2009 Fantasy outlooks: Denver Broncos
They have a new coach, a new quarterback and a slew of capable running backs. So what should Fantasy owners expect from the Broncos in 2009? Our Jamey Eisenberg takes a closer look.
The Broncos will definitely have a different look this season with Mike Shanahan gone and Josh McDaniels the new head coach. McDaniels made a bold move by trading franchise quarterback Jay Cutler to Chicago when the two couldn't resolve their differences after Cutler found out he wasn't wanted by the new regime. Now, McDaniels will have to replace Cutler's production (4,526 passing yards, 25 touchdowns, 18 interceptions and two rushing touchdowns) with Kyle Orton , who came to Denver in the trade. The Broncos also have to work in rookie running back Knowshon Moreno , who was a surprise selection at No. 12 overall in the NFL Draft. And the team is changing to a 3-4 defensive scheme, so there's a lot of overhaul this training camp.
One thing Fantasy owners can count on is the Broncos will still be able to move the ball. Orton has a chance to shine playing for McDaniels, who helped the passing game in New England thrive as the former offensive coordinator. Orton also has plenty of weapons at his disposal with Brandon Marshall , Eddie Royal , Tony Scheffler , Brandon Stokley , Jabar Gaffney and a solid running game. And if Moreno shows he's not ready to be the No. 1 running back, there are talented veterans in place to step up with LaMont Jordan , Correll Buckhalter , Ryan Torain and Peyton Hillis . This is also the AFC West, where points come in bunches. It may be a new day in Denver, but it's still going to look like the Broncos of old.
Sleeper ... Kyle Orton , QB
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Orton still has to formally win the job against Chris Simms , but we feel that's a foregone conclusion. Last year with the Bears, Orton actually played like a quality Fantasy quarterback prior to hurting his ankle. In eight games before the injury, he passed for 1,777 yards, 11 touchdowns (one rushing) and four interceptions. And that was with Chicago's receivers. Now he inherits a tremendous receiving corps with Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal leading the way. He will play for a pass-happy coach in Josh McDaniels. And he goes to a division with poor pass defenses in the AFC West. Jay Cutler put up tremendous stats for the Broncos last year, and while we're not suggesting Orton will play like Cutler, he has the same weapons at his disposal. There's no doubt you should draft Orton in every league as a No. 2 Fantasy quarterback. And if the defense keeps letting teams score like it did last year, Orton could approach the 616 pass attempts that Cutler had, which is why he put up such great stats.
Breakout ... Eddie Royal , WR
There is talk out of Denver and in some NFL circles that Royal could play the role of Wes Welker in Josh McDaniels' offense. McDaniels, the former offensive coordinator in New England, had tremendous success with Welker in the slot, where he had mismatches against safeties, linebackers and nickel cornerbacks. He also used Welker in bubble screens and did everything he could to get him the ball in space. Royal could do that job admirably, except he has more speed than Welker. Last year, Royal had an outstanding rookie season with 91 catches for 980 yards (10.8 avg.) and five touchdowns. He also added another 109 rushing yards. Teams still have to focus on Brandon Marshall , which is similar to Welker playing with Randy Moss , which should allow Royal to get single coverage. The key could be Kyle Orton's efficiency in getting Royal the ball, but we don't think that should be a problem. You should draft Royal as a No. 3 Fantasy wide receiver, but don't be surprised when he ends up starting for you most weeks.
Bust ... Knowshon Moreno , RB
I'm not going to avoid Moreno in drafts this summer. He's talented, plays in a great offensive system and will get the chance to play on all three downs. I'm just not going to reach for him early, which will be the temptation based on his college career and where he landed. The Broncos have typically been a great landing spot for running backs, but that was with Mike Shanahan and his zone-blocking scheme. Josh McDaniels' offense isn't the same, and although Moreno will enter the season as the starter, there are too many backs on the roster to assume he'll get full-time work. LaMont Jordan and Correll Buckhalter will take away carries, especially Jordan since he's familiar with McDaniels coming from New England. And Jordan, Buckhalter and Peyton Hillis are proven receivers out of the backfield. Once Ryan Torain returns from a knee injury, there's another running back in the mix, and we also don't think Moreno will get goal-line work. The best option with Moreno is to draft him as a No. 3 running back beginning in Round 6 in standard leagues. If you draft him too soon, you'll be leaving other talented running backs on the board, and Moreno will end up disappointing you.
Training camp topics
There should be reason for optimism in Denver. Even with Mike Shanahan's history and Jay Cutler production, the Broncos missed the playoffs last year in a weak division. Now they get a new coach in Josh McDaniels, who was groomed by Bill Belichick, and what should be an improved defense, which is switching to a 3-4 scheme. There will likely be some growing pains, but the Broncos have the chance to make the playoffs right away. A lot will depend if McDaniels, 33, is ready to be a coach, if Kyle Orton can replace Cutler and the defense can improve, but the talent is there for it to happen.
Heading into training camp, the Broncos still have to address a couple of positions on offense. Orton has to beat out Chris Simms in the quarterback battle, but Orton has the edge. Brandon Marshall (hip) needs to be 100 percent healthy for this offense to reach its potential. And rookie running back Knowshon Moreno has to prove he knows the offense and can deal with blitz protection, otherwise his pick at No. 12 overall is a waste. It's going to be an interesting year in Denver after what has already been an exciting offseason.
Injury update ... Brandon Marshall (Hip; considered questionable to start training camp) ... Ryan Torain (Knee; considered questionable to start training camp) ... Peyton Hillis (Hamstring;considered probable to start training camp) ... Champ Bailey (Elbow; considered probable to start training camp)
Are you ready for the 2009 Fantasy season? If not, we're here for you. Send us an e-mail at DMFantasyFootball@cbs.com. We'll respond to as many as we can.
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