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For 14 maddening seasons, Lucifer Shanahan reigned over the Rockies with unmatched fiendishness. His perpetual orange glow, cruel strategies and general guardedness permanently blinded many in Fantasyland. Any owner who invested heavily in Denver running backs - it was impossible to own just one - always had a cabinet stockpiled with stiff liquors. During his tenure, eight different names topped the team's leaderboard in rushing.
When Shanahan was canned this past offseason, the virtual masses were elated. Drunken celebrations ensued. Fires were lit. Toyota Camrys felt unsafe. Gone were the days of reckless unpredictability. With the black cloud of uncertainty lifted, fantasy stability had finally returned to Denver.
Watching over the surprisingly undefeated Broncos with an evil eye and sharpened pitchfork, Colorado's newest malevolent demon, Josh McDaniels, has instituted a strategy equally sinister to any Shanahan scheme. Though a sense of firmness has indeed swept over the Broncos backfield - Knowshon Moreno(notes) and Correll Buckhalter(notes) have distinctly established themselves as the 1A, 1B options - the McDevil's merry-go-round receiver rotation has crippled the value of an early round pick many predicted would be the second-coming of Wes Welker(notes), Eddie Royal(notes).
Last year, the crafty Virginia Tech product electrified the fantasy faithful. In 15 contests, many of them spectacular, the Mile High Monarch was a PPR prodigy. Overall, he snagged 91 passes, 980 yards and five scores finishing with a point per game average (8.5) that ranked just outside the WR top 20. Blazing fast, elusive and polished, his Royal highness was expected to build on his dynamite rookie campaign as the slot option in McDaniels' Patriots-inspired spread system. It was a foregone conclusion.
Unfortunately, Royal has become fantasy's most distrusted antiking. Through three games, he's caught a mere six passes for 42 yards and zero touchdowns. His stellar 1.4 points per game average ranks 98th among wideouts, behind such future Canton icons as Sammie Stroughter(notes), Malcolm Kelly(notes) and Keenan Burton(notes).
The maligned wideout's arduous start has understandably caused chaos in the fantasy community. Threads on popular message boards have become podiums for Royal disdain. To the naysayer, trusting anyone from the Beelzechick School of Sin was bound to be a fruitless exercise, especially with a noodle-armed quarterback running the offense. The distaste for Royal has reached such a fevered pitch, some impatient owners have even suggested dropping the once prized pass catcher, which, this early in the game, is complete lunacy.
Without a doubt McDaniels' philosophy and Kyle Orton's(notes) flaccid arm (Minus Jay Cutler(notes), defenses have employed more deep safety zones against Denver) have stymied Royal's value. With Brandon Stokley(notes) and Jabar Gaffney(notes) working primarily out of the slot, the second-year receiver has operated exclusively as a wingman opposite Brandon Marshall(notes). He's also been used as a decoy, often enticing double coverage. For example, last week he forced Nnamdi Asomugha(notes) to defend the edge in an attempt to free others across-the-middle. He finished with just one catch for four yards. Despite the worrisome downturn in production, the unselfish youngster, a consummate team player, isn't concerned. From the Colorado Gazette:
"We're just spreading the ball around right now," Royal said. "I knew that's how the offense worked, and so did everybody else. We're going to spread the ball around so everybody can make plays. On this team, we have so many playmakers spread out that it's hard to key on one guy. It's good to have an offense like that with a lot of explosive players. Nobody really cares about numbers right now. We just want to win."
In a system predicated on short slants and drags, his skills have undoubtedly been underutilized. But, as McDaniels recently suggested, his involvement in the Broncos' aerial attack will largely be matchup dependent. Some weeks he will attract an appreciable amount of looks, others he won't. From the Denver Post:
"We haven't thrown him the ball a lot. Because there's other guys open or somebody is trying to take Eddie away," McDaniels said. "Eddie's patient. Eddie knows what we do with our offense. Some weeks there will be 12 balls thrown at him. Some weeks there might be three. We're not going to try and jam it into one guy when we have 10 players that are worth throwing the ball too."
Expect Week 4 to pay a Royal dividend.
Denver hosts a Dallas club that has defended the pass marginally. On the season, the 'Boys have allowed 275.3 passing yards per game and the sixth-most fantasy points to receivers. Marshall's reemergence coupled with the Pokes' defensive inadequacies should provide the quiet weapon with several man-on-man opportunities against Mike Jenkins(notes), a situation he will most certainly exploit. The 14,000-plus Yahoo! leaguers who kicked Royal to the curb this week will come crawling back. Michael Clayton(notes) he is not.
The McDevil is undeniably ghoulish. But on his wide receiver roulette wheel, it's smart to lay down chip stacks on No. 19 from this point forward. Though he will be hard-pressed to match last year's totals, Royal is still one of the finer buy low bargains currently in virtual pigskin.
Week 4 Fearless Forecast: 5 receptions, 78 yards, 1 touchdown
What are your thoughts on Royal's slow start? Is he drop-worthy? How patient will you be? Discuss below.
Image courtesy of US Presswire