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Scott Pianowski

Juggernaut Index No. 14: The Denver Broncos

Scott Pianowski
Roto Arcade

The Juggernaut Index is our annual ranking of NFL teams for fantasy purposes. Repeat: FOR FANTASY PURPOSES. We're interested in yards and points here. We began at No. 32, the NFL's least useful franchise (Oakland), and we're working our way toward the elite teams. These ranks are astonishingly accurate and highly collectible. Please enjoy them responsibly.

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14. Denver Broncos

The NFL has turned into a reshuffle league in the salary cap era and no current team symbolizes that more than the retooled 2009 Broncos. Consider what's become of their fantasy-relevant parts over the last eight months. Long-tenured mastermind head coach? Fired. Pro Bowl-level quarterback? Traded. Franchise wide receiver? Unhappy. Backfield situation? A mess, as usual.

There's been plenty written about Denver's offseason drama so for the most part we'll steer away from the departed in this space. Thanks for 14 interesting years, Mike Shanahan. Good luck in Chicago, Jay Cutler(notes). We're not here to talk about the past. It's time to figure out what New England hotshot Josh McDaniels can do with his curiously assembled offense.

Kyle Orton(notes) came over in the Cutler deal and was handed the starting QB job two months ago but it's been a slow process as he works on his new scheme. Orton's first preseason game was a nightmare (9-for-16, 89 yards, three ugly-looking picks) and at this point he's nothing more than a wait-and-see backup pick for our make-believe teams. McDaniels gave Orton a vote of confidence this week but if the new coach gets frisky in the middle of the season, Chris Simms(notes) is around. Keep in mind the quarterback McDaniels really wanted (Matt Cassel(notes)) is in Kansas City.

Don't let the current ADP fool you, Eddie Royal(notes) looks like the most intriguing of the Denver receivers, a smart, slippery route-running technician that McDaniels has already compared to Wes Welker(notes). Royal came to camp in fantastic shape – it's clear he's much stronger in his upper body – and the McDaniels offense relies on a lot of short passing and precision. If Royal can stay in one piece for 16 games, he should settle in as the team's most productive receiver; this is the first skill player you probably want to take from this roster.

On the other side of the field stands Brandon Marshall(notes), who's been in one flap after another since the new year began. Seriously, this guy needs his own tab on the ticker. He's been battling hip and knee injuries. He's unhappy in Denver and wants a trade. He's been slow to pick up the new scheme. He's been in court for a misdemeanor battery charge, since dropped (the sensitive Marshall was apparently miffed at the way the Broncos handled his acquittal). The Denver beat writers over at Rotowire should be paid "per Brandon Marshall update."

Marshall has a reputation as a dynamic and physical receiver but that hasn't translated to production in the red area – he had a measly three catches inside the 10-yard line last year. Given how much time Marshall has missed this summer – and how much complaining he's done about a variety of things – it will be a miracle if he hits the ground running and starts putting up big stats when the bullets are flying in Week 1. It's curious behavior from Marshall given that he's playing for his next contract; all signs point to Marshall relocating for the 2010 season. Mock Draft Central has Marshall as the No. 14 receiver flying off the board (compared to Royal at No. 22), but there's a strong case for flipping those positions. Marshall probably won't be on any of my teams, I can assure you of that – too many red flags.

Deep-league gamers need to consider the depth receivers in Denver, Jabar Gaffney(notes) and Brandon Stokley(notes). Perhaps one of those guys will step up and become a worthy flex option, especially if Marshall goes haywire at some point. Gaffney knows the McDaniels scheme from his New England days, and Stokley, when healthy, is one of the more dangerous slot receives in the game.

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Shanahan was notorious for his backfield shuffling and the new regime is picking up with the same game. Knowshon Moreno(notes) was drafted in the first round with the resume of a full-down player but the Broncos didn't make things easy on him – veterans Correll Buckhalter(notes) and LaMont Jordan(notes) were brought in to challenge for playing time and Peyton Hillis(notes) isn't a bad runner if needed in a pinch. Moreno looked snappy in early workouts but left with a sprained MCL in last week's preseason opener; it's not a major injury but it's kept him from securing the starting job just yet. You still have to consider Moreno the most appealing candidate here by far, but McDaniels didn't mind shuttling his backs in New England last year and it won't be a surprise if that happens with the Broncos.

Whoever gets the rock should find decent running lanes available – Denver's got one of the better offensive lines around, anchored by second-year stud tackle Ryan Clady(notes) and Pro Bowl center Casey Weigmann.

Bronco Busting: Tony Scheffler's(notes) fantasy value takes a major hit in the new offense – he's a move tight-end who can get downfield but McDaniels wants blocking from this position. Blocking ace Daniel Graham(notes) might become the regular tight end going forward. … Matt Prater(notes) is a kickoff marvel and a long-distance guy, but he was erratic in the second half of 2008 and his leash figures to be shorter now that a new coaching staff is in place. … Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has his work cut out for him as he tries to fix last year's horrific defense (448 points allowed, 26 sacks, six interceptions). I've yet to see the Denver defense selected in any of my summer drafts, for obvious reasons. … Denver's early-season schedule might allow the Men of McDaniels to get off to a decent start – the Broncos open up with the Bengals, Browns and Raiders. If you're the type of guy who wants to plan his playoff run and championship parade months in advance, here's what the Broncos face for Weeks 13-16: at Kansas City, at Indianapolis, Oakland, at Philadelphia.

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Earlier Juggernauts: 32) Oakland, 31) Cleveland, 30) St. Louis, 29) Miami, 28) NY Jets, 27) Baltimore, 26) Washington, 25) San Francisco, 24) Tampa Bay, 23) Kansas City, 22) Detroit, 21) Seattle, 20) Buffalo, 19) Cincinnati, 18) Jacksonville, 17) New York Giants, 16) Tennessee, 15) Pittsburgh.

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