QB Peyton Manning (Denver)
Expecting Manning to come close to putting up 55 and 5500 again in 2014 (both records) is very naïve and short-sighted. Manning is now going into his age 38 season, has lost Eric Decker, and last season is simply impossible to repeat. He could still throw up 4800 and 40 (which would be the 2nd highest yardage total and 3rd highest touchdown total of his career) and be the best passing quarterback in the NFL, but I like Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers more because Brees is on an offense that is more pass heavy and Rodgers adds value on the ground.
4800 passing yards, 40 passing touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 20 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown (334 pts standard)
RB Montee Ball (Denver)
Ball is unproven, with only 140 career touches, all as a rookie in 2013. However, the 2013 2nd round pick showed good running ability, averaging 4.66 yards per carry and showing the kind of pass catching ability (20 catches for 145 yards) that he never really displayed in college. He’ll the clear lead back this season, at least on early downs, and he’ll have plenty of room to run and opportunities for touchdowns on this explosive Broncos offense.
250 carries for 1100 rushing yards, 11 total touchdowns, 28 catches for 220 receiving yards (198 pts standard)
WR Demaryius Thomas (Denver)
Thomas has broken out as one of the best wide receivers in the NFL statistically over the past 2 seasons, combining to catch 186 passes for 2864 yards and 26 touchdowns in those 2 years. Obviously, Peyton Manning’s arrival had something to do with that, but the 2010 1st round pick had 35 catches for 745 yards and 4 touchdowns in his final 7 games, including playoffs, with Tim Tebow in 2011. That’s 80 catches for 1703 yards and 9 touchdowns extrapolated over 16 games. Manning won’t throw as many yards or touchdowns this year, but with Eric Decker gone and Wes Welker aging, Thomas should exceed the 138 targets he had last season (only 12th in the NFL) and could have the best season of his career in his contract year.
98 catches for 1520 yards and 13 touchdowns (230 pts standard)
WR Wes Welker (Denver)
With Decker gone, Welker should have a bigger role this season. He played just 38.7 pass snaps per game last season, as opposed to 42.2 for Decker and 43.6 for Thomas. However, he’s an aging player going into his age 33 season. Even the average top-20 receiver (in terms of yardage all-time) has his last 1000 yard season at age 34-35, averages 48 catches for 594 yards and 3 touchdowns for 2 more seasons after age 34-35, and is done playing by age 36-37. Welker is “only” 47th in all-time receiving yards. He definitely showed some of this deterioration last season, missing 3 games with injury and averaging 1.64 yards per route run, pretty middle of the pack, especially considering he had the best quarterback in the NFL throwing passes to him. He’s also unlikely to score 10 times again, after averaging just over 6 touchdowns per season in New England.
77 catches for 820 yards and 5 touchdowns (112 pts standard)
WR Emmanuel Sanders (Denver)
Sanders is Decker’s replacement and will play in 3-wide receiver sets, which the Broncos run often. In two years of significant experience in Pittsburgh, Sanders averaged 1.48 and 1.34 yards per route run in 2012 and 2013 respectively, showing himself to be just a guy. However, Manning has turned average receivers into productive fantasy players before. Sanders is a bench stash with nice upside.
60 catches for 850 yards and 6 touchdowns (121 pts standard)
TE Julius Thomas (Denver)
Thomas had a breakout year in Denver’s offense last season, catching 65 passes for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns. I don’t see the production really going anywhere and he could be Manning’s #2 option this season with Decker gone, but I’m skeptical that he can catch 12 touchdowns on 65 passes again. Double digit scores isn’t out of the question though.
62 catches for 760 yards and 10 touchdowns (136 pts standard)