With the NFL Draft and free agency having come and gone, we’ll break down all sorts of fantasy-relevant questions entering the 2018 season. Up next is a look at the Broncos’ starting wide receivers who are each coming off their worst season since joining forces in 2014.
The Peyton Manning era in Denver produced a combined six top-10 PPR finishes out of wide receivers Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Emmanuel Sanders. Even Manning’s injury-riddled 2015 campaign landed Thomas and Sanders in the top 20.
Life Without Peyton Hasn’t Been Pretty
Since Manning retired, the Broncos have accordingly fallen from grace, losing more games in 2016-2017 (18) as they did in 2012-2015 (14). Thomas and Sanders have felt the pain on the stat sheet from playing with the likes of Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian, and Paxton Lynch over the past two seasons, with neither receiver managing to record a top-15 PPR season. Part of the problem has simply been a reduction in the average types of fantasy-friendly opportunities that Manning-led offenses typically offered.
(Note: ‘DP Targs’ denotes deep-ball targets, ‘RZ Targs’ denotes red-zone targets, and ‘YPRR’ denotes yards per route run.)
Thomas and Sanders ranked first and third in total red zone and deep ball targets, respectively, from 2014 to 2015, but they’ve since seen those opportunities substantially reduced. With the exception of Sanders in the red zone, both receivers have been less effective with fewer targets across the board.
Despite the downgrades in both opportunity and efficiency, Thomas finished both 2016 and 2017 as the PPR WR16, while Sanders finished 2016 as the PPR WR20 before failing to play at least 15 games for the first time since 2011 during the 2017 season. There’s reason to believe their fourth starting quarterback in three years could help return both of them to a more respectable tier.
Case Keenum Is An Upgrade
Keenum spent the first five seasons of his career under the tutelage of Rich Dennison and Jeff Fisher, who have combined to produce zero seasons with a top-20 offense in either passing touchdowns or net yards per pass attempt over the past five seasons. Keenum proceeded to shatter his career-best marks in virtually every passing statistic with the Vikings, earning him a two-year contract with the Broncos.
It’s hard to call Keenum anything but an upgrade over the status quo, and that’s true even when you consider the 10 games of underwhelming football he played in 2016 with the Rams.
Neither Siemian, Osweiler, or Lynch has done anything to warrant a place among the NFL’s 32 starting quarterbacks. Assuming Keenum’s ability lies somewhere between the versions of him we saw in 2016 and 2017, the Broncos figure to have their most competent signal caller since Manning. Thomas and Sanders could finally have their man again, a quarterback capable of returning them to fantasy glory.
Get Ready for a Potentially Pass-Happy Offense
Last season Keenum became one of 10 quarterbacks to lead an offense with multiple top-20 PPR receivers over the past five seasons. This list doesn’t necessarily denote the league’s best quarterbacks — it includes Siemian and Blake Bortles — but we at least have proof Keenum is capable of feeding two prevalent fantasy receivers.
Thomas’ and Sanders’ PPR points per game by quarterback has varied fairly significantly:
- Manning: Thomas 19.3, Sanders 17.0
- Osweiler: Thomas 19.4, Sanders 12.9
- Siemian: Thomas 13.5, Sanders 13.7
- Lynch: Thomas 14.8, Sanders 12.1
Thomas and Sanders are going as the WR17 and WR36, respectively, in PPR average draft position on Fantasy Football Calculator at the time of this writing. Sanders’ ADP seems particularly egregious considering his top-20 floor when healthy. Meanwhile, Thomas has consistently finished as the WR16 or better despite his team’s aforementioned struggles under center.
Keenum fed Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs an average of 8.9 and 6.8 targets per game, respectively, in 2017, and the Broncos don’t have a tight end or running back with the receiving capabilities of Kyle Rudolph (5.1 targets per game) or Jerick McKinnon (4.3).
Keenum might not be the man to lead the Broncos back to the promised land, but he certainly appears to be better than what they’ve seen over the past two seasons. It’s now or never for Denver’s pair of 31-year-old receivers to rebound, but an improved situation under center combined with a roster devoid of superior alternatives could help provide both Thomas and Sanders with a return to relevance.
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Pictured above: Demaryius Thomas (left), Emmanuel Sanders (right)
Photo credit: David Kohl – USA TODAY Sports