did invest an early-second round pick on wide receiver
Courtland Sutton who figures to be the heir-apparent for Thomas,
but that won’t likely come to fruition until at least the 2019
season when Thomas’ contract is up for renewal. For now, the veteran
should be in line to see at least 125 targets this season which
should give him a high enough floor to out-produce his current
ADP, which has him in the 20s among wide receivers.
He doesn’t have the sexy name anymore but players like
Thomas are a great option as a WR2 or even a very low-end WR1
for teams that go running back-heavy early in their drafts, or
who select a quarterback or tight end in the first few rounds.
His days as a true WR1 for fantasy purposes are probably done,
but don’t sleep on Thomas in 2018 just because he hasn’t
been great over the past few seasons.
After posting three straight 1,000-yard seasons in Denver, Emmanuel
Sanders took a big step back in 2017, posting just 555 yards on
47 receptions. It’s easy to look at those numbers and completely
dismiss Sanders as being past his prime at age 31, but it might
not be that simple. Sanders suffered an ankle injury in Week 6
of the 2017 season and it really seemed to bother him in some
games. While he produced a huge game in Week 7, Sanders went on
to fail to achieve even 20 yards receiving in his next four games.
We’ve seen Sanders be streaky throughout his career, but
this was more than that - it was very obvious to anyone watching
the games that Sanders was not generating the type of separation
that he normally does from defensive backs and that, combined
with terrible quarterback play, culminated in a disastrous fantasy
Looking forward to 2018, Sanders projects to start out wide opposite
Demaryius Thomas. The Broncos did select Courtland Sutton who
looks to be a future replacement for Sanders and/or Thomas, but
Sutton is still very raw and won’t likely take significant
snaps away from either player until at least late in the season.
The targets figure to still be there for Sanders, who had seen
an average of 138 targets per season since he came to Denver prior
to the drop-off season in 2017 where he saw just 92 targets. The
added competition along with Sanders’ age and health issues
mean that we should be projecting him for more along the lines
of 110 targets, but that could still easily translate to a 70-catch,
near 1000-yard season, with some potential big games sprinkled
in. Case Keenum will be a welcome addition to the Denver passing
game and Sanders is a great bet to bounceback and finish ahead
of his current ADP which has him in the mid-30s at wide receiver,
but he’s still a bit risky and it’d be wise to draft
him as a Flex or even bench player to start the season, as opposed
to an every-week starter for your fantasy team.
At 6’3”, 220 lbs, Courtland Sutton is one of the
few true potential “X” receivers coming out of a weak
2017 draft class at wide receiver. Sutton was considered by many
to be among the top three receivers in the class and he was selected
as such, as the third receiver off the board to the Broncos with
the eighth pick of the second round.
What’s unfortunate is that, while the Broncos passing game
was well below average in 2017, Sutton is stepping into a situation,
at least as a rookie, where he doesn’t seem to have a clear
path to significant playing time. With veterans Demaryius Thomas
and Emmanuel Sanders entrenched as the team’s outside options
on most passing downs, Sutton would simply need to be so spectacular
in training camp and throughout the preseason that the coaching
staff has no other option than to move Thomas or Sanders to the
slot to get Sutton on the field as Sutton is simply not built
for, and doesn’t project to play inside.
The upside for Sutton, in 2018, is that Sanders has been dealing
with an ankle injury and his play was way down in 2017. If he’s
still struggling to generate separation from defenders, the team
may opt to give Sutton some additional playing time down the stretch
this season, especially with both Thomas and Sanders’ contracts
coming up for renewal. Still, Sutton doesn’t project to
have much of a target share this season as things currently stand,
so he should probably be avoided in most formats, with the obvious
exception of dynasty leagues as he figures to assume a starting
role as early as 2019.
Despite being selected two rounds later than fellow rookie teammate
Courtland Sutton, DaeSean Hamilton might actually have a more
obvious path to playing time. Though he’ll have to compete
with 2017 third-round NFL Draft pick Carlos Henderson, Hamilton
might have been the best slot receiver prospect in this entire
draft class and that’s what the Broncos need alongside outside
wide receiver veterans Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.
The team had to think they had a serious threat out of the slot
when they drafted Carlos Henderson in 2017 who was a monster-producer
as a junior in college, but Henderson suffered a thumb injury
that ended his rookie season before it ever even started. Henderson
was then arrested this offseason in Louisiana on a marijuana charge.
Needless to say, a potential suspension along with an injury can’t
really give the coaching staff much confidence in Henderson when
he’s compared to a player like Hamilton who has been widely
regarded as a tremendous off-the-field leader and teammate.
Denver invested a fourth-round pick on Hamilton and while he
lacks high-end physical measurables, Hamilton figures to see playing
time. Keenum saw tremendous success throwing to his slot receiver,
Adam Thielen, this past season in Minnesota and he tends to pass
the ball closer to the line of scrimmage which could lead to him
targeting Hamilton more often than many fantasy gamers would assume
heading into the season.
Hamilton is not draft-worthy in most seasonal formats, but he
does have some interesting value for dynasty leaguers who understand
that the league is seeing many more passes to the slot than ever
before and that trend should continue for the foreseeable future.
It’d be tough to justify selecting any Broncos tight end
for fantasy this season but if there’s one who has the chance
to break out, it’s definitely second-year player Jake Butt.
At 6’5”, 245 lbs, Butt has the prototypical size that
you’d want out of an NFL tight end and he was projected
to be an early-round draft pick prior to tearing his ACL in his
final collegiate game in the 2016 Orange Bowl.
With Virgil Green now on the Chargers, the Broncos tight end
job is open for the taking. If he can earn the primary tight end
role this preseason, Butt could have fantasy value this season.
The Broncos aren’t a particularly tight end-friendly offense,
but Case Keenum did have success throwing to Kyle Rudolph, particularly
in the red zone, as he finished second among all tight ends with
eight touchdowns in 2017. Butt won’t figure to see that
much work, but the tight end position is a crapshoot as a whole
and he at least has some upside, unlike many of the players being
selected around him at the position.