Juggernaut Index No. 17: Without Denver RBs, the waiver wire would be a dull place

Andy Behrens

The Juggernaut Index is our annual attempt to rank every NFL team for fantasy purposes. We're not concerned with real-life wins and losses here, only fantasy potential. These rankings rely entirely on personal biases hard, incontrovertible math. They are not to be questioned.

17. Denver Broncos

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Yardage came easily to the Broncos last season, but touchdowns did not. Denver was 11th in the NFL in total yards per game (346.3), but only 21st in points (20.0).

Let's just say that the ground game did not meet our expectations. Travis Henry led the Broncos in rushing TDs...with four. And now he's gone. The 2007 Broncos totaled only 10 rushing touchdowns.

The system has obviously turned a few sketchy names into fantasy stars in the past -- you'll recall that Mike Anderson and Tatum Bell combined for 20 TDs two years ago -- and that's our best hope this season. Selvin Young is the presumptive starter at running back entering camp. He gained 729 rushing yards last year, he had a pair of 100-yard efforts (both of them against the Chiefs) and he averaged 5.2 yards per carry.

Young has also reportedly had a productive off-season and he's talking a good game, if you care about things like that:

"I feel totally different," Young said. "I feel like more of a, if I can use the word, beast. I feel I can do a lot more than last year. Now I know I can do it ... Now I expect to do it."

So he's a self-proclaimed beast. But preseason hand-wringing over the Denver running back situation is a fantasy tradition that won't end in 2008.

Michael Pittman, Andre Hall, and fifth-round pick Ryan Torain are all threats to gain a share of the workload. Torain is the interesting name in dynasty leagues -- not interesting because of Torain's ability and ceiling, necessarily, but interesting because he's a rookie Broncos RB. The Yahoo! fantasy experts love/hate the Denver running back situation so much that we've included Young, Pittman, and Torain in our position rankings. (Hall really got disrespected there. He had a pair of very useful fantasy efforts last season, in Weeks 11 and 12). This is a multiple-handcuff situation, but, again, it's been an excellent fantasy investment in prior years.

Unlike the RB situation, the Denver QB hierarchy is totally clear. Jay Cutler is at the controls. He's accurate, strong-armed, and a fairly obvious candidate to make a leap in value this season. Cutler was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes during the off-season, and it's clear that it affected him last year.

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Michael Silver discussed Cutler's health back in May:

The 6-foot-3 Cutler, who reported for training camp last summer at 242 pounds and struggled to get down to 235 by the season opener, suddenly began losing weight in October and dropped all the way to 202 by the final game. By then he was exhibiting many of the symptoms associated with untreated high blood sugars, including severe thirst, dry mouth, fatigue, frequent urination and ravenous hunger.

"I was just crushing food," he recalls. "I was eating six meals a day –- I'd eat a meal and like 30 minutes later I'd be ready to eat again. Yet I kept losing weight, and they were telling me it was the stress." ... By all rights Cutler, who completed 63.6 percent of his passes while throwing for 20 touchdowns against 14 interceptions in '07, should have played like hell down the stretch. Yet remarkably, though the Broncos lost four of their last six games to finish 7-9, Cutler put up relatively decent numbers during that span.

Cutler finished the year with 11 TD passes and only five interceptions over his final seven games, and he posted a quarterback rating over 95.0 in five of those efforts. Today he's stronger physically, and his throws have their old velocity. The Denver offensive-line wasn't bad to begin with, and it improves with the addition of left tackle Ryan Clady, the 12th overall pick in the draft. Veteran center Tom Nalen also returns from knee and biceps injuries.

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So yeah, things are looking up for Cutler. He's a Week 1 starter in public leagues. The greatest immediate threat to his production is the potential suspension of Brandon Marshall, who's also had a busy offseason:

Marshall is expected to learn this week whether he will be suspended to start the season because of numerous off-field issues, including a pending DUI charge that is scheduled to be heard in court next month.

Marshall is an elite receiver coming off an exceptional season: 102 receptions, 1325 yards, 5.4 yards-after-catch, 7 TDs. You're drafting him regardless of the length of any suspension, but his murky status is clearly impacting his ADP. Right now, he's the 52nd pick in an average draft, and the 18th receiver taken. If you were just drafting on talent, he'd be a top 10 WR.

After Marshall, the Broncos receiving corps is built like a 2004 fantasy team that tried very hard, but ultimately lost: Darrell Jackson, Keary Colbert, Brandon Stokley, Samie Parker.

Jackson and Colbert would be the prime beneficiaries of a Marshall suspension, fantasy-wise. (Slight edge there to Jackson). If second-round pick Eddie Royal is going to make an impact this season, it will likely be as a kick returner. Tony Scheffler is an under-ranked, underrated tight end. He has 67 receptions over the past two years, and nine have resulted in TDs. If you miss the mid-round TE run in your draft, just wait until the very end and take Scheffler. His Mock Draft Central ADP is 136.2.

The Broncos run defense was alarmingly bad last season (142.6 rushing yards per game), and the team allowed the second-most points in the AFC (25.6 PPG). You're still drafting LB D.J. Williams (141 tackles), DE Elvis Dumervil (12.5 sacks) and CB Champ Bailey (84 tackles, 3 INT) in IDP leagues, but the team defense is only a situational start in public formats.

We should note that Jason Elam has moved to Atlanta, where he'll be dome-aided instead of altitude-aided. For now, Matt Prater appears to have the Broncos' kicking gig, but he can't possibly have much job security.

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2007 Denver team stats

Rushing: 122.3 Y/G

Passing: 224.0 Y/G

Points per game: 20.0

Turnovers: 29

Red Zone possessions and TDs: 51, 25

'08 Schedule strength: .445

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The rest of the Index...

32) Chicago, 31) Tennessee, 30) San Francisco, 29) Miami, 28) Baltimore, 27) NY Jets, 26) Oakland, 25) Tampa Bay, 24) Atlanta, 23) Houston, 22) Kansas City, 21) Buffalo, 20) Carolina, 19) Detroit, 18) Seattle, 17) Denver