The Broncos enter 2010 on the heels of a disappointing 2009 campaign in which they started out 6-0 but stumbled down the stretch to finish 8-8. The team’s defense crumbled during a four–game losing streak at the end of the season, allowing 1,573 yards and 122 points over that stretch.
The defense has been addressed this off-season, including three new starters along the defensive line with several veterans signed to plug the holes. The most significant off-season move was the trade of star wide receiver Brandon Marshall to Miami.
Marshall became the second young Pro Bowl quality player (following quarterback Jay Cutler) to be shipped out by head coach Josh McDaniels, who enters 2010 squarely on the hot seat.
Quarterback Kyle Orton posted career-high numbers in most categories last year but there are no guarantees he will be the team’s starter throughout 2010. The Broncos traded back into Round 1 of the NFL Draft to select Florida quarterback Tim Tebow and acquired former first-round pick Brady Quinn from the Browns via trade. If Orton falters, look for the Broncos to bench him quickly.
At running back, Knowshon Moreno figures to get the majority of work and his running style meshes better with the power running attack the Broncos will employ this year. However, a breakout season might not be in the cards if the passing offense struggles and with a lack of weapons on the outside, there’s a good chance it will.
With Marshall in Miami, the Broncos will turn to aging veterans Brandon Stokley and Jabar Gaffney as well as third-year player Eddie Royal along with rookies Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. While McDaniels may not have appreciated Marshall’s attitude, he will struggle to replace his production with the current crop of wide receivers on the roster.
QB Kyle Orton
Orton is coming off a career year in which he completed over 62% of his passes while throwing for 3,802 yards and 21 touchdowns (all career highs) with only 12 interceptions. The Broncos were so impressed they brought in not one but two quarterbacks to compete with him. They acquired Brady Quinn from the Browns in a trade and moved up into the first round to select Tim Tebow. If the Broncos aren’t impressed, then you shouldn’t be either. With Brandon Marshall having been traded and Eddie Royal coming off a horrific sophomore season, the wide receiver depth chart is littered with veteran retreads and rookies. It will come as no surprise if Quinn or Tebow gets a shot early in 2010.
QB Brady Quinn
When the Broncos acquired Quinn from the Browns, the initial thought was he would be given an opportunity to unseat Kyle Orton with many prognosticators thinking he would enter the season as the team’s starter. However, head coach Josh McDaniels has twice stated that Orton will begin the pre-season as the starter. The Broncos system featured numerous short and intermediate routes in 2009 so accuracy is a point of emphasis, which doesn’t work to Quinn’s advantage. His average completion percentage in three years with Cleveland was a woeful 52.1%. While Quinn may eventually get a shot in 2010, he appears to be a work in progress and would only be keeping the position warm for rookie Tim Tebow.
RB Knowshon Moreno
Entering the offseason, Moreno looked like a potential top-10 fantasy running back. Despite hitting the rookie wall late last season (2.7 yards per rush over his last four games), Moreno had a solid rookie campaign running for 947 yards and 7 touchdowns while showing adequate pass receiving ability. The Broncos have indicated they plan on getting Moreno more touches, which is music to the ears of fantasy owners, however, the trade of Brandon Marshall to Miami leaves the team void of a proven number one receiver and the quarterback situation also looks desperate. It won’t be a surprise if Brady Quinn or Tim Tebow is starting at some point – both factors could lead to opposing defenses stacking the box against Moreno until the Broncos prove they have playmakers in the passing game. Moreno shapes up as a mid-tier RB2 with upside.
RB Correll Buckhalter
At times in 2009, Buckhalter seemed to outplay hotshot rookie Knowshon Moreno, particularly in the running game averaging 5.3 yards per carry to Moreno’s 3.8. However, the Broncos plan to feature Moreno more in 2010 and have signed J.J. Arrington to help as a receiver out of the backfield which means Buckhalter is looking at fewer touches this season. If Moreno goes down with an injury, Buckhalter’s value would kick into gear given Arrington is not a good insider runner. Buckhalter is worthy of drafting as a handcuff but doesn’t figure to be useful as a flex option in leagues until more opportunities on the field present themselves.
WR Eddie Royal
Royal was one of the biggest fantasy disappointments in 2009, finishing with 345 yards receiving and 0 touchdowns after a rookie season of 91 receptions for 980 yards and 5 TDs. One of the most disconcerting aspects of Royal’s 2009 season was most of his targets came on short passes yet he caught only 46.8% of passes thrown his way, whereas Marshall had more deep attempts and caught 65.6% of his targets. Brandon Marshall has been traded and head coach Josh McDaniels has given lip service that Royal is going to be more involved in 2010. This coach speak should be viewed with some skepticism since the Broncos used 2010 draft picks on wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. Nonetheless, there is some upside here but don’t reach too early for Royal. Consider him a low-end WR3 but monitor how he is used in the preseason.
WR Demaryius Thomas
Head coach Josh McDaniels clearly has little use for any player he didn’t bring in so Thomas, drafted in the 1st round this year, figures to get plenty of playing time. Unfortunately, he might be catching (or trying to catch) passes from Brady Quinn or Tim Tebow by mid-season. There’s a good chance he’ll be in the starting lineup Week 1 but the quarterback situation and overall prospects for the Broncos offense will make it difficult for him to have a solid impact as a rookie. He is definitely a viable prospect in dynasty leagues but will be drafted before he should in re-draft leagues. It’s all about value and raw, rookie receivers with unstable quarterback situations should generally be avoided.
WR Jabar Gaffney
Gaffney was surprisingly productive last year, finishing second on the team to Brandon Marshall with 54 catches and 732 yards and a pair of touchdowns. However, 213 of those yards came in the final game of the season against Kansas City and he scored his two touchdowns in week 16 making his fantasy consistency factor useless in 2009. The wide receiver situation in Denver is unsettled and Gaffney may enter the season in the starting line-up although that may change as the season progresses given the rookies on the roster. The bottom line: slight upside with Gaffney to go along with plenty of risk.
WR Eric Decker
Let’s see, Josh McDaniels clearly likes his guys, Eddie Royal isn’t one of them and he was a bust last season. Jabar Gaffney and Brandon Stokley aren’t the long-term answers so Decker will get a shot at some point and don’t be surprised if it’s this year. However, expecting much from the 2010 3rd-round pick is a bit of a stretch considering the team appears to be reloading on offense and has personnel issues at the quarterback position.
TE Daniel Graham
Tony Scheffler is gone so Graham will move into the starting lineup, which unfortunately means nothing to fantasy owners. Graham is a blocking specialist and the Broncos don’t significantly utilize the tight end in the passing game. Graham may not even beat out second-year player Richard Quinn for the starting spot. Frankly, having a back-up tight end on a good offensive team would bring more fantasy benefit than either tight end options in Denver.
TE Richard Quinn
Inexplicably, the Broncos took Quinn at the back end of the 2nd-round in 2009, which is far too early for a blocking tight end (12 receptions over his last two years in college). With the trade of Tony Scheffler to Detroit, Quinn will battle Daniel Graham for playing time. Offseason reports indicate Quinn has struggled catching the ball so he should be avoided for fantasy purposes.