Regardless of what happens with the NFL Lockout, I will be having a fantasy football draft this year, and I hope you will too. If you're like me, you're always looking for that middle or late round Broncos gem to add to your roster. Last year, that player for me was Demaryius Thomas. That really didn't work out so well, but I did wind up with both Tom Brady and Mike Vick and a third place finish out of 12 teams, so I like to think I know a thing or two (wink).
With the lockout fully in place until July at the earliest, I figured we could quench our thirst for some Denver Broncos football with a fantasy football preview, even though the roster is not yet fully in place.
Big Man on Campus: Tim Tebow, QB
This one was really tough for me, but if you are playing fantasy football, then you are a betting man/woman. If Tim Tebow is the Broncos' starting quarterback, he is a threat to score both through the air as well as on the ground. Dual threat quarterbacks can make or break a fantasy team, but with the Broncos moving to a zone running scheme, you have to prepare as though they are going to rely much less on the pass, even though Brandon Lloyd could still be a stud for us.
With Tebow, you're taking a risk because with his running ability, he might take some hard hits and could get injured. Still, he showed over the last three games last year that he can put points on the board, and he accounted for a heck of a lot of the Broncos' scoring in 2010 despite being the backup for 13 games. If you're looking for a sleeper quarterback in the middle rounds, Tebow is your guy, and with the offense shifting to a run-oriented unit, he could be the safest bet on the roster.
Rising Star: Knowshon Moreno, RB
Regardless of what people think about Moreno's career, his speed, or his lack of speed, or his lack of big plays, you can't deny one thing: Moreno has not been given a fair shake in Denver. In 13 games last year, he was given more than 20 carries in only three of those contests. Two of those three games, he had the best yardage total of his career, running for 106 yards in a win against Kansas City as well as 161 yards in a loss to the Chiefs. After the bye last year, Moreno averaged under four yards per carry only twice, in games where he was given a combined 11 carries.
Perhaps Moreno is not capable of the big play, but he can certainly make guys miss, and with some cohesion and consistency on the offensive line, he could be a real fantasy stud. He's already proven he can put the ball in the end zone, scoring 17 touchdowns in his first two years in the league (12 rushing, 5 receiving). Moreno is also very valuable in the passing game, which is one of the reasons Josh McDaniels was so high on him coming out. He is one of the best third down backs in the NFL, and if he can stay healthy, he can be a top of the line RB2 or utility RB/WR, and possibly even develop into a RB1 in the near future.
Moreno will be only 24 years old at the start of the season.
Top Target: Brandon Lloyd, WR
Lloyd was one of the best receivers in 2010, and nothing figures to change this year. He proved in 2010 that injuries were not an issue, though we all know that can change on a dime. In fact, coupled with the switch in offensive philosophy, Lloyd's potential for injury scared me off of making him the Broncos' "Big Man on Campus" for the 2011 Fantasy Football season.
Still, regardless of what happens, Lloyd was one of the best downfield receivers in the NFL last year, averaging just under 19 yards per reception. He finished the season with 77 receptions, 11 of which went for touchdowns. One out of every seven catches Llloyd had resulted in a score, which is very attractive to fantasy players.
With Demaryius Thomas likely starting the season on the PUP list or possibly IR, Lloyd is a safe bet for the Broncos' number one receiver.
Rookie Sensation: Julius Thomas, TE
Julius Thomas was drafted in the fourth round by the Broncos, who traded up to get him. They obviously really like his skill set, and with the Broncos releasing Daniel Graham, he could be in line to make significant contributions at the tight end position. It's difficult to say that he will be a top of the line receiver his first year in the league, because he is raw, but athletically he stands out. Virgil Green is another option here, the Broncos' other rookie tight end.
Thomas has the potential to be a big time target in the red zone, and could be a real sleeper in fantasy leagues.
Mr. Reliable: Matt Prater, K
Matt Prater has a ton of upside in fantasy leagues, especially on a team with a young quarterback. The Broncos scored a lot more points in the last three games with Tebow at the helm, and that momentum hopefully will carry over to the 2011 campaign. With that in mind, Prater has excellent range and has really emerged as one of the best kickers in the NFL, missing only two field goals all of last season. Prater finished the year 16-for-18 with a long kick of 59, and he is capable of hitting from 60 or beyond.
Royal dropped only two passes all of last season, and is one of the best return men in the NFL. If the Broncos don't address a RS in free agency, he is a consistent threat. The problem is, his risk for injury also goes up the more kicks and punts he returns.
Gaffney quietly had 65 receptions for 875 yards last year, with only two touchdowns. If you are in a PPR league, Gaffney or Royal could be excellent for deep roster leagues, potentially as a WR3 or utility player. They are also good insurance to have on your bench for depth, as they are both pretty consistent players who don't miss significant time with injuries.