After being lost in the wilderness at QB since Peyton Manning’s retirement, the Broncos traded for Russell Wilson this offseason, answering the single biggest question they had as an offense. There are still some questions left to answer — this is a talented offensive core, but not necessarily a proven one at the key spots outside of QB. If you’re looking for an offense to make the leap the way the Rams did a year ago, the Broncos are a good bet, but figuring out their hierarchy at RB and WR is tougher than you might hope at this point.
Record: 7-10 (22)
PPG: 19.7 (23)
YPG: 330.5 (19)
Pass YPG: 211.4 (19)
Rush YPG: 119.1 (13)
PAPG: 31.8 (24)
RAPG: 26.8 (14)
2021 Fantasy finishes
QB: Teddy Bridgewater* QB23, Drew Lock* QB43
RB: Javonte Williams RB17, Melvin Gordon RB18
WR: Tim Patrick WR42, Courtland Sutton WR44, Jerry Jeudy WR83
TE: Noah Fant* TE12, Albert Okwuegbunam TE28
*No longer with team
Number to know: 67.3
That was the Broncos’ passer rating on attempts 20-plus yards down the field last season, good for 20th in the NFL. The Seahawks ranked first with a 116.8 mark, so if that’s all you knew about the switch from the Lock/Bridgewater combo to Wilson, you’d have pretty good reason to be excited. And it wasn’t just a one-season thing, obviously — the Seahawks rank third in the NFL in passer rating on deep attempts from 2019 through 2021, while the Broncos actually drop to 27th.
And it’s not like the Broncos haven’t had the personnel for it. Sure, none of Denver’s receivers can match up with DK Metcalf physically, but between Sutton, Jeudy, Patrick, Noah Fant, and Okwuegbunam, there hasn’t exactly been a lack of playmaking in this offense. Drew Lock just couldn’t connect on those deep attempts, while Teddy Bridgewater just wasn’t willing to take the chances as often as he probably should have (and wasn’t great when he did.)
Wilson has been one of the best deep-ball passers in the league throughout his career, and I don’t see any reason to think that won’t continue to be true in Denver. There’s obviously a ton of upside in this offense now, so the question is which of the receivers is likely to take advantage of it most. Sutton is a natural fit as a downfield playmaker, except he has averaged just 4.7 targets per game when Jeudy has been active and his production absolutely cratered when Jeudy returned from injury last season:
Jeudy obviously has a ton of upside as the No. 15 pick in the 2020 draft, but he also has just five games with more than 70 yards in two NFL seasons. In fact, Patrick has been quite a bit more productive than Jeudy over the past two seasons — Patrick’s injury coming on the cusp of an opportunity to play with the best QB of his career is a cruel twist of fate.
There is going to be a lot of production in this passing game, and you’ll want exposure to it as a result. However, that requires projecting at least one of the team’s receivers — including Okwuegbunam, who has tons of upside with Fant out of the picture as well — to do something they’ve never done before. That includes running back Williams, who has tons of upside but also sees the return of Gordon, who actually had more carries per game last season.
2. (64) Nik Bonitto, OLB
3. (80) Greg Dulcich, TE
4. (115) Damarri Mathis, DB
4. (116) Eyioma Uwazurike, DE
5. (152) Delarrin Turner-Yell, SAF
5. (162) Montrell Washington, WR
5. (171) Luke Wattenberg, OL
6. (206) Matt Henningsen, DE
7. (232) Faion Hicks, CB
0 carries, 0 RB targets, 6 WR targets, 102 TE targets
Chris Towers’ projections
|QB||Russell Wilson||PA: 555, YD: 4110, TD: 31, INT: 11; RUSH — ATT: 68, YD: 273, TD: 2|
|RB||Javonte Williams||CAR: 227, YD: 1000, TD: 8, TAR: 56, REC: 44, YD: 355, TD: 2|
|RB||Melvin Gordon||CAR: 136, YD: 586, TD: 5, TAR: 39, REC: 29, YD: 224, TD: 1|
|WR||Jerry Jeudy||TAR: 128, REC: 82, YD: 993, TD: 7|
|WR||Courtland Sutton||TAR: 113, REC: 67, YD: 894, TD: 6|
|WR||KJ Hamler||TAR: 67, REC: 39, YD: 573, TD: 3|
|TE||Albert Okwuegbunam||TAR: 89, REC: 64, YD: 704, TD: 5|
Just how good can this offense be?
There are going to be a lot of expectations for this offense, especially with young guys like Javonte Williams and Jerry Jeudy. Both have significant upside but also significant competition for touches. Williams has to contend with the returning Melvin Gordon, who actually had the same number of carries as Williams in one fewer game, while Jeudy is competing with Sutton, not to mention Okwuegbunam. If Wilson turns this into a top-five offense, there should be enough points to go around, and both Jeudy and Williams have top-12 upside. If the offense takes some time to gel with a new QB and coaching staff, there could be some growing pains.
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One sleeper, one breakout and one bust
Okwuegbunam has the ideal size and athleticism to be a difference maker at the tight end position, but he hasn’t made much of an impact at the NFL level after being stuck behind Fant the first two seasons of his career. He’s got a chance to break out now, though he obviously finds himself in a crowded receiving corps competing for targets. What I like about making Okwuegbunam the guy you target from this offense is that the bar is obviously much lower to be Fantasy relevant at tight end than wide receiver – the No. 37 WR outscored the No. 7 tight end last season. If targets are going to be split fairly evenly, get the guy who doesn’t need many of them to be good.
I’m surprised to see Jamey, Dave, and Heath all rank Sutton ahead of Jeudy. I understand that Sutton is a more proven player and Jeudy has struggled to make much of an impact in two seasons, but Sutton’s role diminished greatly when Jeudy was healthy last season, and I can’t just ignore that. Both could be viable starting Fantasy options with Wilson, but I think Jeudy has the potential to be a more well-rounded option, capable of making plays both down the field and with the ball in his hands. Ultimately, no matter which of Wilson’s presumed primary options you’re betting on, you’re betting on someone doing something they’ve either never done (Jeudy) or haven’t done since 2019 (Sutton). I’ll bet on pedigree and age in Jeudy if their price is the same.
Williams was far from being worth a first-round pick as a rookie, but that’s probably what you’ll have to pay to acquire him. I don’t doubt he has that upside, but it’s asking a lot from Williams to assume he’ll make that leap after largely splitting time with Gordon last year. It would be easier to make that assumption if Williams had seen a significant increase in playing time as his rookie season went on, but he actually had fewer carries than Gordon over the final five games of the season, 68 to 63. This offense could take a huge step forward, and the No. 1 RB could be hugely valuable if it does. For what it’s worth, this is a new coaching staff, so last year’s usage may not be indicative of anything about the coming season, however, the fact that they ultimately opted to bring Gordon back is a negative mark for Williams, and I’m not so sure he’s such a can’t-miss talent that I can overlook red flags and question marks in the first round.