Team Profiles- Denver Broncos by Utter-Fantasy Writer & Illustrator Doug Bowles
HC John Fox…AFC West Champions 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014…one Superbowl appearance…YOU’RE FIRED! I grew up in Michigan, so my team loyalty will always be with the Lions. Not only have the Lions never won a Superbowl, the Lions have never been to a Superbowl. It gets worse, Detroit has only been to the NFL playoffs 12 times since 1970…winning one and only of those playoffs game. The Lions beat the Cowboys back in 1991, but lost the next week to Washington for the Conference Championship. So pardon me if I think Elway and the rest of the Denver brass are buffoons for firing a guy for not winning a Superbowl, at least once in 4 years. The good news is, Fox was unemployed for like 3 minutes of getting fired, landing the head coaching job in Chicago. Denver also got a respectable replacement for Fox, in HC Gary Kubiak. From 2006-2013, Kubiak was the head coach for the Houston Texans. He had a 61–64 regular season record and a 2–2 playoff record in his Texans career. In 2014, he spent one year working for the Baltimore Ravens, as the offensive coordinator. Kubiak made a Pro-bowler out of journeyman RB Justin Forsett while in Baltimore, and will bring his brilliant run blocking schemes to Denver. The Denver offense will be as potent as ever in 2015.
2015 Team Outlook – Denver has won the AFC West four years in a row, and it looks like QB Peyton Manning will return for one more season, so the Broncos will make it 5 years in a row. The rest of the AFC West, the Chiefs, the Chargers and the Raiders are all under-achievers and will be again in 2015. Denver ended the 2014 with a 12-4 record. They will win the AFC West again, but probably not have 12 wins doing it. In that division, they could have 10 or 11 wins, and still win it.
2015 Fantasy Outlook –
QB– Even at 70%, Peyton Manning is better than most of the quarterbacks in the NFL, so wanting him back was a no-brainer for Denver. At the end of the 2014 season, Manning was either playing hurt, worn down, or both, so it’s difficult to see him having a better year in 2015. He won’t be younger, he’ll be older. Peyton very much wants one more ring. Eli has two rings! Only QB Roethlisberger and QB Andrew Luck threw for more yards than Manning did last season (4727 yards) and Peyton’s 39 TDs was 2nd only to Luck’s 40 TDs. The Broncos are going to have an offensive roster shake up this year because so many of them are free agents. We don’t know who exactly his weapons will be this coming year, but anyone on the roster is a fantasy must-have with QB Manning under center.
RBs– Prior to the start of the 2014 season, I warned fantasy owners of drafting RB Montee Ball. He’s actually the biggest of the top 3 running backs on the Denver roster, but what concerned me was his poor blocking skills. One missed assignment can lead to QB Manning getting flattened by a giant pass rusher, and the Broncos won’t accept that. Keeping Peyton upright is priority #1 in Denver. It wasn’t his blocking that ended up hurting RB Ball, but a groin injury he sustained in Week 5 against the Cardinals. Denver however, is one of those offenses where almost any running back is going to succeed, so after Ball went down, RB Ronnie Hillman took over. When RB Hillman went down in Week 10, RB C J Anderson took over. RB Anderson managed to remain healthy for the rest of the season, and scored 8 TDs in the final 6 games of 2014. The Broncos liked what they saw in RB Anderson, and he remains the heavy favorite to lead Denver’s backfield, ahead of Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman for 2015.
WRs– The 1st immediate goal for the Denver Broncos is to lock up their star receiver Demaryius Thomas to a long-term contract. If they cannot do it soon, they will likely use the franchise tag on the free agent. Demaryius Thomas is one of those unique, big, talented receivers that franchises hope to keep for their entire career, similar to WR Calvin Johnson in Detroit and WR Andre Johnson in Houston. WR Demaryius Thomas was the top #4 WR in the NFL in 2014, he was #2 in 2013 and #5 in 2012. WR Eric Decker was the 2nd top wide receiver in Denver for the 2013 season, and he had great chemistry with QB Peyton Manning. He piled up 1288 yards and 11 TDs that season. Free agency sent Decker to New York, and it also sent former Pittsburgh Steelers WR Emmanuel Sanders to Denver to replace Decker. WR Sanders surpassed expectations, including mine, and ended his first season in Denver as the #7 WR in the NFL with 1404 yards and 9 TDs. Denver’s 3rd WR Wes Welker had a poor 2014 season, with only 484 and 2 TDs. Welker is a free agent, and although retiring would probably be the best decision for him to make, he seems set of returning to the NFL for another season…somewhere. The Broncos drafted one of the amazing wide receivers that entered the drafted in 2014, but due to a crowded receiving corps in Denver, WR Cody Latimer got little playing time. Look for his role in this years offense to increase dramatically.
K– Connor Barth became the new place kicker in Denver starting Week 13, after former Bronco Matt Prater drank himself out of a job. Barth was successful 17 times out of 18 field goal attempts for the Broncos, which should secure his job for the 2015 season, although former Colts K Brandon McManus, is still on their roster as well, so we’ll have to see what shakes out.
DEF– Denver has a respectable defense, that has ranked in the top 15 for the past 2 years. They are not as good as they were in 2012, when they ranked as the #2 in the NFL, but they’re formidable. Like their offense, Denver has significant players from their defense heading for free agency as well, so new HC Kubiak really has his work cut out for himself, before anyone even hikes a ball. UPDATE: Broncos sign FS Darian Stewart, DE Vance Walker, ILB Brandon Marshall, DL Antonio Smith and LB Reggie Walker.
2014 Dallas Fantasy Surprises– I didn’t expect WR Sanders to fill in as neatly as he did, replacing WR Eric Decker. WR Sanders went from 732 yards and 6 TDs with QB Roethlisberger in 2013 to 1404 yards and 9 TDs with QB Manning. Few thought that QB Peyton Manning could duplicate his incredible 55 TD season from 2013, but 16 less TDs in 2014 which averages to exactly one less per game, might have surprised some. I expected him to throw 40+.
2015 Free Agents that Denver Needs to Address– WR Demaryius Thomas (franchise tagged)- WR Wes Welker (won’t be resigned)- TE Julius Thomas (signed w/ Jacksonville)- TE Virgil Green (re-signed)- TE Jacob Tamme- G Orlando Franklin- DT Terrance Knighton- DT Mitch Unrein (signed w/ SD)- LB Nate Irving (signed w/ Colts)- S Quinton Carter- S Rahim Moore (signed w/ Houston)
2015 NFL Draft– The immediate needs of Denver are defensive tackles, tight ends, help on their O-line and safeties. With free agency looming, Denver only has 2 defensive tackles left under contract (DT), 3 of Denver’s 4 tight ends from 2014 could leave in free agency (TE), Kubiak likes big, athletic linemen to fit his run-blocking schemes (OL) and of course, Denver has 2 safeties that they could also lose to free agency (S). UPDATE: Denver’s entire 2015 NFL Draft can be seen at this link- DENVER’S DRAFT
Did You Know– That Gary Kubiak was selected in the eighth round of the 1983 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos, the same year quarterback John Elway was drafted No. 1 overall by the Baltimore Colts, before forcing a trade to Denver. Kubiak played his entire career for the Broncos as Elway’s back up.
All team reports can be seen at this link- TEAM REPORTS
Team home page: www.denverbroncos.com