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2021 Stats (Rank)
Total Offense: 5,618 (19th)
Offensive Touchdowns: 36 (21st)
Offensive Plays: 1,036 (27th)
Pass Attempts + Sacks: 581 (25th)
Rush Attempts: 455 (15th)
Unaccounted for Carries: 40 (22nd)
The Broncos' last winning season came in 2016 when they went 9-7 to close out a Gary Kubiak era cut short due to health concerns. Denver replaced Kubiak with Vance Joseph, who went 11-21 in his two seasons (2017-2018), followed by Vic Fangio, who strung together a 19-30 record in his three seasons with the team (2019-2021). On the defensive side of the ball, the Broncos have been top-five in total points allowed in four of the past seven seasons. The offense, however, hasn't ranked higher than 19th in total points since 2014, when they finished second with 482 points (30.1 points/gm).
Newly minted head coach Nathaniel Hackett will try to right the offensive woes of the Broncos in his first season and has the luxury of doing so with Russell Wilson at the helm. For the last three seasons, Hackett has served as the offensive coordinator for the Packers, where his offenses consistently performed above league average. This of course was made possible through future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers, but Hackett's offense was efficient nonetheless. Since 2019, Hackett's Packers never ranked worse than seventh in EPA/play (0.059) and were top-three in 2020 (0.221) and 2021 (0.135). The Packers have been one of the more aggressive passing teams over the last three seasons, throwing at a 58% rate in neutral game scripts, and a 55% rate on early downs. Their pass rate over expected of 4% in 2021 ranked among the highest in the league.
For years, Denver's offensive players have been held back by poor quarterback play and conservative coaching. The exact opposite of what the Packers were in Green Bay under Hackett, Fangio's Broncos ranked 29th in early-down pass rate during his tenure (46.8%) -- although maybe we shouldn't be too hard on a guy who had Joe Flacco, Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater as his top passers. Nevertheless, things appear to be looking up for the Broncos under their new regime, which could make for a fun fantasy season for managers looking to go all-in on this offense.
When it comes to finding an adequate quarterback to lead a franchise, John Elway is to the NFL what Michael Jordan has been to the NBA. Despite a Hall of Fame-caliber career in which Elway won a league MVP, two Super Bowls, and made multiple Pro Bowl appearances, Elway has struggled to draft a franchise-changing quarterback. To his credit, he was once courageous enough to plant his flag on some veteran named Peyton Manning, who wound up leading the Broncos to a Super Bowl in win 2015. Before Manning and since his departure, Elway and the Broncos have struggled at quarterback. Enter Russell Wilson, whose escape from the banal nature of Pete Carroll's play-calling could spell big things for the Broncos in 2022. Last season, Wilson threw for 3113-25-6 in 14 games. Seattle went 6-8 under Wilson -- his only losing season in his 10 with the team. In regards to high-end quarterback play, Wilson has truly been one of the best.
Since 2017, Wilson ranks first among quarterbacks (min. 50 games) in touchdown rate (6.7%) and fourth in interception rate (1.7%) while averaging 9.3 air yards per target -- ranking second behind Jameis Winston (10.3). Despite Wilson's elite level of production, the Seahawks ranked 19th in early-down pass rate over that span (50.7%), ranking slightly above the Panthers, Browns, Bears and Colts -- teams who have been mostly underwhelming through the air. Whether Carroll knew what he had in Wilson or not is a question we may never get answered. With that being said, Wilson has the makeup of a top-flight quarterback both on the field and for fantasy purposes. Assuming Hackett is ready to "let Russ cook" in 2022, the sky could be the limit for the man affectionately known as "Mr. Unlimited."
For the last several seasons, Denver's receivers have been nothing more than collateral damage in a broken offense. Among those receivers is veteran Courtland Sutton, who somehow went for 72-1112-6 in 2019 with Joe Flacco, Drew Lock and Brandon Allen throwing him the football. After a strong two-year start to his career, Sutton saw his 2020 come to an end in Week 2 against the Steelers when he suffered a torn ACL. He bounced back in 2021, going for 58-776-2 in 17 games, but saw just 98 targets (5.8 targets/gm) on a team that ranked 28th on early-down pass rate (45.8%) and 19th in EPA per drop back (0.061). Denver did its best to establish Sutton as a deep threat last season, with his 15.8 ADOT ranking third among wide receivers. He tied for the seventh-most deep targets on the year (29) but was 17th in receiving yards on deep targets (316) with just one receiving touchdown. Plagued with atrocious quarterback play, Sutton's catchable pass rate of 71% ranked 44th among 56 receivers (min. 70 targets) -- something that should improve drastically under Wilson. Another year removed from ACL surgery should bode well for Sutton, who finally has a legitimate quarterback under center heading into his fifth season. While he's never finished better than WR29 in PPR points per game (13.9 in 2019), Sutton's upside is that of a mid to high-end WR2. If Wilson can further tap into Sutton's talent, fantasy managers will reap the rewards for their faith.
The 2022 season turned into a bit of a lost one for second-year pro Jerry Jeudy. After being selected by the Broncos with the 15th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Jeudy went for 52-856-3 as a rookie but caught 38 passes for 467 scoreless yards in 2021. He was hampered by a high-ankle sprain suffered in Week 1, which caused him to miss several games. Upon his return, Jeudy, like much of Denver's pass-catchers, struggled to get much of anything going. He failed to reach double-digit targets in any game and averaged just five targets per game in his final five. His single-game yardage total in 2021 also topped out at 77 yards. The good news for Jeudy is he, like Sutton, can bounce back this season. With Wilson as his quarterback, Jeudy makes for an interesting year-three breakout candidate.
For those unfamiliar, a player is generally considered to have "broken out" for fantasy purposes when he has achieved 200+ PPR points in a given season. Since 2010, we have had 12 players break out in their third season. A good indicator of potential wide receiver breakouts in fantasy is early breakout ages. To put it simply, breakout age is the age in which a player proved to be dominant in college. This is determined by the total percent of offense he provided to a team in a given season. You can check out a more in-depth explanation on breakout age and college dominator rating HERE. With that being said, of the third-year breakouts shown above, Jeudy has the third-earliest breakout age and is 10th in college dominator rating. His collegiate profile suggests a breakout should have already happened, leading some to believe poor quarterback play and an injury-riddle year two could have been preventing his inevitable breakout. It's interesting to note four of the last six third-year breakouts are players who are primarily known for their slot receiver roles. Jeudy saw 76.4% of his snaps from the slot last season -- a trend that should continue in 2022.
Playing opposite Sutton is big-man Tim Patrick, who has quietly turned in back-to-back 700+ yard seasons for the Broncos while also scoring 11 touchdowns. Known for his enormous size at 6-foot-5, 210 pounds, Patrick saw all five of his touchdowns last season come on targets down in the red zone. In all, 22 of his 83 targets (26.5%) came from inside his opponent's 20-yard line. Patrick makes for an interesting value in 2022 depending on how Hackett and company choose to deploy their offense. Should their 61% rate of 11 personnel from last season make a leap in 2022, Patrick could once again set new high marks in total snaps and most receiving categories.
Another receiver looking to make a third-year leap is KJ Hamler, who will need a few things to go his way if he hopes to smash in 2022. Through two seasons, Hamler has just 35 receptions for 455 yards and three touchdowns. A torn ACL in Week 3 ended his sophomore campaign, but the former second-round pick has never been short on talent. Known for his blazing 40-time, Hamler, while a bit undersized, averaged 16.9 yards per reception in his two seasons at Penn State, which included a receiving line of 56-904-8 in his final season. Hamler reportedly wants to play the "Tyler Lockett" role for Wilson but will need to win out a job in camp to make that happen. He's still a tremendous late-round flier who could provide a handful of spike weeks.
When the Broncos traded for Russell Wilson earlier this offseason, one of the players included in that deal was tight end Noah Fant. Denver trading Fant to the Seahawks finally freed up athletic wonder Albert Okwuegbunam, who enters his third season with the team and first as a starter. In his first two seasons, Okwuegbunam caught 44 passes for just 451 yards and three touchdowns on 55 targets. Now, he steps into a fantasy-friendly role vacated by Fant, who went for 68-670-4 on 90 targets while finishing as the TE12 in fantasy points per game (9.9). Wilson hasn't been the most favorable quarterback when it comes to tight end fantasy production. Since 2012, tight ends have averaged double-digit points per game just four times under Wilson, with three of those seasons coming from Jimmy Graham (2015, 2016 and 2017). Additionally, Seattle tight ends ranked 27th in targets per game at 6.3 during the Wilson era. A blossoming talent in Okwuegbunam could certainly entice Wilson to look more toward the tight end in 2022, which would come to the benefit of fantasy managers who have drafted him as a mid-TE2 for most of the offseason.
Denver also added tight end Greg Dulcich with the 80th-overall pick of this year's draft. One of Pat Kerrane's favorite tight end prospects from this year's class, Dulcich could step into a contributing role as a rookie. During his time at UCLA, Dulcich averaged 2.03 yards per route run and 11.2 yards per target -- ranking third and first among the 2022 tight class. He compiled 77-1353-11 throughout his college career and could find work as a big slot. Dulcich can be kept off redraft radars with Okwuegbunam healthy but is worth a stash on dynasty rosters.
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The Broncos boast one of the best young backs in the NFL in second-year pro Javonte Williams. Selected out of UNC with the 35th-overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Williams brought an elite production profile with him to the pros. His player comps from the RotoViz Prospect Box Score Scout tool suggest he could be an impactful player for years to come.
It's safe to say Williams lived up to the billing in his rookie season. In what was a near 50/50 split between Williams and veteran Melvin Gordon, Williams rushed for 203-903-4 while also catching 43 passes for 316 yards and three touchdowns on 53 targets. He finished as the overall RB26 in points per game (12.2). His 1,219 yards from scrimmage ranked second among all rookies behind only Najee Harris. Per PFF.com, Williams ranked second in missed tackles forced (63) was fifth in elusiveness rating (98.7), eighth in yards after contact (694) and 10th in yards after contact per attempt (3.42). In short -- Williams was nearing elite status as a timeshare back. Before Gordon's re-signing with the team late in the offseason, fantasy managers were banking on a productive RB1 season from Williams, who was often going in the mid-to-late first round of PPR drafts. He has been more in the mid-second range since Gordon's return. Lofty expectations still follow Williams into this season. Whether or not they will be met will depend on how the touches are dispersed between him and Gordon.
Speaking of Gordon, the 29-year-old vet opted to return to Denver on a one-year, $2.5 million contract after weighing other options. Like Williams, Gordon enjoyed plenty of success with his portion of the backfield touches as well. He posted a rushing line of 203-918-8 but was limited to just 28 receptions for 213 yards and two scores. While Gordon saw less receiving work than Williams, he made up for it in total touchdown production and touches in valuable areas of the field.
Were it not for a missed game by Gordon, there's a good chance he would have seen more carries than Williams on the season. Much like Williams, Gordon was also impressive with his share of the workload. While he wasn't quite on the level of his batterymate, Gordon still ranked seventh in missed tackles forced (45), 12th in yards after contact (633) and 21st in yards after contact per attempt (3.12). Currently a favorite among Zero RB drafters, he is going around the ninth or 10th round and could turn into a massive value should Williams miss time with injury.
Competing for backup duties will be veterans Mike Boone and Damarea Crockett. Boone was signed by the Broncos to a two-year, $3.85 million contract last offseason. He saw just four carries for 35 yards in eight games and has rushed for just 94 yards and one touchdown since 2020. Boone was viewed as a low-end backup to Gordon prior to the team's drafting of Javonte Williams but can be left off draft boards at this time. Damarea Crockett has been a journeyman since first joining the Texans as a UDFA in 2019. Now on his fourth team in three seasons, Crockett has just three career rushes for seven yards. Boone should be locked in as the team's third back given his contract and experience. But you can fade him in fantasy at this time.
PointsBet Over/Under: 10.5
Last season, the Broncos managed to claw their way to seven wins despite their offensive woes. Perhaps an underrated part of their season was the fact that they allowed 322 points -- the fewest of any team in the AFC West. On the year, Denver allowed the third-fewest points per game in the league (18.9) and allowed the eighth-fewest yards per game (326.1). The Broncos return much of their defensive talent from 2021 and added free agent EDGE rusher Randy Gregory along with rookie LB Nik Bonitto, who the team drafted with their first pick in this year's draft.
With Denver's defense expected to prove solid once again, it's easy to imagine this team improving on its 2021 win total. The difficulty lies in their division, which may be the highest-scoring division in all of football by the time the curtain closes on 2022. According to Sharp Football Analysis, the Broncos have the 17th-easiest schedule based on projected win totals. If the Broncos can maintain a .500 record or better against divisional foes, they'll have an opportunity to pad wins against the Seahawks, Texans, Jets, Jaguars, and Panthers. However, a tough six-week stretch against the Ravens, Chiefs (x2), Cardinals, Rams and Chargers to close out the season could make that 11th win difficult to come by. While I love what the Broncos could bring to the table this season, I'll take the under on this total.