QB Kyle Orton
Where is the love in Denver for Orton? The Broncos acquired him from the Bears prior to the 2009 season and he rewarded them with a career year. He continued that in 2010 before his season was derailed by injuries. The Broncos have thanked Orton by using a 2010 first-round pick on Tim Tebow, acquiring Brady Quinn as competition, and putting Orton on the trade block as soon as the lockout ended. Denver fans have thanked him by booing him during training camp practices. With trade talks having calmed down, it really isn’t a surprise that Orton is listed first on the team’s depth chart. Tebow proved at the end of last season that, while he is a capable playmaker with his legs, he isn’t ready to contribute at the NFL level as a passer. In addition, Orton is the perfect fit for new head coach John Fox, who wants to establish the team’s running game, avoid turnovers on offense, and play solid defense. While Orton might be the perfect fit for Fox, he’s not the perfect fit for your fantasy squad. With quarterback-friendly Josh McDaniels no longer leading the offense and Fox’s rushing mentality now in town, Orton is a fantasy backup with almost no chance of attaining the 21 fantasy points per game he posted in 2010. And we haven’t even mentioned that he’s in the final year of his contract and wants to test the free agent market, giving the Broncos plenty of reason to give Tebow a shot as soon as the season heads south, which seems imminent.
QB Tim Tebow
While the thought of Tebow running the Broncos offense was an intriguing one, it turns out he was too far behind the curve in the passing game for that to happen in 2011—at least for opening day. The Broncos couldn’t get market value for Kyle Orton, who it now appears will open the season as the starter. His contract is up at season’s end, however, so there is a strong possibility Tebow will start if Orton struggles or the team falls out of playoff contention. Tebow was highly productive in three starts at the end of last season, averaging 28.8 points per game mostly because his running ability—he gained 227 yards and six touchdowns on 43 carries over the course of the season. That makes him a solid prospect in dynasty formats. He is waiver wire material in redraft leagues but worth adding as a fantasy backup if he somehow ends up in the starting lineup.
RB Knowshon Moreno
Figuring out Moreno’s fantasy value is a tricky proposition in 2011. The waters are muddy and navigating them is no easy task. On the plus side, John Fox is now in town and he loves to run the ball, so that should mean more touches for Moreno. Unfortunately, Fox also loves to use a committee approach at running back, and the Broncos acquired Willis McGahee to fill the backup role. He’s far superior to the backups Moreno has had over the first two years of his career. The offense should be more productive with Kyle Orton under center than with Tim Tebow, but how long that will be the case is anybody’s guess, with Orton in a contract year and the fans clamoring for Tebow to start. Tebow vultured six touchdowns last season, and the team will possibility feature him in short-yardage situations, even if he opens the season as a backup. Finally, after two years in the league, it seems pretty clear that Moreno doesn’t have the talent level to support his having been taken with the 12th pick in the 2009 draft. He’s likely going to be drafted as an RB2, but he is best suited as a fantasy backup, so don’t reach for him on draft day.
RB Willis McGahee
With a large salary pending for 2011, McGahee was let go by the Ravens in a move that surprised nobody. Having struck out in their attempts to sign free agent DeAngelo Williams, the Broncos signed McGahee to backup disappointing 2009 first-round pick Knowshon Moreno. While there are whispers that McGahee has a chance to carve out a large role in Denver, that seems unlikely. He will turn 30 during the season and is on the downside of his career. While Moreno will probably never be mentioned as one of the league’s top backs, the bottom line is that he is more explosive and has more upside than the aging McGahee. Consider McGahee a worthy handcuff, but he is unlikely to be even a decent flex option as long as Moreno stays healthy.
WR Brandon Lloyd
Even though it was his eighth year in the league, Lloyd seemed to come out of nowhere last season to catch 77 passes for 1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns and become the leading fantasy wide receiver. Suffice it to say, you could have made a bungle in Vegas on that bet. Just don’t make that same bet in 2011. Josh McDaniels took his pass-happy offense to St. Louis and has been replaced by John Fox, a coach who favors running the ball, so Lloyd isn’t likely to approach the targets he had in 2010. Throw in Denver’s quarterback issues—with Tim Tebow breathing down the neck of likely starter Kyle Orton—and the fact that Lloyd was regarded as a bust prior to 2010, and it seems pretty clear that Lloyd shouldn’t be drafted as a WR1. That being said, it wouldn’t be fair to completely disregard his marvelous 2010 season, and he is the Broncos’ top wide receiver with no threat of competition. Draft him as a mid-tier to high-end WR2.
WR Eddie Royal
After Royal burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2008 with 91 receptions for 980 yards and five scores, the sky seemed to be the limit. Well, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but he did seem ready to be a consistent performer for years to come. The wheels fell off in 2009, however, then he enjoyed a somewhat resurgent 2010 season. By resurgent, I mean 59 receptions for 627 yards and three touchdowns. In 2011, Royal will battle Eric Decker for a starting spot opposite Brandon Lloyd, but he is clearly not the front-runner due to his lack of size—head coach John Fox likes his receivers to be solid blockers. That makes Royal a candidate for mostly slot work in an offense that will pass far less than it did last season. In addition, 2010 first-round pick Demaryius Thomas will come of the physically unable to perform list and challenge for playing time by midseason. You see where this is going, right? Don’t go thinking Royal is ready to recreate his rookie magic because it ain’t gonna happen.
WR Eric Decker
There’s a new sheriff in town who likes to run the ball and Decker’s got more size than the diminutive Eddie Royal. That means he’s got a leg up on earning a starting spot—there’s just no telling what he’ll be able to do with it if he does earn it. Decker enters 2011 coming off a subpar rookie campaign where he caught just six passes for 106 yards and a score. The Broncos aren’t going to throw it a lot, Decker doesn’t have a history of production, and Demaryius Thomas will challenge for playing time when he returns from injury around midseason. Decker’s going to need to earn a starting spot coming out of the preseason and be productive early in order to hold off Thomas. That’s a lot to ask. He’s waiver wire material in redraft leagues.
WR Demaryius Thomas
Thomas has a pile of potential and eventually he figures to become the Broncos’ top wide receiver. It’s just not going to happen in 2011. The 2010 first-round pick suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon at the end of last season and will open 2011 on the physically unable to perform list. Thomas saw limited action as a rookie, playing in ten games, starting two, and catching 22 passes for 283 yards and a pair of scores. At 6’3” and 224 pounds, he possesses very good size and also has excellent speed, making him a great prospect for keeper leagues. For redraft leagues, he’s not worth drafting.
TE Daniel Fells
With a pair of rookies and the underwhelming Richard Quinn on the roster, the Broncos brought in Fells and Dante Rosario to keep the tight end position warm for the 2011 season. Bank on Fells earning the starting nod. While he is hardly a dynamic performer, he’s far more consistent that Rosario, and that figures to earn him the starting spot. He’s coming off a career year in 2010 with the Rams, where he caught 41 passes for 391 yards and a pair of scores. But don’t rely on him earning enough playing time to replicate that success in 2011.
TE Dante Rosario
We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: Looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane. Don’t expect that to change as he enters his fifth year in the league.
TE Julius Thomas
The Broncos used a fourth-round pick in this year’s draft to acquire Thomas. He is an athletic player who played basketball at Portland State, but his adjustment to the NFL will take some time given his lack of football experience. That’s why the Broncos signed a pair of veterans in Daniel Fells and Dante Rosario to man the tight end position in 2011. And that’s why Thomas is only worth considering in dynasty leagues.
TE Richard Quinn
The Broncos used a second-round pick in 2009 to acquire Quinn, and it’s safe to say the rest of the league laughed as they blew such a high pick on a blocking tight end. In two years, he has caught one pass for nine yards. They’re laughing even more now. Don’t make your fantasy colleagues laugh at you for having Quinn on your roster.