Vic Fangio returns for his third season as the head coach after running the 49ers and the Bears defenses from 2011 to 2018. He also has 11 other seasons of experience as a defensive coordinator in the NFL. His success in Chicago in 2018 led to his promotion in title in Denver. Fangio went 5-11 in 2019 and 7-9 in 2020, so this year will make or break his head coaching career.
The Broncos brought in Pat Shurmur to run their offense in 2020 after struggling to win as the Giants’ head coach in 2018 (5-11) and 2019 (4-12). He worked as the offensive coordinator over six other seasons for the Rams, Eagles, and Vikings. Shurmur has 23 seasons of experience coaching in the NFL while compiling a 19-46 record as NFL head coach.
Their offense repeated its 28th ranking in points scored (323) while moving up five spots to 23rd offensive yards.
Fangio promoted Ed Donatell to defensive coordinator in 2019. He worked over the eight previous seasons as the defensive backs coach for the Broncos and 49ers. Donatell has 30 years of experience coaching in the NFL, with nine coming as a defensive coordinator.
Denver regressed to 25th in points allowed (446), 130 more points scored on their defense than in 2019 (316). They finished 21st in yards allowed compared to 12th the previous year.
The only two starting players added in free agency were CB Kyle Fuller and CB Ronald Darby.
Fuller played under Vic Fangio with the Bears. His game was active in all areas from 2017 to 2019, leading to 206 tackles, 55 defended passes and 12 interceptions. Last year, he missed many tackles with fade in big plays in the passing game (65 tackles, one interception, and eight defended passes).
Darby had an entire season of starts for Washington for the first time in his career. He continues to have risk via big plays and touchdowns allowed, but his play did improve in completion rate allowed. Darby should add value to the run defense.
The Broncos signed Mike Boone for depth at running back. They also acquired Teddy Bridgewater to compete for the starting quarterback job.
CB Patrick Surtain II
The cornerback position concern for the Broncos carried over to the draft, leading to Denver picking up Pat Surtain with the ninth overall selection. His foundation skill set puts him in the elite category at cornerback. He brings a physical presence to coverage with the talent to dominate receivers over all areas of the field.
RB Javonte Williams
Williams has a chain-mover feel while relying on his power and fight to finish off carries. He runs with a smooth rhythm while waiting for a hole to open. Once Williams sees daylight, his acceleration pushes into the second level of the defense. He won’t hit on many long touchdowns, but his short-area quickness plays well. Williams shows plenty of grit, and his style should wear defenses down. Despite a limited role as a receiver, he projects well in the passing game while having the smarts to pick up an NFL offense on all downs.
C Quinn Meinerz
Meinerz comes to the NFL via playing at a small school (Wisconsin-Whitewater), helping him slip through the draft cracks. His game is on the rise with a developing ceiling in both run and pass blocking once he proves he can handle the step up in competition. Meinerz needs to show that he can block faster players with more strength while also improving footwork.
LB Baron Browning
Browning has the physical tools to excel at linebacker, but he lacks the vision and feel to put himself in the best position to deliver difference-maker plays. To have growth, Browning needs to lose the looker mentality while also developing more fire in his attacks. The pretty boys get the girls, but production earns paydays.
S Caden Sterns
Sterns is a second player who trails in his development due to questionable instincts. He’ll be at his best attacking the line of scrimmage while having concerns with his ability to read offense and cover vs. speed.
S Jamar Johnson
Johnson works hard in his pregame prep while showing the ability to play well in coverage and read developing plays. He brings a cornerback skill set to the safety position with some questions with his tackling and technique in mirroring pass routes.
WR Seth Williams
His route running and separation skills fall well short of NFL expectations. Williams owns an edge in size, which plays well in top balls in the red zone. His build-up speed is better than expected over the long field. Williams is more of a project than a prospect.
CB Kary Vincent
Vincent projects to work out of the slot with plus speed and athletic ability. His foundation in coverage looks advanced while willing to put in the time to get better. He needs to get better when in chase mode and trust his recovery speed. Vincent isn’t where he needs to be in reading pattern development.
DE Jonathan Cooper
Cooper projects as only a power pass rusher with a below-average first step. His freelance attacking style works against him when matchup up with top offenses and blocking schemes. Other than strength, Cooper offers no defining skills.
DE Marquiss Spencer
Spencer is trending toward an interior defensive line role due to his rising weight. His first step plays well while owning a solid foundation in strength. Spencer does show up on every play while being the runner-up in his one-on-one battles too many times. His shortfalls are coachable if he’s willing to do the work.
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The Broncos jumped to 13th in rushing yards (1,918) with 13 touchdowns. Their ball carriers gained 4.3 yards per carry with 13 runs over 20 yards.
Denver remained 28th in passing yards (3,673) with 21 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. Their offensive line allowed 32 sacks while gaining only 6.6 yards per pass attempt.
LT Garett Bolles
Bolles was the Broncos first-round selection in 2017. He’s a talented player with plus speed and quickness for his position. Bolles plays with 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 first fourth season in the league, Bolles turned into one of the best players in the game. He didn’t allow a sack with minimal pressure on the quarterback. His run blocking moved into an elite area.
LG Dalton Risner
Risner projects well as a run blocker with value on the move, but he has underperformed expectations in this area over his first two years. His hands create an edge while owning strength in his technique. He lacks range and foot speed in pass protection while showing league average value early in his career. Risner needs to improve his square footage in his blocking area.
C Lloyd Cushenberry
After getting drafted in the third round in his rookie season, Cushenberry made 16 starts despite being a liability in all areas. He plays with a controlled intensity, but his range is limited to a small box. When attacked in the pass rush, Cushenberry holds his ground as long as he isn’t asked to move his feet to hit his target. His play in the run requires a quick-hitting attack. Quinn Meinerz should push him for snaps while looking like the player with a higher ceiling.
RG Graham Glasgow
Denver bought stability at the right guard position in 2020 by signing Glasgow to a $44 million contract over four seasons. He’s been a steady asset in all areas over the last four seasons while allowing minimal sacks.
RT Bobbie Massie
The right tackle position for Denver in 2021 will be fluid until someone seizes the starting job. Massie missed the final eight games last year for the Bears with a knee injury. When healthy, he tends to come up short in run blocking while grading closer to the league average in pass protection.
This offensive line has two edge players with questions at center and right tackle. If Meinerz comes quicker than expected, Denver has the talent to push toward a top 10 offensive line. I expect better play in pass protection than run blocking.
Denver wants to improve their defense while developing a better run game. Last year they ran the ball 44.3 percent of the time while failing to impact their passing game. Their quarterbacks need to clean up the damage in turnovers.
The Broncos are losing confidence in Lock after regressing in his second season. In his defense, he lost his top WR Courtland Sutton before the season, plus a right shoulder injury cost him two games early in the year. Lock also battled a rib issue later the year, and he missed Week 12 with Covid concerns.
His completion rate (57.3) came in below his rookie season (64.1) while making too many mistakes (15 interceptions). Lock was willing to test defense deep (38 plays gained over 20 yards and eight completions of 40 yards or more). Both of his impact games (360/3 and 284/4) came on the road.
Fantasy Outlook: For Lock to win the starting job, he needs to clean up his turnovers and regain his ball control ways that he showcased in 2019. Denver has talent at running back with potentially two dynamic wide receivers and a developing tight end. His offensive line should be a plus as well. There is enough firepower at receiver to average over 250 passing yards per game with league average production in touchdowns. His possible failure priced Lock as the 34th quarterback drafted. For now, Lock looks undraftable in 12-team leagues.
In his two chances to start for the Vikings and Panthers in 2015 and 2020, Bridgewater went 15-16 while passing for 224 yards per game with a combined 29 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. He set a career-high in his yards per pass attempt (7.6) and completion rate (69.1) last year while averaging 32.8 passes per game.
Bridgewater helps his fantasy value in the running game (53/279/5). He finished with no games with more than two passing touchdowns and only two combined passing scores over his final five starts. His most production combined came in two contests (316/2 and 329/3).
Fantasy Outlook: Denver wants to play better defense and run an upside ball-control offense. Bridgewater seems to be the better fit at quarterback, but his ceiling appears lower than Drew Lock. Either way, he won’t offer enough fantasy value to be drafted or started in many weeks in 2021.
Other Options: Brett Rypien
The Broncos’ running backs regained some lost yards per carry (4.49 – 4.15 in 2019) with only a slight bump in chances in the run game (16 more than last year). Their most significant area of regression came in the passing game (52/272/1), highlighted by only 5.2 yards per catch.
Other than three empty games (8/26, 8/26, and 6/18) and one missed start, Gordon played well in the run game (195/916/9). He finished with three 20-plus fantasy point games (25.80, 24.10, and 21.00), leading to the 14th ranking in PPR leagues (202.40 fantasy points).
Gordon had the lowest output of his career in catches (32) and receiving yards (158). Over a five-game stretch midseason, the Broncos gave him only five combined targets with two catches for 20 yards. Gordon failed to gain over 25 yards receiving in any contest.
Fantasy Outlook: Denver moved on from Phillip Lindsay in the offseason, but they invested in a young running back in this year’s draft. I expect Gordon to receive 50 to 55 percent of the rushing attempts and close to 75 percent of the running back targets. My starting point is 250 touches for 1,110 combined yards with about seven touchdowns and 40+ catches. His early ADP (51) ranks him as the 25th inning back drafted.
The Tar Heels used Williams in a split role over the last two seasons, leading to 2,554 combined yards with 28 touchdowns and 42 catches. He played at the highest level in 2020 (1,445 combined yards with 22 touchdowns and 25 catches).
I sense some of Frank Gore’s traits in his game. Williams has a winning feel, and I expect him to do the dirty work in the run game. He’ll bring punch after punch on his runs, which in turn leads to productive showings on most days.
Fantasy Outlook: The Broncos will give Williams plenty of chances on early downs, and I envision him rotating in a series with Melvin Gordon. Most of his chances on early downs will come on scripted plays. Fantasy owners almost have him in a dead heat with Gordon in the draft season in May. His lack of experience in the passing game lowers his ceiling in his rookie season. Possible 200+ touches for 900 yards with a half dozen touchdowns and about 20 catches.
Other Options: Royce Freeman, Mike Boone, LeVante Bellamy
Heading into last year, Denver appeared to have the foundation of a developing wide receiving core. Between the loss of Courtland Sutton and a disappointing rookie season by Jerry Jeudy, the Broncos’ wideouts improved by only 14 catches for 381 yards and five touchdowns on 50 targets. For the second straight year, their wide receivers gained more yards per catch (14.45).
Sutton struggled with his catch rate (50.0) in his rookie season, partly due to nine drops. He did flash big-play ability (16.8 yards per catch), but Sutton failed to gain over 100 yards receiving.
In 2019, he blossomed into a second-tier wide receiver (222.80 fantasy points – 19th) while setting career-highs in catches (72), receiving yards (1,112), touchdowns (6), and targets (125). Sutton had a floor of four catches in 14 games, leading to double-digit fantasy points in PPR leagues in 11 weeks.
Last year he missed Week 1 with a shoulder issue. Two games later, his season ended with a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee.
Fantasy Outlook: I’m never a fan of investing in offensive players coming off significant injuries in football. Denver expects him to be ready for training camp. He drew a WR3 ADP (86) in late May. His floor should be 65/1,000/5, but I need to hear positive reports this summer before taking Sutton to my fantasy dance.
In his rookie season, Jeudy offered more frustration than satisfaction. Over the first four games (4/56, 4/62, 5/55, and 2/61/1), he averaged 11.1 fantasy points per game in PPR leagues that worked for a back-end WR3. Unfortunately, his game only offered playable value in two more starts (Week 9 – 7/125/1 and Week 17 – 5/140/1) while ranking 45th in WR scoring (157.60). His catch rate (46.0) was a disaster while finishing with 13 drops.
Fantasy Outlook: Based on his path last year, the Broncos want to use Jeudy downfield early in his career. His plays should improve this year, along with his catch rate. On a path for 75 catches with 1,100 yards and a handful of touchdowns.
Patrick capitalized on the injury to Courtland Sutton to set career-highs in catches (51), receiving yards (742), touchdowns (6), and targets (79). He flashed from Week 4 to Week 11 in three games (6/113/1, 4/101, and 5/119), but his season ended with four dull showings (0/0, 3/14, 3/39, and 2/46) over the final six weeks.
Fantasy Outlook: His size (6’4” and 210 lbs.), added with his ability to make big plays (four catches over 40 yards), puts him on a path to compete for the WR3 role in Denver. If Sutton comes along slowly, Patrick should be a viable handcuff.
Injuries cost Hamler three games in his first year with Denver. He finished with 30 catches for 381 yards and three touchdowns on 56 targets. Hamler struggled to get open with a low catch rate (53.6) while scoring over 10.0 fantasy points in three matchups (3/13/1, 6/75, and 2/86/2). Over his final five games, Hamler had five combined catches for 106 yards and two touchdowns on 12 targets.
Fantasy Outlook: His skill set should mix well with the structure of the Broncos’ top two wide receivers. Hamler’s role/opportunity is below starting fantasy value at this point of his career.
Other Options: Seth Williams, Dontae Spencer, Tyrie Cleveland
Denver featured their tight ends more in the passing game in 2020. Their opportunity jumped by almost 50 percent in target, leading to 97 catches for 974 yards and six touchdowns on 148 targets. The lack of a true WR1 last year led to the tight end position gaining momentum.
Fant ranked as the eighth-highest scoring tight end in PPR leagues (149.30 fantasy points) while missing a game and posting three empty games (3/18, 1/13, and 0/0). His season started with two strong games (5/81/1 and 4/57/1), but Fant didn’t have another week of value until Week 15 (8/68/1).
Denver gave him 6.2 targets per game, an upgrade from his rookie season (4.1). Fant lost his big-play value (10.9 yards per catch) while failing to gain 40 yards on any play (three catches for 40 yards or more in 2019).
Fantasy Outlook: For him to reach an impact level, Fant needs the Broncos’ offense to develop. His ceiling is untapped, which will come when he commands the ball as the Broncos’ passing game a la Travis Kelce. Fant should push his output to 70 catches for 800 yards and five scores in his junior year in Denver. He comes off the board as the eighth tight end in the early drafts in 12-team leagues.
Other Options: Albert Okwuegbunam, Austin Fort, Eric Saubert
McManus dipped to 12th in kicker scoring (8.99 FPPG) last year while playing in a bottom tier offense. He made 81.6 percent of his field goals in his career while going 27-for-50 in kicks of 50 yards or more. The Broncos gave him an incredible 15 chances from long range in 2020, with 10 balls passing through the uprights.
Fantasy Outlook: McManus should go undrafted in 12-team fantasy leagues, but he will offer matchup value for the fantasy owners who want to play the hot kicker of the week. He needs the Broncos to play better offensively to push higher in the kicker rankings.
The Broncos fell to 25th defending the run (2,080 yards), with ball carriers gaining only 4.8 yards per rush. They allowed 17 touchdowns with 17 runs over 20 yards.
Denver finished about league average in the NFL in passing yards allowed (3,807 – 17th) while allowing 21 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The Broncos picked up with 42 sacks. Quarterbacks gained 7.2 yards per pass attempt with 59 completions over 20 yards.
DE Dre’Mont Jones
Over 13 games in his second year in the NFL, Jones finished with 41 tackles and 6.5 sacks. His run defense showed growth, and his pass rush became relevant.
DT McTelvin Agim
Agim looks to have a tweener skill set heading into the NFL. He wants to rush the quarterback with his quickness while owning some moves to create a finishing lane. His frame (6’3” and 309 lbs.) scream defensive tackle, but his hands, technique, and strength all need improvement. In his rookie season, Denver had him on the field for minimal plays. The Broncos have a weakness at this position, giving Agim a chance to see a significant jump in playing time in 2021.
DE Shelby Harris
Denver re-signed Harris to a three-year contract in March. He missed five games with a knee injury, which led to a decline in his production (32 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and seven defended passes). Harris plays well against the run with improving value in the pass rush.
LB Bradley Chubb
After suffering a torn ACL in 2019, Chubb failed to reach his rookie production in sacks (7.5 – 12 in 2018) or tackles (42 – 60 in 2018) while missing a pair of games. Missed tackles were an issue, along with weakness in run support.
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.
LB Von Miller
Heading into 2019, Miller has 98 sacks over his first 120 games. In 2020, he picked up eight sacks over 15 games with 46 tackles. An ankle injury cost him all of last season. Miller continues to be an impact run defender with the talent to be a difference-maker in the pass rush.
LB Josey Jewell
In his third season, Jewell secured starting snaps for all 16 games. He finished with 113 tackles and two sacks. Offenses tested him in the passing, where Jewell showed risk. His run defense came in below expectation.
LB Alexander Johnson
Denver gave Johnson his best opportunity to play in 2019, leading 93 tackles, 1.5 sacks, three defended passes and one interception. He pushed his production to 124 tackles while posting only one sack. His run defense slipped to about league average last year.
CB Patrick Surtain
Denver landed themselves a top-tier cornerback in this year’s draft, which set up the structure of their pass coverage. Surtain should hit the ground running while owing the talent to shut down top wide receivers once he gains NFL experience.
CB Kyle Fuller
Fuller played well in 2017 and 2018 for the Bears in coverage. He started allowing a higher completion rate in 2019, and quarterbacks beat him for some long throws. Last year His plays slipped against the run while regaining some lost value in coverage. Fuller works much better as a CB2.
S Justin Simmons
Simmons developed into a top run defender over the past four seasons. He has 286 tackles, 15 interceptions, and 28 defended passes combined over the last three years.
S Kareem Jackson
The Broncos moved Jackson to safety in 2019, leading to success in run support and coverage. He will miss some tackles while playing at his highest level in Denver. Jackson finished with 160 tackles and three interceptions in his time with the Broncos.
Fantasy Defense Snapshot
Denver has the structure to have an ascending secondary that an improved pass rush will significantly help. Both Miller and Chubb have difference-maker talent, leading to plenty of sacks and winning production against the run. The defensive line looks to be a concern. I expect the Broncos to play much better defensively this year, and they should work their way into a top 12 fantasy defense.
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