At age 36 coming off multiple neck surgeries, Manning threw for 4,659 yards with 37 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. As an even healthier 37 year-old, he reached career highs and set NFL records with 5,477 passing yards and 55 touchdowns passes while reducing his interception count to 10. At 38, forced to play a full quarter of the season (for the mathematically challenged that translates into four games) with a quad injury that severely limited his throwing motion, Manning threw for 4,727 yards with 39 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions.
In 2015, the question for fantasy owners is whether Manning is closer to the quarterback that averaged 26.7 PPG over his first 12 games last season or the one who averaged just 13.7 PPG over his final four games? Let’s look outside the numbers for a minute. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase is replaced by head coach Gary Kubiak, who will handle play calling duties. That should translate into a more balanced run-pass ratio. Julius Thomas and Wes Welker are gone in exchange for Owen Daniels and Cody Latimer. That’s a downgrade, although not as significant as it first seems since the Broncos will be utilizing more two tight end sets, meaning Latimer won’t be relied upon as much as Welker was. And, hey, Welker was a shell of his former self last season (there’s a reason that he is currently without a team). And left tackle Ryan Clady will miss the entire season with a torn ACL.
Although Manning’s supporting cast is not as stellar as it was during his superlative 2013 season, it seems foolhardy to bet against his impressive string of solid performances as his career begins to wind down. And with an ADP in the middle of the 4th round, he rates as a solid bargain with fantasy owners perhaps too focused on his injury-induced poor performance to end 2014.
Buried on the depth chart behind Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman and in a battle with Juwan Thompson to win the 3rd running back role entering training camp last season, Anderson was a surprise fantasy superstar in 2014, gaining 849 rushing yards, 324 receiving yards and scoring 10 total touchdowns. Better yet, he was an absolute beast from Week 10 until the end of the season, hitting double digit fantasy points in eight of nine games (including the playoffs), and scoring 9.6 points in the game he failed to hit double digits. While new head coach Gary Kubiak brings a different offensive system to the Broncos in 2015, the question is how Anderson will acclimate to the new system, not what his role will be in it. There is little doubt that he will open the season as a starter and Kubiak has a history of using a workhorse running back to handle rushing duties. And with Anderson having piled up 1,166 total yards and 10 touchdowns in his final nine games last season, we have little doubt that he can handle such a role. Anderson rates as a mid-tier RB1 in 2015 as a player who could emerge as a top-three fantasy option, but one who also carries some risk given his short history of solid productivity.
Since being taken in the 2nd round of the 2013 NFL Draft, the Broncos have clearly done everything in their power to afford Montee Ball the opportunity emerge as an elite running back. To no avail. Shortly after Ball’s selection in the draft, Denver parted ways with incumbent starter Willis McGahee, only to watch Knowshon Moreno take over as the team’s starter and post the best year of his career. That performance wasn’t good enough to earn a new contract so Moreno left for Miami leaving Ball once again atop the depth chart. This time, he struggled out of the gate, gaining just 172 rushing yards on 55 carries in four games (to be fair, two of those games were against the Seahawks and Cardinals) before suffering a groin injury that kept him out until Week 11 at which point he was placed on season ending injured reserve. Heading into 2015, the Broncos are no longer willing to simply hand the starting job over to Ball. He will open the season behind C.J. Anderson, who enjoyed a stellar campaign in 2014, and there are no indications that Ball rates as anything more than a backup. Since new head coach Gary Kubiak generally employs a workhorse back, Ball rates as no more than an Anderson handcuff provided he wins that role over Ronnie Hillman.
After two largely disappointing seasons after being taken in the 3rd round of the 2012 draft, Hillman was enjoying the finest year of his career before suffering a foot injury that caused him to miss six games from Week 11 to Week 16. Subbing in for an injured Montee Ball, Hillman amassed 347 rushing yards, 74 receiving yards and two touchdowns during a four week stretch from Week 5 to Week 9. Entering 2015, Hillman will compete with Ball and Juwan Thompson for the backup role behind C.J. Anderson. Despite his solid production last season, we expect Ball to emerge as the winner of that competition, leaving Hillman fighting for table scraps as a change of pace, occasional receiving threat. All that being said, he remains worthy of a late round flyer given Ball’s struggles thus far in his career and the fact that Anderson, although hugely productive last season, lacks a lengthy proven record as a starter.
Over the past three years, Thomas has topped 1,400 receiving yards with double-digit touchdowns and he enjoyed the finest season of his six-year career in 2014, reaching career highs in receptions with 111 and yards with 1,619 while scoring 11 touchdowns. With 470 targets, 297 receptions, 4,483 yards and 35 touchdowns over the past three seasons, you might think he would be the consensus top fantasy wide receiver entering 2015. However, Antonio Brown, Dez Bryant and Julio Jones are all going ahead of him based on current ADP. While Peyton Manning is another year older and carries additional risk with each passing year, Thomas should be in line for a major number of targets in 2015 due to the departures of Julius Thomas and Wes Welker. In addition, while the touchdown production of some players fluctuates, that isn’t the case with Thomas, who seems like a sure fire bet for double-digit touchdowns for the fourth consecutive year. And with all of the targets, we see another 1,600-yard season on tap as well. You see where this is headed, right? Thomas rates as our top ranked fantasy wide receiver in 2015.
Signed by the Broncos prior to last season after four largely disappointing seasons in Pittsburgh, Sanders enjoyed a breakout season during his first year in Denver, reaching career highs across the board with 141 targets, 101 receptions, 1,404 yards and nine touchdowns. The question for 2015 is – can he repeat that performance in a new offensive system designed by head coach Gary Kubiak? We think not. While Sanders’ solid production last season wasn’t a huge surprise given his increased role due to injuries to Wes Welker and Julius Thomas (both since departed) and talent level, he isn’t expected to approach his targets count of 141 from a year ago with the Broncos employing a more conservative, run based approach. And even if the Broncos had retained their coaching staff from a year ago, we still would have been predicting a decline in his touchdown production. Consider Sanders a mid-tier WR2 with upside.
Taken in the 2nd round of last year’s draft, Latimer’s 2014 season was basically a redshirt year as he rarely saw the field and caught just two passes for 23 yards. The 6’2″, 215 pound Indiana product wasn’t expected to contribute much playing behind Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and Wes Welker but by all accounts, his rookie season was a major disappointment with Latimer failing to learn the team’s playbook, a major faux pas when playing with a perfectionist such as Peyton Manning. In 2015, Latimer figures to take Welker’s spot in the receiver rotation but that doesn’t necessarily translate into a big leap in his fantasy appeal. With new head coach Gary Kubiak, the Broncos are expected to lean more heavily on their rushing attack and to go heavy on two tight end formations. That doesn’t bode well for Latimer’s playing time as he enters his second season in the league. Barring injury to Thomas or Sanders, Latimer has little appeal in redraft formats. He rates as a lower end prospect in dynasty formats despite his considerable skills since Manning may not be around by the time Latimer earns significant playing time.
Signed off the scrap prior to last season after a disappointing, injury-plagued final season in 2013 with the Texans, Daniels resurrected his career in Baltimore, catching 48 passes for 527 yards and four touchdowns as he subbed in for an injured Dennis Pitta. After following his former head coach Gary Kubiak from Houston to Baltimore, Daniels followed Kubiak once again for the 2015 season, this time to Denver. On the surface, that sounds like a scenario to upgrade the fantasy prospects of the 32-year old tight end but Denver features one of the league’s top red zone threats in Demaryius Thomas and Daniels is likely to share the tight end duties with Virgil Green. He rates as a mid-tier TE2 and a player who will likely boom or bust from week to week.