Now that the NFL draft is over and the high-impact free agents have found their homes, we can starting doing some early 2016 fantasy football projections. Today: the Denver Broncos, including a rebound for Demaryius Thomas.
First things first, using our staff projection machine I set some baseline team-wide assumptions:
I just went with the league-wide median for average scoring margin. Despite winning the Super Bowl, I don’t necessarily expect the Broncos to be a particularly good team. Their quarterback situation in particular is still messy. For pass tendency (how often they passed relative to expectations) and pace tendency (how many total plays they executed relative to expectations) I went with the means of their 2014 and 2015 numbers. I decided to include 2014 despite different coaching because the team’s personnel was largely similar and I wanted to increase the sample size. The team was actually more pass-heavy in 2015 than in 2014, which may seem counter-intuitive, but Gary Kubiak has shown a willingness to be pass-heavy in the past.
Next up is the quarterback. I expect rookie Paxton Lynch to start the most games for the Broncos this season, so I projected him:
4,476 passing yards would be a rookie record, so with that in mind, consider the following:
- I’m not necessarily projecting Lynch to start all 16 games, so it may be more accurate to view this as a projection for 279.75 passing yards per game.
- This would be the third-most passing attempts for a rookie QB ever, so in that context it wouldn’t be that unrealistic for him to pass for the most yards if he did start all 16 games.
- This does not project Lynch to be particularly efficient. It just projects Lynch for 7.52 yards per attempt and 6.83 adjusted yards per attempt.1 That AY/A would have ranked 27th out of the 37 QBs who attempted at least 200 passes last season.
- Lynch was actually a very good prospect, and there is even an argument for Lynch as the best QB in this class.
- It is not uncommon for teams with rookie QBs to be more pass-heavy than they were in the prior season. The rookie teams of Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Jameis Winston, Sam Bradford, Matt Ryan, and many others all meet that description.2
But maybe the most important thing to consider is that even if this is overly optimistic for real life purposes, it is still very pessimistic for fantasy purposes. It only works out to about 18.6 fantasy points per game using Fantasy Football Today scoring, which would have made him QB32 on a per game basis in 2015.
To get this projection for Lynch, I set his interception rate and sack rate to the league-wide 75th percentile marks. I set his percentage of rushing attempts to the median. His projection is also informed by the projections of the team’s receivers.
For both Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders I went with the means for their 2014 and 2015 stats. I bumped up Sanders’ yards per target to the 75th percentile league-wide for a WR2, as it was already close and he is one of the best WR2s in the league. The other settings were percentage of team targets, catch rate, and TD rate.
I went with means of 2014 and 2015 for a few reasons. It represents the entirety of the time the two WRs have played together and it gives me a larger sample than just using 2015. That helps me more accurately capture their inherent quality. It also gives me a much-needed compromise for dealing with the effect of QB play. In 2014, the pair had some of the best QB play in the league with Peyton Manning. In 2015, Peyton Manning was arguably the worst QB in the league and Brock Osweiler was also below average. So it seems reasonable to expect that the 2016 QB play would be somewhere in between.
This works out to 18.8 PPR fantasy points per game for Thomas. That would have made him WR9 on a per game basis last season, behind Allen Robinson and ahead of Steve Smith Sr. It is also considerably less than the 21.2 and 19.9 PPG he scored in 2014 and 2013, respectively. So it seems reasonable. Per the Best Ball ADP App, Thomas’ ADP is currently just inside the third round. He appears to be a steal at that price.
Sanders’ projection works out to 15.8 PPG. Sanders is currently being drafted as the WR31, and this projection would have made him the WR22 last year… which is actually what he was last year. Sanders also appears to be a bargain, though he may have less league-winning potential than Thomas.
One final thought on the receivers is that you should consider how different QBs might affect their production. If you think they would be worse off with Mark Sanchez or Trevor Siemian, then you might want to ask yourself how many games you think they’ll start and then downgrade these projections accordingly. Or if you think they’ll be better off, upgrade the projections.
I project Virgil Green to play ahead of Jeff Heuerman, but I’d be lying if I said I had much confidence about how this situation will play out in general. For that reason, I just gave Green the median settings for a TE1 and Heuerman the median settings for a TE2.
I projected C.J. Anderson to be the starter. While Devontae Booker could pass him, the fact of the matter is that they just paid Anderson starter money and he was secretly very good last season. I went with means of 2014 and 2015 for his yards per carry, TD rate, catch rates, and yards per target. For his percentage of team rushing attempts and team targets I went with the league-wide medians for a RB1. His means based on 2014 and 2015 were below the medians because he wasn’t the starter for the entirety of those time periods, so I didn’t feel like that method made as much sense. The 14.7 points per game projection would have made him the RB13 on a per game basis last season, and Anderson is currently being drafted as the RB16. That’s not a huge discount, so if you’re at all worried about Booker then you should probably stay away, at least based on this projection.
I projected Booker to supplant Ronnie Hillman as the RB2. As a rookie, Booker didn’t have any career numbers to work with. I set most of his rushing settings to the league-wide medians for RB2s, but I set his target percentage and yards per target to the 75th percentile mark because Booker was a prolific receiver in college.
I used means of 2014 and 2015 for Hillman’s yards per carry and catch rate. I set his percentage of team rushing attempts to the 75th percentile for a RB3. I set his TD rate to one percent, which is simultaneously absolutely low and relatively high for a RB3. I set his target percentage and yards per target to the medians for a RB3.