2021 Franchise Focus: Denver Broncos

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2021 Franchise Focus: Denver Broncos

It would be easy — and almost certainly correct — to point out that poor QB play from Drew Lock and others held the Broncos back in 2020, while some key injuries also took their toll.

It also certainly depresses Bronco fans that, despite rumored flirtations with an Aaron Rodgers trade and the chance to draft Justin Fields or Mac Jones, Denver’s only move at the QB position was bringing in Teddy Bridgewater to compete with Lock.

Outside of QB, the Broncos are at worst solid at basically every other position group, and are fantastic in some areas. That’s what makes the QB position so frustrating. But even Lock or Bridgewater should be able to do enough to get some juicy fantasy production out of some of the talent Denver has here.

Denver Broncos Franchise Focus Companion Podcast

The Basics

Team FuturesOdds
Season Win Total (O/U)8.5 (-130/+110)
AFC West+550
Playoffs (Y/N)+110/-140
AFC Championship+1600
Super Bowl+3500

Season Prop Movement

  • Win Total: 7.5 (-110) in late March to 8.5 (-130)

  • Super Bowl: +6000 in early February to +3500

Premium 2021 Betting Preview from Tom Brolley found here.

Key Offseason Moves

AdditionsDraftDepartures
Teddy Bridgewater (QB)Quinn Meinerz (OC)Jeff Driskel (QB, Hou)
Bobby Massie (OT)Javonte Williams (RB)Ja’Wuan James (OT, Bal)
Cameron Fleming (OT)Seth Williams (WR)Elijah Wilkinson (OT, Chi)
Drew Himmelman (OT, UDFA)Jonathan Cooper (DE)Phillip Lindsay (RB, Hou)
Nolan Laufenberg (OG, UDFA)Baron Browning (ILB)Nick Vannett (TE, NO)
Mike Boone (RB)Patrick Surtain (CB)Jurrell Casey (DT)
Warren Jackson (WR, UDFA)Kary Vincent (CB)DeMarcus Walker (DE, Hou)
Shaun Beyer (TE, UDFA)Caden Sterns (S)Jeremiah Attaochu (OLB, Chi)
Shamar Stephen (DT)Jamar Johnson (S)A.J. Bouye (CB, Car)
Andre Mintze (DE, UDFA)Kevin Toliver II (CB)
Kyle Fuller (CB)
Ronald Darby (CB)

Scott Barrett’s Fantasy Strength of Schedule

Quarterback: 3rd-softest (+0.84)

Running Back: 4th-softest (+1.04)

Wide Receivers: 14th-softest (+0.14)

Tight Ends: 4th-softest (+0.44)

Pace and Tendencies

Pace (seconds in between plays): 26.9 (T-10)

Plays per game: 64.9 (12th)

When the game is within a score — Pass: 53.7% (27th) | Run: 46.3% (6th)

When the team is ahead — Pass: 44.2% (25th) | Run: 55.8% (8th)

When the team is behind — Pass: 63.6% (22nd) | Run: 36.4% (11th)

In his first year as the OC, Pat Shurmur quietly orchestrated one of the league’s most run-heavy attacks. It largely was an attempt to “hide” their quarterback as Drew Lock sank to a Haskins-esque 75.4 passer rating. While the Broncos didn’t find much success on the ground last year, they are set up to be in better game-scripts that are more conducive to running this year. Take a look at the top two tendencies above: how often Denver ran when the game was within a score and when they had a lead. Now, consider that the Broncos were rarely in situations that let them lean on their run-heavy ways. Denver found themselves down on the scoreboard on 61.7% of their offensive snaps, which was the 8th-highest rate. However, with a much-improved (and finally healthy) defense that will keep games tighter, we could see the Broncos become one of the most run-centric teams this season.

Key Statistics

  • On throws of 10-19 yards downfield, Drew Lock was on-target just 59% of the time per SIS (third-worst behind Carson Wentz and Sam Darnold).

  • On throws of 20+ yards, Lock was on-target 49% of the time (also third-worst).

  • When he was pressured, Lock’s passer rating was 26.2 (worst in the league).

  • Lock’s passer rating against man coverage was 62.9 (also worst in the league).

  • Jerry Jeudy led the league in uncatchable targets with 35.

  • Just 65.5% of Jeudy’s total targets were catchable, which is the second-lowest rate among the 196 WRs with at least 70 targets over the last three seasons.

  • When Lock started the final five games of 2019, just 66% of Courtland Sutton’s targets were accurate.

  • Just how bad was the TE position? Noah Fant was sixth among tight ends in targets, but he had just four games where he finished as a TE1 (top-12 in weekly scoring).

  • Javonte Williams led the 2021 RB rookie class in yards created per attempt, missed tackles forced per attempt, and pass protection execution.

Huber’s Scheme Notes

Offensive

It was all too perfect. First-year GM George Paton maneuvered the books to land $26.9 million under the cap — second-most in the league — in order to make a run at Aaron Rodgers. With Denver’s collection of receivers, the prospects of Rodgers distributing the football was too mouth-watering to imagine. That was until the rug was pulled from underneath Paton’s feet when, as we all know, Rodgers came to an agreement to play the 2021 season in Green Bay, hitting free agency at the conclusion as an unrestricted FA.

Like it or not, the Broncos will enter the season with either Teddy Bridgewater or Drew Lock under center. Short of reinventing themselves through whatever mystic arts floated around during the offseason, both Bridgewater and Lock are one-trick ponies. Over the last three seasons, Bridgewater ranks third-best among all QBs with 0.54 FPs/dropback when facing Cover 1, while failing to rank within the top-20 QBs against Cover 2, Cover 3, Cover 4, or Cover 6. Lock, on the other hand, ranks ninth-best among all QBs with 0.47 FPs/dropback against Cover 3, while failing to rank within the top-20 QBs vs. Cover 1, Cover 2, Cover 4, or Cover 6. Oddly enough, Bridgewater’s most significant weakness is facing Cover 3, whereas it’s when he’s opposed by Cover 1 that Lock falters.

While Bridgewater is the more accurate of the two, Teddy was built with a noodle for a right arm that ranks 54th among all QBs over the last three seasons with 7.04 air yards/attempt. As for Lock, he is certainly not lacking in the arm strength department, coming in 15th among all qualified QBs with 9.04 air yards/attempt. However, Lock’s accuracy is some of the worst in the business, a full 10% below Bridgewater’s completion percentage over the last three years. It’s an unenviable, pick your poison situation. Based on the trends in today’s NFL, the ability to avoid turnovers holds much more importance than an occasional highlight bomb. With 34% less INTs/attempt over the last three seasons, Bridgewater clearly provides the team with its best immediate chance at success.

No matter how you slice it, HC Vic Fangio is in a must-reach-the-playoffs scenario after a pair of losing seasons to begin his Denver career. To do so, he’ll need big seasons from his playmakers. Since Lock’s play was so poor last season, we simply cannot draw too much from the struggles at WR. Courtland Sutton’s knee rehabilitation is an ongoing process. It’s anyone’s guess if he’ll be ready for the opening week. No matter if he is, it’s already clear that Jerry Jeudy has jumped ahead of him as the offenses go-to receiver. Lucky for us, much of the fantasy population has slept on Jeudy all offseason. Tim Patrick can be counted on in deeper leagues to provide steady production, especially if Sutton misses time. Finally, all signs are pointing to a potential breakout from K.J. Hamler, should Denver field steady play under center, of course

Unsurprisingly, stability along the O-line — something they lacked last season — will provide their QBs with the best opportunity to succeed. Garrett Bolles emerged as one of the league’s top left tackles last season. Bobby Massie’s average skills were brought in from Chicago to man right tackle, earning him $2.3 million this season. At guard, Graham Glasgow and Dalton Risner provide slightly above average ability. But the effectiveness of the entire line could be undone if 2021 third-rounder Quinn Meinerz out of Wisconsin–Whitewater is unable to unseat Lloyd Cushenberry III at center. Cushenberry proved to be one of the least effective O-linemen in all of the NFL last season.

OC Pat Shurmer clearly did his homework prior to convincing Paton to draft Javonte Williams. Shurmer’s ‘20 offense ranked with the sixth-highest rate of Gap blocking in his first season on the job. That included ranking with the second-highest rate of Backside Pulls and 10th-highest of Frontside Pulls. Those rates are significant since Williams ranks alongside Trey Sermon as the top RBs in the ‘21 draft while working from those concepts. As is still the case for Sermon and, to a lesser extent, Najee Harris, the dynasty population has simply not caught on to the eventual fact that all three backs will be drafted near the top of 2022 drafts.

The one individual who should be doing his rounds with the staff in an attempt to convince them Lock should be the starter is Noah Fant. While he should eventually adjust to working with Bridgewater, Fant thrived with Lock due to their combined Cover 3 abilities. If Albert Okwuegbunam remains healthy this season — big if, he also gave us signs of a bright future in his rookie season. On offense, Denver’s chances of making the playoffs will be entirely dependent on whether they receive consistency at QB. Center may not be the sexiest of topics in fantasy, but it’s a position that will be a constant headache for Shurmer unless someone steps forward or Paton opens up his cap-space pocket to bring in a veteran or two from free agency such as Austin Reiter or Joe Dahl.

Defensive

The Broncos are building a defensive powerhouse. Edge rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, when healthy, can compete with the quality of any team in the game. 3-/5-tech’s Shelby Harris and Dre’Mont Jones have already shown themselves to be interior forces impacting all phases in equal measures. At box linebacker, the Broncos field a pair of talents in Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson that, while not elite, are sure tacklers, and run defenders. However, DC Ed Donatell has made it known that he is shifting his base defense toward featuring Nickel and Dimebacks this season. Making it clear that only one spot will be available at middle LB for Jewell and Alexander to either rotate or claim for themselves.

When you start running through the names at defensive back on the Broncos’ roster, it’s entirely understandable why Donatell is making the decision. Let’s start with the guy who proved to be the league’s premiere slot CB last season: Bryce Callahan. He finished last season ranking first-overall in each of the following vital categories: yards allowed/coverage snap (YPCS), FPs allowed/coverage snap (FPCS), and passer rating on targets into his coverage among 52 qualified slot CBs. And we should all be impressed GM George Paton managed to acquire the other three CBs slotted to start through free agency and the draft. Using the ninth-overall pick, Paton took Patrick Surtain II out of Alabama. Surtain provided the Tide with elite results during all three of his seasons in Tuscaloosa.

Paton acquired Kyle Fuller as his other starter on the outside through free agency on a one-year, $9.5 million contract after the Bears shockingly allowed him to walk. Fuller is not a strong presence in run defense, but he is one of the top-five Zone CBs in the game. Joining Callahan on the inside, Paton also brought in Ronald Darby from Washington. After enduring a horrendous season with the Eagles in 2019, Darby signed a prove-it contract with WFT. Well, he certainly proved his value, resulting in a three-year, $30 million contract with the Broncos as a reward for his part in aiding Washington’s elite defense. These additions revert ‘20 third-rounder Michael Ojemudia from starter-to-reserve status where he can continue with his development.

Denver’s defensive groups finished last season among the top-10 defenses in each of my most important measures. Donatell mixed together the fourth-highest rate in my measure of exotic schemes, with competitive rates of Cover 6, Cover 0, Cover 3-Seam, Cover 1 with a double-team, and Cover 2 with man-matching. They also landed just outside the top-15 teams in Cover 1 and Cover 4 rates. In order to execute this high-level coverage rotation, a defense must field two elite safeties. Donatell is well aware, enforcing his pass defense with strong safety Kareem Jackson and free safety Justin Simmons. Both are among the very best at their respective positions in run defense, coverage, and tackling efficiency.

With 40 years of experience as a defensive coach, it’s no wonder Fangio’s defensive personnel currently stand above that of his offense. And it’ll be entirely due to the offense if the Broncos fail, once again, to make the playoffs. Only one member of the O-line is considered elite (Bolles) and you never want to see question marks at QB. Failing to land Rodgers this season guaranteed they’ll try to be first in line to sign him in the offseason. But around 15-20 other teams will be scraping and clawing for Rodgers to take their money. With Fangio fighting to keep his job, it’s likely Denver ends up winning too many games for their first-rounder to land in the top-10. So Paton better be prepared to move up if Rodgers signs elsewhere.

Projected Fantasy Contributors

Teddy Bridgewater (Proj: QB32 | ADP: 254 | Pos ADP: QB36)

Bridgewater is locked into one of the few QB battles of the 2021 preseason, fighting to beat out third-year QB Drew Lock for the starting job. Thus far, reports from camp suggest Bridgewater has the edge over Lock, and while Teddy is more likely to start the majority of games, chances are we'll see both Bridgewater and Lock start games throughout the season. That makes this one of the most uncertain spots in fantasy. In his six-year career, Bridgewater has gotten the opportunity to start for 12 or more games in a season just three times. In those opportunities, he hasn’t ever been more than a low-end QB2 from a fantasy perspective, as he averaged just 16.1 FPG (QB23) in his best ever season — 2020 with Carolina. Encouragingly, Bridgewater showcased his mobility in 2020 more than ever, recording the 5th-most scrambling FPG of any QB (3.0), and ranking 11th in QB rushing FPG overall (3.9). That further boosts his floor, and is something you love to see after Bridgewater suffered a devastating knee injury in his 2016 training camp with Minnesota. In his 49 career starts, Bridgewater has surpassed 25.0 fantasy points just twice, and that demonstrates a rather limited ceiling, likely caused by his conservative nature as a thrower. In his three seasons as a starter, Bridgewater has never ranked higher than 29th among QBs in aDOT, and he’s ranked 3rd among QBs in passes to RBs over the last three seasons. That lack of downfield aggression could be what prevents Bridgewater from being the Broncos QB1 throughout the year, as HC Vic Fangio has already noted that “you need more than checkdowns” when discussing Bridgewater’s style of play. When Bridgewater does start, he’ll be a low- to mid-end QB2 depending on the matchup. That could make him an intriguing pick near the end of best ball drafts, but for season-long (outside of 2QB/SF leagues) it’s nearly impossible to argue that Bridgwater should be drafted, as we just don’t know who will end up starting more games between him and Lock.

Drew Lock (Proj: QB36 | ADP: 357 | Pos ADP: QB54)

It hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for Drew Lock since he was selected in Round 2 of the 2019 NFL draft. He’s started 18 games, and has averaged 1.3 TDs, 1.0 INTs, 219.6 passing yards, and 13.8 FPG in those starts. Among 2020 QBs who played more than 8 games (35 qualifiers), those numbers rank 11th-worst, 3rd-worst, 9th-worst, and 8th-worst. In 2020 alone, Lock had the 6th-worst PFF passing grade (63.4) and 4th-worst passer rating (75.4). He just hasn’t been very good, and that’s why the Broncos signed veteran QB Teddy Bridgewater to compete for the starting job. Bridgewater appears to have the edge in starting Week 1, and while it’s unlikely Lock beats out Bridgewater to start the majority of games, it’s a near-certainty that Lock will start at some point, as head coach Vic Fangio has already voiced concern over Bridgewater’s naturally conservative style of play. When Lock does get a chance to start, he’s showcased a surprisingly good ceiling, as he’s quite the opposite of Teddy Bridgewater when it comes to downfield aggression. Among QBs last year Lock had the highest deep ball rate (16.0%) and the highest aDOT (9.7). That translated to three games of 24.0 or more points for Lock, but it also caused Lock to make a significant number of questionable throws, as his 23 turnover worthy plays ranked 2nd-most among QBs, per PFF. So, we know Lock offers a compelling game-to-game ceiling, but also a worst-case floor of either not starting at all or starting and being benched due to poor play. His ceiling and aggression will make him a very intriguing DFS option when he starts, but drafting Lock in any traditional season-long format is simply too risky given the information we have.

Javonte Williams (Proj: RB23 | ADP: 53 | Pos ADP: RB22)

Javonte Williams had a great argument to be RB1 in the 2021 class. His tape is insane. He’s the youngest RB in the class at just 20.9 years-old. He recorded the best full-season grade PFF college has ever given to an RB (94.3). He broke the PFF record for broken tackles forced per attempt at 0.48, and his 75 broken tackles led the country last season. Scott Barrett’s rookie RB model also loves Williams in the passing game, writing that “Among 94 qualifying 50-catch Power-5 RBs since 2014, he ranks between the top 8% and 13% of RBs in career YPT, career yards after the catch per reception, and career missed tackles forced per reception.” He’s clearly a great talent, and the only thing suppressing his ADP right now is the likely committee with Melvin Gordon. Early camp reports suggest Gordon will likely be the Week 1 starter, and while that doesn’t bode well for Williams early-on, we need to keep in mind that the Broncos traded up to get him and that after the draft, Broncos brass discussed Williams in a way that suggested they wanted him to be their bell cow sooner than later. It’s certainly a tricky situation, but there are two likely outcomes. Either Williams and Gordon compete in a committee throughout the season, or Williams is just outright better and earns a bell cow workload by the end of 2021. The season-long committee is what looks the most likely as of now, and in that scenario, it’s tough to be bullish on Williams relative to his RB22 ADP. If, however, Williams takes over the backfield at any point to earn a bell cow workload he will immediately enter the RB1 conversation and may very well be a league winner down the stretch. Of the RBs available to draft in Rounds 4-6, Williams upside is almost unmatched, and given a committee with Gordon is the worst case scenario, his floor isn’t nearly bad enough to warrant him falling past RB25.

Melvin Gordon (Proj: RB42 | ADP: 81 | Pos ADP: RB32)

At his peak, Melvin Gordon was putting up incredible fantasy numbers for the Chargers. He is one of nine players from the last decade to put up 18.0 or more FPG for three straight seasons. He’s never been very efficient, as the four seasons he’s earned a sub-4.0 YPC showcase that he’s been primarily dependent on heavy touch volume to post big fantasy performances. After signing with Denver ahead of the 2020 season, Gordon was thrust into a full-on committee with Phillip Lindsay, and was far from a dominant fantasy performer in the games they played together. In the 10 games both Gordon and Lindsay suited up, Gordon averaged just 12.8 FPG, which, over the full season, would have been good for RB25. That 12.8 FPG is likely the best case scenario for Gordon in 2021, with the Broncos front office trading up to pick 35 for rookie RB Javonte Williams in this year’s draft. Williams was an absolute beast in college (see above), and is surely more talented than Phillip Lindsay - a former UDFA. Williams picking up the minority side of the 60/40 snap share that Gordon and Lindsay had last year appears to be the most likely scenario in Week 1, and from there, it’s simply a matter of time before Williams begins to take over the starting role. That crushes Gordon’s ceiling, as he won’t be able to see significant volume, and it severely drops his floor, as the possibility of Gordon being cut or benched in favor of Williams is quite high. With Gordon’s fantasy output likely to wane throughout the year, he’s best viewed as a low- to mid-end RB2 come Week 1 and a potential drop candidate by Week 12.

Royce Freeman (Proj: RB80 | ADP: 373 | Pos ADP: RB93)

After starting his career as a committee back, Royce Freeman has unfortunately been pushed down the depth chart to become little more than a rotational back and special teams contributor. Facing stiff competition in 2021 from Melvin Gordon, Javonte Williams, and former Viking Mike Boone makes Freeman a fringe-of-the-roster kind of player, and that’s never good for fantasy. Last season, Freeman earned a meager 17.9% offensive snap share, and just 2.94 touches per game. And that was in a more favorable situation than what he faces in 2021. If he can recreate the 2.3 FPG he averaged last year, that would make for a successful season for Freeman. He is not worth considering unless Gordon or Williams get injured.

Jerry Jeudy (Proj: WR26 | ADP: 78 | Pos ADP: WR34)

Jerry Jeudy is an awesome player. His route running is outstanding, and he basically separates from NFL corners at will. Unfortunately Jeudy’s rookie season wasn’t great (WR59 by FPG), and it was mainly due to a litany of injuries (ribs, ankle, and shoulder), poor luck with dropped passes, and bad QB play. Jeudy played all 16 games, but he showed up on the injury report in eight different weeks, and averaged just 6.2 FPG in those weeks. A huge dropoff compared to the 13.5 FPG he averaged in the eight weeks he was left off the injury report. Jeudy also dropped 12 of his 110 targets in his rookie season, which is as many drops as he had in his entire Alabama career on 240 total targets. Just 65.5% of Jeudy’s targets were deemed ‘catchable’ by SIS, the 3rd-worst mark among 71 qualifying WRs. Drew Lock’s inability to deliver accurate passes inspired the Broncos to go and sign veteran QB Teddy Bridgewater, who posted a 81.3% catchable target rate (10th-best) in 2020. That’s a significant potential improvement for Jeudy’s miserable catchable target rate, if, of course, Bridgewater starts. Regardless, Jeudy staying healthy and returning to his college baseline with drops gives him a solid WR4 floor — and if he comes close to recognizing his stellar potential this season — a league-winning ceiling.

Courtland Sutton (Proj: WR43 | ADP: 75 | Pos ADP: WR32)

Sutton’s first two seasons in the league were about as you could ask for from a young, outside WR. He’s dominated on deeper routes, recording the 8th-highest yards per reception (15.93) and the 8th-most receiving yards (701) on routes of 20 or more yards from 2018-2019. That dominance didn’t translate to 2020, as Sutton unfortunately tore his ACL in Week 2. Reports from camp suggest Sutton will play in a limited capacity in the preseason and should be ready for Week 1. The Broncos desperately need him back, as their deep passing took an obvious hit in Sutton’s absence, recording the 2nd-worst passer rating (48.9) on throws of 20+ yards last year. While Sutton is an undeniable talent, the emergence of Jerry Jeudy casts Sutton’s status as the Broncos WR1 into doubt, and additional WR competition from Tim Patrick and K.J. Hamler surely limits his target ceiling in 2021. He’s still a dominant outside WR and has a safe WR5 floor, but it’s difficult to foresee Sutton drastically outperforming his ADP of WR32 in such a competitive WR room that also includes Tim Patrick, K.J. Hamler, and DaeSean Hamilton.

K.J. Hamler (Proj: WR85 | ADP: 454 | Pos ADP: WR153)

K.J. Hamler’s rookie season was largely derailed by injuries and poor QB play. Hamler tweaked his hamstring in training camp last year, and that caused him to miss Week 1. Then Hamler reaggravated the hamstring during the Broncos Week 5 bye and subsequently missed Week 6. After returning in Week 7, Hamler was finally able to see semi-constant volume, as he averaged 4.9 targets per game and 8.4 FPG in his nine remaining full games, before his season ended in Week 16 with a concussion. With how often hamstring issues tend to linger, it should be apparent that Hamler’s fantasy output took a hit as a result. The Broncos team catchable target rate of 78.5% (2nd-worst) obviously didn’t help Hamler’s production either. New QB Teddy Bridgewater should hopefully bring some more consistent passing accuracy into the offense, and that, along with Hamler returning to full health, should make for a bounceback sophomore year for the WR. The biggest limiting factor for Hamler in 2021 is the Broncos competitive WR room, as Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, and DaeSean Hamilton will all play and see targets, placing a cap on Hamler’s ceiling this year. But even given a competitive WR corps, Hamler is a great talent (his Round 2 draft capital proves that) and his WR153 ADP is just too low. Hamler finished as the WR84 by FPG (6.9) last year, and with a drastic reduction in his fantasy output extremely unlikely in 2021, he is one of the best late-round values available in drafts right now.

Noah Fant (Proj: TE9 | ADP: 91 | Pos ADP: TE8)

Since entering the league in 2019, Fant’s shown excellent promise as a receiving TE. Among TEs with 50 or more targets in 2020, Fant ranked 5th in PFF receiving grade (80.3), 6th in YPRR (1.64), 2nd in YAC per reception (6.0), and 3rd in missed tackles forced (10). His ability to make plays with the ball in his hands can’t be understated, as Fant ranks 2nd to only George Kittle in YAC per reception among TEs over the last two seasons (6.89). 2020 also marked a drastic improvement in Fant’s consistency, as he scored 5.0 or more fantasy points in 12 of his 15 games, compared to just 7 games of 5.0+ points in 2019. Fant has struggled with both pass and run blocking, recording sub-30.0 PFF pass-blocking grades and sub-60.0 PFF run-blocking grades in each of his two seasons. And that’s prevented him from seeing a true full-time role, as his 68.1% snap share ranked 18th among TEs last year. The safety net of Teddy Bridgewater should boost the Broncos QB play, and that’s certainly important to Fant, who saw the 4th-most uncatchable targets among TEs (21). The boost in QB play and Fant’s overall receiving talent give him a safe TE1 floor, but his poor blocking and Denver’s elite WR room will limit both his snap and target ceilings. He’s not a player to reach for, but he’s certainly one to target should he fall below his positional ADP in drafts.

Albert Okwuegbunam (Proj: TE48 | ADP: 393 | Pos ADP: TE55)

2020 Round 4 selection Albert Okwuegbunam initially started his rookie season as a healthy scratch - something the limited preseason practices surely played a role in. He finally got an opportunity to suit up in Week 6 against New England, after starting TE Noah Fant was ruled out with an ankle injury. He converted 24 snaps and six targets into 6.5 fantasy points in that game, but he also dropped 2 TDs, which, had they been caught, would’ve resulted in a 18.5-point debut performance for the rookie TE. The following week, Fant returned, and Okbuegbunam’s snaps actually increased to 31, and he caught all seven of his targets for 60 yards and 13.0 fantasy points. Unfortunately, that was the peak of Okbuegbunam’s rookie season, as he saw just two more targets before tearing his ACL in Week 9. Okbuegbunam’s elite athleticism and performance in very limited action last season shows that this kid has a ton of potential to be an elite receiving TE at the NFL level. For 2021, however, the challenges he faces may be too great for Okbuegbunam to fulfill his potential. A Week 9 ACL tear makes the chances of him playing all 17 games extremely unlikely, and with Noah Fant as the clear TE1 on this team, it’s very hard to see Okbuegbunam carving himself out enough of a snap share to be fantasy relevant. He’s an exciting player to have in dynasty, but isn’t draftable in virtually any other format unless Noah Fant suffers an injury.

Hansen’s Final Points

Broncos camp has been rolling for over a week as of this writing, and the QB battle has been either even or in Teddy Bridgewater’s favor. Teddy, as of 8/4, was being drafted ahead of Lock, and we do have Teddy over Lock in our projections. But that could change quickly. For our purposes, while the Broncos do have a nice group of weapons, working with these two QBs in fantasy this year, it should really only come down to those in SuperFlex or 2-QB leagues. In those leagues, if Teddy wins the job, I do think he has top-25 potential, so check our projections to see how shakes out.

Just like Teddy Bridgewater, Drew Lock is not on the radar in anything other than SuperFlex or 2-QB leagues, and even in those formats his value is still in limbo until the QB battle is decided. By “decided” I mean who gets the first true crack at the starting job, but the job is likely to change hands. If Lock’s in the driver’s seat for the top gig, then that means he’s had a strong showing this summer, and he has flashed, so he would also have top-25 potential given the strong group of skill players to work with.

Since we’re sold on the player and the vibes are very good already this summer, Javonte Williams’ ADP should be rising. For now, I’m very willing to take him in the top-48, and that’s even knowing that I may not be able to use him early in the season. And I’m not exactly into the idea of drafting him and Melvin Gordon, although that’s certainly viable if Gordon slips to well over 100 overall. Williams is an aggressive pick inside the top-48. Then again, high-end talents with versatile skill sets aren’t always still on the board in the fourth round, and Williams is good enough to go down as a steal in the fourth this year. He may slip another 10-15 picks in many leagues, so he could be even more appealing. Worst case scenario, I can see his situation playing out similarly to how JK Dobbins’ did last year. Dobbins was pretty lame in the first half of the season, but he was a high-impact asset after that.

I’ve neve been a big Melvin Gordon person, but the guy grinded out a strong NFL career as a compiler. Of course, it’s going to be tough for him to compile much this year, since dynamic rookie Javonte Williams is already coming on strong. Gordon has always been good in pass-pro, so he will have a role , and it’s possible the added competition motivates him to bring it this summer and he staves the rookie off longer than expected. But, barring strong showing in August, drafting him at his 80 ADP is a fantasy dead end road that could even lead down the same road fellow 2015 draftee Todd Gurley traveled last year: out of the NFL. If Gordon slips from that 80 ADP, certainly possible, then he’d be more palatable for depth and/or if you already drafted Williams.

Remember the Royce Freeman hype? Well, it didn’t come from me, that I can tell you. I know HC Vic Fangio likes former Viking Mike Boone, who is a little more exciting than Freeman, so there’s nothing to see here in fantasy drafts.

It’s the oldest trick in the book: target elite talents with good pedigrees but who disappointed in their first or second year in the league, causing their price to drop. That’s Jerry Jeudy, who is going 50 picks after fellow 2020 draftee CeeDee Lamb when it should be 20. I’d be higher on Jeudy if he had a better QB on the roster, but that would also raise his ADP. I’m not worried about his drops last year because he dealt with bad quarterbacking and didn’t have drop problems in college. Jeudy was constantly open last year, and he can explode with better QB play, as he’s showing in Broncos camp, where he’s been the reported star. We all love him as a WR3 anywhere around his ADP of 80.

One of the most baffling ADPs this year has been Courtland Sutton’s ADP of 80 and WR35. The ADP is falling, but not nearly enough for a guy coming off an ACL and still deadline with it in camp, and on a team with two crappy QBs. Sutton did ball out in 2019, but Jerry Jeudy must get his in 2021, and fellow wideouts Tim Patrick and K.J. Hamler can also run, so with better options still on the board when Sutton is typically drafted, he’s a full fade for me.

At some point, everyone is a value, and K.J. Hamler’s a value waaaaay before his ADP of WR153. Hamler did flash ability last year, and he was a Round 2 pick for a reason, so I don’t get why he’s getting zero love. Sure, his upside is limited in a crowded WR room, but Hamler stands out based on pure talent alone around WR100, and his ADP is WR153.

Noah Fant was one of my top TE targets last year, and it was a pretty good recommendation, since he was sixth in TE targets despite missing a game and being seriously banged up for several games. The QBs on the roster inspire little confidence, but I’m convinced Teddy Bridgewater (a checkdown guy who throws to the TE a lot) or the 2021 version of Drew Lock (off to a decent start) is an upgrade over the terrible QB play Fant had to deal with last season. He’s not a great value at his 90 ADP (TE8), especially if his snaps continue to be limited due to his blocking. But I do see him as a top-10 TE, and I’d take him around his ADP if I wanted a upside oriented option. If talented #2 TE Albert Okwuegbunam isn’t ready to contribute in the first half of the season, that would help Fant.

I do like Albert Okwuegbunam quite a bit, and he did flash quickly when he played last year, but Noah Fant is a guy, and Albert O has a long way to go before we can trust his health. He’s worth holding in dynasty, but he’s off the radar in redraft leagues for 2021.

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