The Denver Broncos will undergo a drastic change in offensive philosophy with the acquisition of Peyton Manning. After trading Tim Tebow to the New York Jets, the Broncos could go from being the top rushing team to an elite passing offense in just one year. If Manning can regain his old form, the Broncos are in prime position to win the wide open AFC West for a consecutive season. One player does not make a football team, but Manning is a rare exception.
Sitting out for a whole season while recovering from multiple neck surgeries make Manning somewhat of a risky fantasy selection. In addition to his recovery, you have to wonder how long it will take for him to gel with his new receivers and how he fares after sustaining a major hit. Playing outdoors for a majority of the season is another element he has to face. These unknowns lower his value, but Manning is a proven quarterback. In 11 of his 13 seasons, he has thrown for at least 4,000 yards and 26 touchdowns. Receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas are fairly unproven, but they have potential to develop into top pass catchers. Manning also reunites with tight end Jacob Tamme, which should help with the adjustment period. Denver's offensive line is also better compared to the line Manning had in his final years with Indianapolis. The future Hall of Famer is worth taking in the sixth or seventh round; just have a backup option in mind.
Willis McGahee enjoyed a resurgence when Tebow took over. In Denver's run-oriented offense, McGahee recorded his first 1,000-yard season since 2007. As the team transitions to Manning's pass-happy offense, McGahee's numbers will almost certainly decline. He is not much of a receiver in the backfield and lost some speed over the years. But if the Broncos can move the ball efficiently, he could be the preferred choice at the goal line. McGahee may get fewer carries this season, however, it's not out of the question that he doubles his scoring total (four rushing touchdowns in 2011). Backup rookie Ronnie Hillman is a popular sleeper. He has speed and is a viable pass catcher, serving as a perfect complement to McGahee. Given Hillman's small stature and inexperience, the Broncos will work him in slowly, so view him as a late-round flier in seasonal fantasy drafts. Lance Ball will also see some touches and contribute on third downs. Coming off ACL surgery, Knowshon Moreno has to work his way back up the Broncos depth chart. Through nine games last season, he only had 37 carries. Until he proves that he is close to 100 percent, ignore him in fantasy.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker should see a huge boost to their receiving totals. Manning will look for them far more often than Tebow. In Thomas' final five regular season games, he had 25 receptions for 448 yards and three scores. Thomas' 80-yard touchdown reception in the playoffs further displayed his playmaking capabilities. He'll be targeted often on deep routes and has a good shot to lead the team in receiving yards and touchdowns. But in order to reach that point, he must improve on his route running and stay healthy. Treat Thomas as a No. 2 receiver with upside. Decker may not possess Thomas' speed, but he makes up for by having better hands and route-running ability. Working with Manning during the offseason also gives him an advantage over Thomas. Decker led the Broncos with eight touchdowns and should hover around that mark again. View him as a high-end No. 3 fantasy wideout. Andre Caldwell and Brandon Stokley will compete for targets as the team's third receiver. Whoever wins out could be a late-round pick in deep points-per-reception leagues.
Jacob Tamme follows Manning to Mile High and is a top-12 tight end heading into the season. Filling in for Dallas Clark in 2010, Tamme had 67 catches for 631 yards and four scores. Those numbers were compiled over a 10-game stretch. Playing a full schedule presents him with a golden opportunity to surpass those totals. The lone downside to owning Tamme is the presence of former Houston Texan, Joel Dreessen. Tamme is the superior receiver, but Dreessen is a better blocker and may reach the end zone on occasion.
Matt Prater always has an edge kicking in Denver. With an improved offense, he'll be more active kicking extra points and field goals. However, he has had accuracy issues, making just 43 percent (three of seven) of his kicks from 40 to 49 yards last year. However, Prater's upside is hard to ignore, making him worthy of a late selection on draft day.
Not only will Manning have a positive effect on the offense, but the defense should benefit as well. Denver's offense was ranked 30th in third-down conversion last season, which put added pressure on their defense. If things go as planned, Von Miller, Champ Bailey and the rest of the unit will be playing with a lead in most situations. That scenario presents the defense with opportunities to get sacks and turnovers. This defense has upside, but remains a backup option entering the season.
Travis Chan is a fantasy sports enthusiast and contributor for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. You can follow him on Twitter @Travischan1.
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