Fitz on Fantasy: 2019 Denver Broncos Buying Guide

With the preseason here, TFG fantasy expert Pat Fitzmaurice is breaking down the prospects for all 32 teams. Click here for a running list of teams, and check back often as teams are added on an almost daily basis. On to the Denver Broncos…

The 2019 Broncos seem destined to play a lot of games that end in final scores like 17-13, or 20-10, or 14-9. The defense, now orchestrated by new head coach Vic Fangio and led by OLB Von Miller and CB Chris Harris Jr., should be no worse than average. The offense, which ranked 19th in yardage and 24th in scoring last year, would have to vastly overachieve just to be considered average. Denver isn’t the place to pan for nuggets of fantasy gold.

The lone fantasy bright spot here last season was Phillip Lindsay, who ran for 1,037 yards and nine TDs, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. He finished RB12 in fantasy scoring (half-point PPR). And really, Lindsay was just an incredible story overall – an undersized (5-8, 190) home-state kid from Aurora who starred at the University of Colorado, then made a rookie-year splash with the Broncos despite going undrafted. Not only that, but he was transported here from the 1970s.  God bless you for that shirt and that hairstyle, Phillip Lindsay. You’re a treasure.

It was a shock to many that Lindsay so dramatically outperformed fellow rookie Royce Freeman, since Lindsay had no draft pedigree whatsoever and Freeman was an early-third-round pick. A lot of people think the gap in fantasy value between Lindsay and Freeman will close this year. Cecil Lammey of (@CecilLammey), who does radio work for the Broncos and watches the team closely, believes that new offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello’s wide-zone running scheme should suit Freeman’s game well. And Lindsay, who had 35 receptions last year, might catch fewer passes now that the Broncos have added pass-catching RB Theo Riddick (though Riddick is expected to miss at least two regular-season games after undergoing shoulder surgery).

I do agree that the value gap between Freeman and Lindsay will narrow. Lindsay, whose rookie season ended with a significant wrist injury, isn’t built to handle a big workload. But we saw a noticeable talent gap between Lindsay and Freeman last year, draft capital be damned. Unless there’s a large TD disparity in Freeman’s favor, it seems unlikely he’ll be a more valuable fantasy asset than Lindsay.

That’s not to knock Freeman, who’ll have a significant role and could conceivably finish in the RB2 range if things break right for him. But he’s clearly not cut out to be the three-down workhorse some people were imagining him to be at this time a year ago. Freeman got a “C” on the eye test last season; Lindsay made the dean’s list.

I have Lindsay ranked RB31. The talent is real, but there’s bound to be some pullback in his usage. My RB36 ranking for Freeman is pretty consistent with the market, but in all the drafts I’ve been in so far, there’s always been someone who likes him more than I do. Riddick is a fantasy afterthought – a possible in-season waiver addition in PPR leagues, nothing more.

Joe Flacco hasn’t been a useful fantasy asset since 2014, when he finished QB13. He’ll probably be capped at about 3,800 yards and 25 TD passes this season – and that’s if he stays healthy and things go well.

In 2QB leagues, Flacco has value simply by virtue of being an ensconced starter. Fangio has made it clear that rookie Drew Lock isn’t ready for prime time, and that was before the second-round pick from Missouri badly sprained his throwing hand in the preseason. 

Emmanuel Sanders and Courtland Sutton got into a training camp fight a couple of weeks ago, and I suppose we could view their dustup as symbolic, since the two receivers are going to be scrapping for targets along with second-year slot man DaeSean Hamilton in what figures to be one of the league’s most impotent passing attacks.

Sutton offers the most appealing upside of this group by far. He turned in three seasons of high-level production at SMU and has 85th percentile SPARQ-x athleticism. Sutton’s rookie year was promising enough (42 catches for 704 yards and four TDs), but the people who were expecting a full Sutton breakout after Sanders tore his Achilles in early December were mildly disappointed, as Sutton had only 14-146-1 over the four games Sanders missed.

Sutton is almost surely going to be a top-25 receiver before long – the profile is just too good for him not to achieve liftoff – but he probably isn’t going to get there with Flacco as his quarterback. With a 6-3, 218-pound frame and 4.5 speed, Sutton is a dangerous vertical threat. But while Flacco was once among the better deep-ball throwers in the game, that’s no longer the case. I don’t mind taking a chance on Sutton late in drafts if I already have three trustworthy receivers on the roster, but counting on him to be an every-week starter would be a major leap of faith.

It’s remarkable that the 32-year-old Sanders has recovered so quickly from such a devastating injury. The assumption for much of the offseason was that Sanders would start the season on the PUP list, but he’s already logged preseason snaps and is expected to play in Week 1.

Still, it’s fair to wonder if Sanders will be the same player if his athleticism is muted by the injury even a little. A torn Achilles is typically a career-wrecker for a running back, and while receivers have a slightly better track record of recovery, it’s probably naive to think we’ll see the same old Sanders. We should also consider that he hasn’t had more than six TD catches in a season since 2014.

Sanders’ ADP of WR39 is pie-in-the-sky. At that price, tip your hat to the man for showing such tenacity in his recovery, then quickly walk away.

After Sanders went down last year, it was Hamilton, not Sutton, who went on a tear down the stretch. The rookie from Penn State was targeted 38 times in the four games Sanders missed and had 25-162-2. That works out to 6.5 yards per catch, but we probably shouldn’t worry about that puny figure too much since Hamilton averaged 16.2 yards per catch in his final college season.

Hamilton is ticketed for slot duty, which should establish a reasonable target floor, but his fantasy ceiling is that of a basement rec room. He could be a viable end-of-draft option in deeper PPR leagues, but that’s about it.

Noah Fan tis a late-round fantasy trap, and the bait that’s luring in unwitting fantasy owners is Fant’s first-round draft capital. Don’t make the same mistake Broncos GM John Elway made.

Fant was overtaken by teammate T.J. Hockenson at Iowa last year but freshened up his prospect profile with a glowing performance at the NFL Scouting Combine that included a 40 time of 4.5 seconds, best among tight ends. He also had the best vertical jump and broad jump of his position group. But Fant is drop-prone, isn’t particularly crisp with his routes and never had a 40-catch season for the Hawkeyes. Reports about Fant’s efforts in training camp have been less than glowing. Don’t expect any sort of rookie-year impact.

Joe FlaccoQB29QB29QB29Superflex only
Phillip LindsayRB31RB25RB26Usage concerns
Royce FreemanRB36RB36RB40Meh
Courtland SuttonWR41WR42WR41Not quite
Emmanuel SandersWR51WR44WR39Fade
DaeSean HamiltonWR69WR57WR72Late PPR pick
Noah FantTE29TE23TE23Run away

ADP = Average Draft Position  ECR = Expert Consensus Ranking  (based on half-PPR scoring)