Camp Confidential: Denver
Super Bowl or bust! That is the buzz out of Englewood, CO. Home of the Denver Broncos’ 2013 training camp. Long gone are the hoards of Tebow-maniacs. Throngs of Manning super-freaks have replaced them, though. There is still a large contingent of national media following the Broncos for real football news however, as they are tied for Vegas’ best odds to win the Super Bowl with San Francisco..but who cares! How are the Broncos going to help my fantasy team!
He’s the Man(ning):
The days are long and hot in the Denver summer. We are not talking Arizona hot, but a touch warmer than you would like to be sitting out on the open fields of training camp. That is just the way Mr. Peyton Manning likes it though. We all remember the game Peyton probably wishes he could forget in a chilly Denver January when he threw two interceptions that cost the Broncos their Super Bowl hopes last season in a 13 degree winter night.
Peyton Manning’s arm strength looks like it has really improved over last year. Ed Reed said they were able to beat the Broncos last year by conceding the long ball, because they knew he couldn’t throw it in cold weather. That looks like it will not be as much of a problem this year. He has much more zip on the ball in shorter routes, and he goes deep much more frequently in this year’s camp versus last year. Again, it is 90 degrees now. We will see if that is still the case come Thanksgiving
Peyton also seems to be much more comfortable this year with the team. Calling everyone by a nickname during press conferences and noticeably playing a lot of pranks on teammates now. Last year felt very stiff. Manning is surrounded by extremely competent weapons, and regardless of the Broncos playoff success, his 6th place fantasy performance last year feels like it might have been just a fraction of what he can accomplish this year, especially after adding Wes Welker.
The Running Back situation in Denver is a mess this year for fantasy owners. Montee Ball is the future of Denver’s backfield, but as a rookie, he looks lost in camp. His biggest deficiency is he does not know his blocking assignments at all. There is no way the Broncos will trust a rookie who can’t block to be in charge of protecting their $20 million Quarterback. Maybe midway through the season, he will be tearing it up, but right now, he will be in for running plays only, and the Broncos throw… a lot. Currently on FantasyPros.com he is being drafted in the 4th round in a 10-team league. Way too high! He is not, I repeat, not going to be starting for several weeks at least. He takes maybe five snaps a practice with the ones and the rest of practice is with the twos and threes.
Ronnie Hillman is currently listed as the starter, and is taking most snaps with the ones. Knowshon Moreno is taking quite a few reps with the ones as well, and looks like the most all-around back so far. My bet is that Moreno ends up being the starter, with Hillman as the third-down back, and Ball as the backup. On average Knowshon Moreno is the 61st running back, and he could very well be your week one guy. That is quite a value there. Hillman is the 41st Running Back currently being drafted, and I think that is about right. My advice here is to try and secure Montee Ball through a trade or wire pickup a few weeks into the season, but do not draft him in his current position.
No Diva’s Here, Except Eric Decker
I predicted last camp that Eric Decker would be the number one receiver on the team over Demaryius Thomas because of all the offseason work Manning and Decker were doing that DT was not apart of. Well, I was sort of right. Decker led the league in Red Zone receptions by a Wide Receiver, while Thomas was 20th, and Decker was second in the league in receiving TD’s by a WR. Thomas had 18 more total targets, and a little less than 400 more yards than Decker did though. Thomas is just a beast of a human being. The two WR’s might be about the same height, Thomas is just an extremely large man, with the athleticism of an NBA shooting guard. When they got close to the end zone however, all that extra time Manning spent with Eric Decker made him the go-to-guy. That is all about to change though.
This year, Manning looks extraordinarily comfortable with Demaryius Thomas, and looks for him first option almost every play. Manning is now looking to use Thomas’ huge size and frame to exploit smaller corners. Decker’s biggest advantage over DT was his route running ability, but that is going to be eaten away quite a bit by Wes Welker.
When Welker is not talking about his new Sports Bar in Oklahoma City, he is lighting up training camp with his speed and ability to always find openings in the defense. He comes in as good as billed, but has a ton of overlap with other players, including some of the Tight Ends and Eric Decker.
Currently, Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, and Eric Decker are being drafted 6th, 16th, and 21st among WR’s respectively. I am worried about Welker and Decker cannibalizing each other game to game and these draft positions being a little too high. DT has the potential to compete for a top spot in the WR category this year. He is quite obviously Manning’s favorite target at camp, and he was quietly 5th last year in standard scoring leagues.
Long story short, Demaryius Thomas is definitely worth his current 2nd round draft position, and maybe being undervalued as the 6th best fantasy WR. I would be very cautious about drafting either Welker or Decker at their current ADP, but if they slip a little, you know Manning will get them the ball. Just expect a little bit of a roller coaster of fantasy points from game to game.
The Tighter The Better
The Tight End position is the most up-in-the-air on the Broncos offense. Both Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme are injured. Dreesen was actually really helpful in a spot start here and there lat year with five TD’s and a few hundred yards. Tamme had over 500 yards, but only two TD’s. The trend of only a handful of TD’s coming to the Tight End position will probably continue, with Manning getting another WR weapon in Welker.
On average, Tamme and Dreesen are either not being drafted, or are in the last rounds. This is a very accurate draft position. Manning just does not use the TE like he did with Dallas Clark in Indy. The offense is not built around that position very well.
After I just bashed the Tight End position, there is one huge standout in camp. That is Julius Thomas (Mike Rigz talked about him a couple months ago). The Broncos drafted him a few years ago hoping that his former basketball experience would translate like Antonio Gates. He has been injured though his first two seasons, and the Broncos have stashed him away on the team, but as inactive. This camp he has shined though! He has really been one of the stars so far. Manning is all about comfort however, and I highly doubt he will be much of a factor this year. He might be good for a keeper league though. Don’t be too surprised if you see him catch a few spectacular balls and get snatched up on the waiver wires after the first few weeks.
The other guy that has been a real standout at camp is Running Back Jeremiah Johnson. He is an extremely explosive running back. Very slippery and seems like every run could break for a touchdown. Unfortunately for Johnson, I think the politics of both Hillman and Ball being draft picks of John Elway, Knowshon being a former first rounder, and John Fox’s asinine feeling that he has to have a Full Back on the team, might make him a camp casualty. It’s really a shame, because he might actually be the scariest RB on the team. IF he makes the team, he might be worth a last round pick up just to see how they use him in the first few weeks. That is a very big if though.
Jerry Springer’s Final Thought
Whether or not this is a Super Bowl caliber team really doesn’t matter to the fantasy freak inside us all. The only important questions is how are my chess pieces going to perform week in and week out! The consensus that I see in camp is that this is a machine of a football team. They are methodical in their practices and there is no room for error. That was not the case in the Tebow and Orton days.
This is now Manning’s team. There are a few guys that you want on every fantasy team you have, including Demaryius Thomas and Peyton Manning. The rest of the offensive weapons here are a bit hazy currently, and will probably not be consistent weekly producers, even if combined, they have good fantasy stat years. That might not be what you are looking for.