After making the playoffs for five straight years with a Super Bowl title, Denver missed the playoff in back-to-back seasons with a 5-11 record. Vance Joseph took over as head coach in 2017, which was a step up in job after spending 2016 as the defensive coordinator for the Dolphins. He has 13 seasons of NFL coaching experience all on the defensive side of the ball.
It appeared the lack of offense in 2017 led to some of the failures by the Broncos’ defense in points allowed (382 – 22nd). The Broncos ranked in the top four in the NFL in yards allowed for the fourth straight year. Joe Woods was promoted from defensive backs coach (13 years of experience in the NFL) to defensive coordinator in 2017.
The failure on offense led to Bill Musgrove taking over as the offensive coordinator late in 2017. Musgrove has 19 years of experience in the NFL with eight seasons as an offensive coordinator. The Broncos were about league average in offensive yards (17th) while falling to 27th in points scored (289), which was four straight season of regression (606, 482, 355, and 333).
Denver signed Case Keenum to take over as the starting quarterback after the best season of his career with the Vikings in 2017. QB Brock Osweiler left to sign with the Dolphins.
The Broncos moved on from TE Virgil Green, WR Cody Latimer, and T Donald Stephenson. Green and Latimer have never played at a high level in their years in the NFL. Stephenson is a backup player with no upside.
Denver signed P Marquette King, DT Clinton McDonald, and DB Tramaine Brock. McDonald projects as a rotational player with some pass rushing ability. Brock will add depth to secondary while offering value in three of his last five years in the NFL.
With the fifth pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Broncos added another weapon to their defense with DE Bradley Chubb. His best asset is his first step off the snap, which leads to high upside rushing the QB and defending the run. Chubb is a fighter with a high motor. Bradley should handle himself well in pass coverage. His next step in his development is his hands with better discipline in his attack off the ball.
With the next two draft picks, Denver selected WR Courtland Sutton and RB Royce Freeman to help their defense. Sutton offers an interesting combination of speed (4.54) and size (6’3” and 218 lbs.). His route running isn’t where it needs to be to beat a defense at all levels. His release is an edge thanks to his size and quickness, but he gives backspace due to his readable moves in pass patterns over the short areas of the field.
Freeman has the feel of a workhorse back that lacks impact top end speed and open field ability. His short areas quickness grades well while offering vision at the point of contact. Royce has limited experience in the passing game with questions with his pass protecting skills. Power is his game with a willingness to run between the tackles.
In the third and fourth round, Denver drafted CB Isaac Yiadom and LB Josey Jewell. Yiadom lacks upper body strength, but he plays with strength and a willingness to hit. Isaac has press coverage skills with the hips to finish coverage over the short areas of the field. His technique off the ball needs work while lacking value in deep coverage. Jewell doesn’t have the speed (4.82) to match his lack of size (6’1”), but he makes up for it with his anticipation and film study. Josey won’t have winning value when asked to change direction. His best opportunity will come attacking the line of scrimmage.
WR DaeSean Hamilton and TE Troy Fumagalli were the choices in the fourth and fifth round. Hamilton is a slot WR with plus route running and short area quickness. His possession type skills should work well in the Broncos’ offense where he’ll add scoring value in the red zone. Daesean won’t get faster, which paints a mediocre picture of his value. Fumagalli needs to add more strength to create more value in the run game. His release and route running have potential, but he’ll need time to develop.
In the sixth round, Denver invested in C Sam Jones and LB Keishawn Bierria. Jones has quickness off the snap and athletic upside, but his play strength isn’t NFL ready with questions about his ability to add more weight. Bierria is a workhorse type linebacker who has limited upside due to below average speed and difference maker skills. Keishawn does offset his shortfalls with vision and anticipation.
RB David Williams was the choice in the seventh round. He’s north/south type power runner. Williams will struggle to make plays on the outside without a free run while having minimal open field moves. Possible short yardage back with a finisher style.
The Broncos finished 12th in the NFL in rushing yards (1,852) with only eight rushing TDs. Their ball carrier gained 4.1 yards per carry with only eight runs over 20 yards.
QB plays was a huge problem for Denver last year. They ranked 20th in passing yards (3,333) with 19 TDs and 22 Ints. Their offensive line allowed 52 sacks and 104 QB hits. The Broncos gained only 6.5 yards per pass attempt.
LT Garett Bolles was the Broncos first-round selection in 2017. He’s a talented player with plus speed and quickness for his position. Garett has solid vision while playing with an edge, but he needs to add bulk and power to his game. His style works for a quick hitting rushing offense. In his rookie season with 16 starts, Bolles played well in run blocking while struggling in pass protection. I expect him to be much better all-around in 2018.
LG Ronald Leary signed a four-year $36 million contract in 2017. Leary had the best success of his career over the last two seasons while also having a high floor over his five seasons in the NFL. Leary was an edge on both run and pass blocking last year before missing the last five games of the year with a back injury.
C Matt Paradis was one of the better players at his position in 2016 while showing growth over his rookie season, but he regressed last year. Denver drafted him in the 6th round in 2014. Paradis maintained a high level of play in pass protection with fade as a run blocker.
RG Connor McGovern started the last five games in 2017 with failing results in all results. The Broncos drafted McGovern in the fifth round in 2015. Denver will look to fill this position with a player with higher upside.
RT Jared Veldheer has five strong seasons on his resume in his eight-year career, but he struggled in all areas due to an ankle injury. The Broncos acquired Veldheer in March for a sixth-round draft pick. Jared should be an asset in 2018.
This offensive line has a chance to have three players with league average value or better. The right guard position appears to be a weakness while the center position could be better with a rebound in play by Conner McGovern. I expect Denver to have a better offensive line in 2018, but it will rank only just above average.
The above data shows the strength of schedule as far as rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA), and passing touchdowns (TDS).
This information is based on 2017, which will work as our starting point for 2018. We’ll look at all the changes on offense on each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades on each team on the defensive side. We’ll update this table when we finish the research on all 32 teams.
2017 LG Average = the league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2017.
2017 Results = this is the results for each team in the NFL.
2017 Adjustment is based on the 2017 league average and the 2017 results for each team, this number will show if each team is above or below the league average in each stat category and the basis for the strength of schedule.
Denver has three games (CIN and LAC X 2) games vs. teams with risk defending the run with all games coming over the last seven games of the seasons. They have one tough matchup (ARI) leading to an overall favorable schedule for the Broncos’ offense.
The only two games (LAC X 2) against a team with success defending the pass in 2017. The Broncos have four mid-tier games (OAK X 2 and KC X 2) vs. defenses that ranked below the league average defending the passing game.
The Broncos want to play solid defense with a plus running game. Denver finished 8th in the NFL in rushing attempts (28.6) in 2017, but game score and losses left some rushing plays on the table. With better QB play and fewer mistakes, The Broncos would be in better position to win games.
QB Case Keenum – Over his first 26 games in the NFL, Keenum had a 9-15 record with 5,224 passing yards, 24 TDs, and 20 Ints. He gained only 6.7 yards per pass attempts. An injury to Sam Bradford led to Case earning the starting job in Week 3. Keenum went 11-3 with a spike in his completion rate (67.6). He finished 3,547 passing yards with 22 TDs and seven Ints. Keenum passed for over 300 yards in two games while delivering more than two TDs in three contests. Over his starts, Case attempts more than 33 passes in four games. Last year the Broncos’ QBs passed for 3,668 yards on 566 attempts with 19 TDs. Denver signed him to a two-year contract in March for $36 million. Keenum expects to be the starting QB for the Broncos while being asked to be a game manager. He’ll have two strong veteran WRs with a high upside rookie WR (Courtland Sutton), which gives Case playable value in some games. Only a backup Fantasy QB with a chance at 3,500+ yards with only league average TDs.
QB Paxton Lynch – Over three seasons at Memphis, Lynch threw for 8,865 yards with 59 TDs and 23 Ints. He improved in each season with growth in every part of his game. Paxton threw for 3,778 yards in his last year in college with 28 passing TDs and only four Ints. He did a nice job in 2014 when he ran in 13 TDs, but Lynch only gained 2.8 yards per rushing attempt. In 2015, Paxton had similar success rushing the ball (2.7 yards per rush) with a shape decline in rushing TDs (2). Lynch needs to improve his accuracy while proving he can handle the responsibility of reading NFL defense. Over five games over two seasons, Lynch passed for 792 yards with four TDs and four Ints. His best game came in Week 16 (254 yards and two TDs) in 2017. His development was limited last year due to a sprained right shoulder late in August. Paxton is a former first-round draft pick (2016) who has the talent to emerge as the starting QB at some point in 2018.
QB Chad Kelly – Kelly was another swing to improve the future in the passing game in the seventh round in 2017. Kelly has deep playmaking skills while being at his best when making quick, decisive throws. His vision and throws under duress aren’t where they need to be to have success at the next level. Chad can make plays on the run, but he shows risk when under fire in the pocket.
Other Options: Nick Stevens
RB Royce Freeman – In his four seasons at Oregon, Freeman rushed for 5,621 yards with 60 TDs while adding 79 catches for 814 yards and four TDs. He runs with vision and enough lateral quickness to create winning plays over any part of the line of scrimmage. Freeman runs with power and follow-through at the second level of the defense. His speed (4.54) is about NFL average while lacking home run ability. In 2017, the Broncos’ RB rushed for 1,631 yards on 407 carries with only six rushing TDs. Their RBs caught 87 of 112 targets for 699 yards and two TDs. Freeman is going to be the early-down back in this offense with a chance to 300+ touches for 1,400+ yards. I expect about 25 catches in the passing game with a team-high in rushing TDs. He projects as a better version of C.J. Anderson who finished 273 touches in 2017 for 1,231 yards with four TDs and 28 catches. His style and opportunity have similarities to Jordan Howard while playing for a team that has a chance to play from the lead in many more games.
RB Devontae Booker – Over 23 games at Utah, Booker gained 3,395 yards with 23 TDs and 80 catches. His missed the end of 2015 due to a torn meniscus in his left knee. Devontae has upside in vision and quickness with questionable top end speed. Booker has some ability in the open field while owning an edge in strength. Over 29 games and six starts in his two years in the NFL, Booker has 1,551 combined yards with six TDs and 61 catches on 314 touches. Devante gained only 3.6 yards per rush in his NFL career. At this point of his career, Booker will only offer complementary value on early downs. He should finish as the top receiving option at RB for Denver. Possible 125 touches for 650+ yards and low value in TDs, but I sense that De’Angelo Henderson outplays him in 2018.
RB De’Angelo Henderson – De’Angelo is a small (5’7” and 208 Lbs.), one cut runner with questionable value running between the tackles. His protection skills have risk while his game projects well in the passing game. Henderson needs to develop better patience in play development with better vision. Over four seasons at Coastal Carolina, De’Angelo rushed for 4,635 yards and 58 rushing TDs while flashing value in the passing game as well (97/921/6). Interesting change of pace RB with upside in the passing game with growth in his ability to pick up the blitz. If shopping for the top passing catching back in Denver, I would lead toward Henderson while expecting him to be discounted on draft day.
Other Options: David Williams, Phillip Lindsay
WR Demaryius Thomas – Age and QB play led to fade in decline in the stats of Thomas over the last two seasons. In 2017, he finished with 83 catches for 949 yards and five TDs on 140 targets. After scoring 35 TDs from 2012 to 2014 with Peyton Manning behind center, Demaryius only has 16 TDs over his last 48 games. He saw his string of five straight seasons with over 1,000 receiving end last year. His yards per catch (11.4) was career low with four seasons of fade (15.5, 14.6, 12.4, 12.0, and 11.4). Over the last six seasons, Thomas has a minimum of 140 targets per season while never missing a game. In 2017, Demaryius had only one game with over 100 yards receiving (10/133). He had five catches or more in 12 contests, which sets a high floor in most weeks. With better QB play, Thomas will regain some of his lost value in 2018. I’ll set his bar at 90+ catches for 1,100+ yards and about seven TDs.
WR Emmanuel Sanders – After three strong seasons for the Broncos (101/1404/9, 76/1135/6, and 79/1032/5), Sanders had a huge step back in production in 2017 (47/555/2). His catch rate (51.1) was well below his previous success in Denver while losing his scoring value (two TDs). Emmanuel battled an ankle injury last year leading to a drop in his explosiveness. I expect a rebound in 2018, but Sander will see more competition for targets if rookie Courtland Sutton hits the ground running. I’d lower my outlook on his to 60 catches for 800+ yards with about five TDs while understanding he may offer more upside with better QB play and a step forward the Broncos’ passing attack.
WR Courtland Sutton – There is no doubt Denver was looking to find another big bodied WR to replace Demaryius Thomas in the starting lineup down the road with the selection of Sutton in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Over the last two seasons at SMU, Courtland caught 144 passes for 2,331 yards and 22 TDs on 262 targets. Sutton is going to a problem for defenses in his rookie season. He’ll win many jump balls due to his edge in size (6’3” and 218 Lbs.), which gives him fade scoring value in 2018. Courtland has quickness and a second gear to create yards after the catch. He’ll test a defense in the deep passing game while also being a threat to break a short pass into a long TD. At this point of his career, his route running over the first ten yards of the field isn’t where it needs to be to turn into a 100+ catch receiver, but it will come with experience and hard work. His next challenge in the NFL will be beating double teams, but that won’t happen as much in 2018 with a healthy Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders on the field. There’s a lot to like here, and I see no reason why he couldn’t fill the shoes of Thomas in the Broncos starting lineup early in his career. Possible 65+ catches for 900+ yards and mid-tier value in TDs while being a value in the early draft season.
WR DaeSean Hamilton – Over four seasons at Penn State, Hamilton caught 214 passes for 2,842 yards and 18 TDs. His best season in TDs (9) came in 2017, but he played his best ball in 2014 (82/899/2) as a freshman. Hamilton has a slot WR skill set with strength in his route running and short areas quickness. He projects as the insurance card for Emmanuel Sanders.
WR Carlos Henderson – Over three seasons at Louisiana Tech, Carlos caught 147 passes for 2878 yards and 28 receiving TDs highlighted by his junior year (82/1535/19). He’s even had 32 rushes for 259 yards and two TDs in his career. Henderson needs to improve his release against press coverage while working his technique in his route running. His skill set makes sense as possible cover Thomas. Carlos can make tough catches on fades at the goal line. His speed is deceiving while offering some value as an open field runner, which gives him a chance to return kicks. He follows his blocks plus shows the ability to break tackles with the vision to see blocks develop. Carlos missed all of 2017 with a thumb injury.
Other Options: Jordan Taylor, Isaiah McKenzie, Jordan Leslie, River Cracraft
TE Jake Butt – Over four seasons at Michigan, Butt caught 138 passes for 1,646 yards and 11 TDs with his best success coming in his junior year in 2015 (51/654/3). He suffered a torn ACL in his bowl game in 2017 leading to him sliding in this season draft (fifth round). Jake has plus hands with questionable separation skills off the line of scrimmage. He missed all of last year due to a slow recovery from his knee injury. In 2017, the Broncos’ TEs caught 50 passes for 657 yards and four TDs on 79 targets. With Denver added a third strong WR in this year’s draft, the TE position offers no real upside in the Fantasy market from week-to-week.
TE Jeff Heuerman – Denver was hoping third-round pick TE Jeff Heuerman would help lessen the blow for the loss of TE Julius Thomas in 2015, but he tore his ACL in practice in May after being drafted. Heuerman has plus strength with solid value as a blocker. His resume is short in the passing game (52/792 and seven TDs) with questions about his route running ability. Jeff has some upside, but he looks like a TE2 at best at the next level with his best value coming on first and second down. In his career, he caught 18 of his 35 targets for 283 yards and two TDs.
Other Options: Austin Traylor, Troy Fumagalli, Matt LaCosse, Brian Parker
K Brandon McManus – Over the last three seasons with Denver, Brandon made 83 of his 101 field goal chances (82.2 percent) plus 94 of 96 extra point tries. His leg had value from long range (11-for-19) over the last three years. McManus only made 24 of 32 FG chances in 2017, which is below NFL starting standards. The Broncos have a strong defense while expecting better QB play. Brandon is a borderline top 12 Fantasy kicker.
The Broncos’ run defense has two games (ARI and CIN) that struggled on the ground last year. The Cardinals will be much better with a healthy David Johnson in the starting line. They have four other mid-level matches (OAK X 2 and LAC X 2) within their division. Overall, Denver has one matchup (LAR) against a team with success at RB in 2017.
Denver will get tested in five games (PIT, KC X 2, and LAC X 2) in the passing game. They also have four games (BAL, NYJ, CIN, and CLE) vs. teams that struggled to throw the ball last year. Most of their tough matchups come over the last nine games of the season.
The Broncos finished with the 5th best run defense (1,430 yards) in 2017 with ball carriers gaining only 3.3 yards per rush. They allowed nine TDs with eight runs over 20 yards.
Denver ranked 4th in the NFL in passing yards allowed (3,210), but they did allow 29 TDs and with only ten Ints and 33 sacks. QBs gained 6.9 yards per pass attempts with 47 completions over 20 yards.
LB Von Miller is the difference maker at the second level of the defense. Last year he posted 57 tackles, ten sacks, and three defended passes. In his 104 games played in the NFL, Miller has 83.5 sacks with high value defending the run. The Broncos drafted him in the first round in 2011.
LB Brandon Marshall record 106 tackles in 207 with three sacks, four defended passes and one TDs. His overall value to the defense was much less than his previous three seasons where Marshall was one of the better linebackers in the league. LB Todd Davis worked his way into more playing time over the last two years. He’ll add value to run support with risk in coverage and minimal value in sacks. LB Shane Ray played better in his second year in the league after getting drafted in the first round in 2015. He recorded eight sacks with 48 tackles, but he missed eight games in 201 due to wrist and ankle issue.
DE Derek Wolfe battled a neck injury that required surgery after the season. He tends to add neutral value to the run defense while chipping in with 13 sacks over his last 37 games. DE Adam Gotsis was on the field for 558 plays in his sophomore season in the NFL after getting drafted in the second round. He projects to be an undersized (6’4” and 287 lbs.) run clogger with limited upside rushing the QB. Gotsis maintains his position well with solid athletic ability. DE Bradley Chubb should be an impact player in his first season in the NFL after the Broncos drafted him fifth overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. His best value will come in the pass rush.
DT Domata Peko didn’t miss a game in his seven seasons with the Bengal, but he missed two games in 2017 due to an ankle injury. He projects as an early-down run clogger with minimal upside rushing the QB. Denver would like DT DeMarcus Walker to add value rushing the QB after getting drafted in the second round in 2017. He projects as a rotational pass rusher with upside moves when attacking the QB. Walker has limited range in run support plus he needs to improve his effort on more players.
CB Chris Harris has been a top CB in the NFL in each of his seven seasons in the league. His production in tackles (40) and defended passes (7) faded last year thanks to offenses avoiding his side of the field on many plays. CB Brandon Roby rebounded from a down season to post a career-high 17 defended passes with 42 tackles, one sack, and one Int. Roby saw action as the third CB in the Broncos system over his four years in the league. This season he’ll step into a full-time starting job, which invites better talent at WR.
Brendan Langley is an intriguing corner with some physical tools and upside in speed. He’s a converted wide receiver who needs plenty of schooling in the art of being a pro corner. Langley has playmaking ability with tons of work required in his technique. He’ll compete for the CB3 job after seeing minimal action in his rookie season. His biggest competition for playing time should come from incoming rookie CB Isaac Yiadom needs to get stronger, but he plays with strength and a willingness to hit. Isaac has press coverage skills with the hips to finish coverage over the short areas of the field. His technique off the ball needs work while lacking value in deep coverage.
S Darian Stewart is trending backward after peaking in 2014. His best value comes in run support, but he was a liability in coverage in 2017. His last sack came in 2011. S Justin Simmons doubled his output in tackles (69) in his second year in the NFL with one sack, five defended passes, two Ints, and one TD. S Su’a Craven should be the future starter, but he missed all of last season with a knee injury and a battle with concussions. The Redskins drafted him in the second round in 2016.
The Broncos played well vs. the run, and they can attack the QB. The addition of Bradley Chubb should be a huge plus in all areas plus Denver has a couple of young players on the first and second levels of the defense that should improve in 2018. Even with two strong CBs, the Broncos will have risk defending the pass when they down get to the QB. Their talent at safety isn’t where it needs to be plus they have questions about their depth at cornerback. Overall, Denver should be a top ten Fantasy defense this year with a spike in sacks expected, which in turn should lead to bump in turnovers and scoring chances.
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