Juggernaut Index, No. 11: The Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos

When you have a trophy and a ring, a lousy quarterback situation probably stings a bit less. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
When you have a trophy and a ring, maybe a lousy quarterback situation probably stings a bit less. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

The Juggernaut Index is our annual ranking and review of NFL teams for fantasy purposes — repeat: FANTASY PURPOSES. Here we concern ourselves with a franchise’s likely contributions to the fantasy player pool. We are not concerned with projected wins and losses. Instead, we’re focused on yards and points. As always, we’re beginning with the league’s least useful teams, working our way toward the elite fantasy juggernauts.

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So here we are in late August, and the defending Super Bowl champs still have not yet named a starting quarterback for the regular season opener against Carolina. No rush, though. When Mark Sanchez is among the candidates, it makes sense to explore all possible options.

As of this writing, it appears that Trevor Siemian, a second-year QB from Northwestern, holds a lead in this position battle. Siemian will draw the start in Denver’s third preseason game, the dress rehearsal contest. If he can simply direct a few non-terrible drives without giving away the football, he might very well lock down the Week 1 starting gig. In two preseason games thus far, Siemian has completed 17 of 26 throws for 163 yards, no touchdowns and one pick-six (a brutal throw, a gift to Eric Reid).

Ask any of your Big Ten friends if they ever thought, even for a moment, that Siemian was going to develop into a starting-caliber NFL quarterback. (If they have no memory of him, just mention that he was the QB who wasn’t Kain Colter.) He completed only 58.9 percent of his throws as a collegiate player (58.2 as a senior), averaging 6.4 yards per attempt and tossing nearly as many interceptions (24) as TD passes (27). Honestly, there’s very little in his on-field history to suggest that he can function as a mistake-free game manager against pro defenses, and he’s certainly not a difference-making quarterback. Siemian has a strong-if-not-accurate arm and a tendency to stare down receivers. Even if he’s named the starter against the Panthers, it’s tough to imagine him holding the gig for a full season.

Sanchez, by his own admission, has not separated himself from Siemian during camp. He’s been sloppy with the football during exhibition play, per his usual, tossing one pick and losing a pair of fumbles. Not good — not unexpected, but not good.

Yup, these are the options. Pick a winner, Coach Kubiak. (Photo By John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Yup, these are the options. Pick a winner, Coach. (Photo By John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Basically, there are no great options for Denver at the game’s most important position. At some point, perhaps soon, this team has to simply hand the keys to rookie first-rounder Paxton Lynch. I’m with Edholm on this subject; it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see Lynch behind center in October, if not earlier. He’s far from a finished product, but he’s had some nice moments during exhibition play (and some not-nice moments), plus he profiles as a strong fit for Gary Kubiak’s playbook, which is heavy on boot action. Lynch made solid year-to-year statistical gains as a collegiate passer, delivering a completion percentage of 66.8 in 2015 while averaging 8.5 yards per attempt. He was excellent on deep throws, too. If you somehow forced me to draft a Broncos QB in fantasy this season, Lynch would be my guy. No matter who begins the year as Denver’s QB, the end-of-season starter is likely to be the rookie.

This team’s starting wide receivers are, of course, good enough to nudge almost any competent quarterback into the fantasy conversation. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders combined for 181 receptions, 2439 yards and 12 spikes last year, despite playing with a zombified version of Peyton Manning and an up-and-down Brock Osweiler. Thomas actually survived the Tim Tebow era in Denver, so he’s earned the QB-proof label. He and Sanders thoroughly dominated the WR targets for the Broncos last season, leaving few scraps for anyone else. Thomas saw 176 chances, Sanders had 137 and all other wideouts on the team combined for 89. I’m happy to draft DT as a No. 2 receiver for fantasy purposes or Sanders as a No. 3, but, in an offense that isn’t likely to produce more than 20-24 passing scores, we can’t realistically forecast either player for a top-of-the-ranks season. Let’s try to be happy with 90-1200-8 from Demaryius and 75-1000-6 from Manny.

If anyone in this receiving corps is headed for a breakout year, veteran tight end Virgil Green could very well be the guy. He’s been rolling with the varsity throughout the summer and he’s hauled in all seven of his targets in preseason play. Coach Kubiak gave Green a full endorsement just a few days ago…

“Virgil’s been a warrior,” Kubiak said. “He’s stayed in there. He’s been battling. This is an opportunity in Virgil’s career to become a starter and he’s obviously taking advantage of it.”

…so we need to take him seriously as a fantasy asset, at least in deeper pools. Assuming good health, he’s a threat for something like a 60-700-6 fantasy line. He’s only caught 35 balls over his first five NFL seasons, however, so I’ll make no guarantees.

C.J. Anderson, Super Bowl champ. (Photo By John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
C.J. Anderson, Super Bowl champ. (Photo By John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

There’s little doubt that Denver wants to run the ball relentlessly in the year ahead, and it’s equally clear that C.J. Anderson will be the team’s featured ball-carrier. Anderson couldn’t quite shake Ronnie Hillman in 2015, but C.J. dominated the backfield touches during a terrific postseason run. Check the workload distribution in the Super Bowl:

Anderson – 23 carries, 90 rushing yards, TD, 4 receptions, 10 yards
Hillman – 5 carries, 0 yards, 0 receptions

The Broncos signed Anderson to a four-year deal in the offseason, then rebuilt the O-line and drafted a fullback. This team is ready to run. Anderson, in my view, is set up for a top-10 (8? 5?) positional finish. He’s been running as the every-down back in exhibition play. Anderson is really a filthy steal at his ADP (30.7). Fourth-round rookie Devontae Booker appears to have surged past Hillman for the back-up/handcuff role, so update cheat sheets accordingly. Booker delivered back-to-back big seasons at Utah, hauling in 80 catches over two years. He’s a versatile back, although, like Anderson, he’s not a burner. He deserves late-round fantasy attention, for sure.

Denver’s defense was stellar last season, carrying the team to a title while holding opponents to a league-low 283.1 total yards per game. As expected, this group lost a few pieces via free agency, but the Broncos still possess the NFL’s best secondary — Talib, Harris, Ward, Stewart, Roby — and a terrifying pass rush led by Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. Fantasy-wise, this D/ST is probably in a tier of its own.

2015 Offensive Stats & Ranks
Points per game – 22.2 (19)
Pass YPG – 248.1 (14)
Rush YPG – 107.4 (17)
Yards per play – 5.2 (26)
Plays per game – 65.7 (13)

Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32) Cleveland, 31) San Francisco, 30) Philadelphia, 29) Baltimore, 28) Tennessee, 27) Los Angeles, 26) Miami, 25) Detroit, 24) Chicago, 23) San Diego, 22) Minnesota, 21) Tampa Bay, 20) Atlanta, 19) Washington, 18) Buffalo, 17) Kansas City, 16) Oakland, 15) NY Giants, 14) Indianapolis, 13) Jacksonville, 12) Houston, 11) Denver