Navigating the Broncos Passing Game
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Image Credit: Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Noah Fant.

In a week in which it seemed almost everyone got injured, the Broncos were perhaps hit the hardest. Drew Lock will be sidelined for at least 2 weeks, but even worse, emerging star Courtland Sutton, who made his season debut this Sunday, had his season come to an end almost as soon as it started:

Denver Broncos wide receiver Courtland Sutton (knee) tore his ACL in the Week 2 loss to the Steelers and will miss the rest of the 2020 season, according to a source. It’s a brutal injury for Sutton and the Broncos just as he returned to action after missing the season-opening loss to the Titans with a shoulder injury. Denver also lost quarterback Drew Lock (shoulder) for a few weeks, so it’ll be Jeff Driskel under center moving forward throwing to rookies Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler, Tim Patrick and tight end Noah Fant, who has become the best fantasy asset on this team through two weeks. Sutton was in play as a strong WR2 this year after a breakout 2019 performance.

It’s a tough blow for fantasy players everywhere, as Sutton was coming off the board in the early fifth round as the WR23. While he underwhelmed at the end of the year after Lock took over, he was still a strong candidate to make a jump along with the excitingly youthful Broncos offense. Now, the Broncos will turn to the young core of Jerry Jeudy, Noah Fant, and K.J. Hamler to replace this production.

Fant a Clear-Cut TE1

The second-year TE out of Iowa was expected to make a big jump this season, and so far has not disappointed. He’s scored touchdowns in both of his contests thus far, and currently sits at TE4, averaging a more-than-solid 18.4 points per game. His peripherals have been impressive as well, where he’s been extremely efficient with 15.5 FPOE already.

The only department where he’s left more to desire has been targets, and with Sutton on the shelf for the rest of the year, his target market share could creep above 20%, putting him the company of the elite options at the position.

Sure, without Lock, his efficiency might take a hit (he has been Lock’s most efficient target so far in his career), but the volume will be there. Running with the first team offense with two rookies as his main competition, Fant can build on his superb prospect profile and perhaps show us why one of his top comps was another former Hawkeye, George Kittle.

Jerry Jeudy is a Flex Option

Jeudy, the heavily hyped star rookie out of Alabama, has been relatively quiet so far, but that’s not from a lack of opportunity: in the season opener against the Titans, with Sutton sidelined, Jeudy posted a 25% target market share, putting him in the top 20 at the position. While this number dropped to 18% this last week with Sutton back, expect it to trickle back up over 20%, as his competition for targets is among the weakest in the league.

Despite never breaking out, Jeudy is one of the safest WR prospects we’ve seen in a while. Curtis Patrick did a fantastic pre-draft profile on him this winter, and not only were three of his top five best comps RotoViz favorites JuJu Smith-Schuster, Michael Thomas, and Robert Woods, but his early draft age puts him in the “3 & 10” group that has never failed to produce a top-24 season. As the new top target in the offense, that could happen as soon as this year.

Jeff Driskel dims Jeudy’s prospects a bit, but Driskel kept the Detroit WRs afloat decently well while filling in for Matthew Stafford last year. Add that to a WR schedule that is relatively easy over the next 4 weeks and he has the volume to be a starter if really needed.

K.J. Hamler Has Sneaky Upside

Hamler, a speedster out of Penn State, was one of my favorite sleepers this offseason, with the only thing holding him back a lack of opportunity behind Sutton and Jeudy. While rookie wide receivers aren’t usually good bets to be especially productive, Hamler’s comps in the Box Score Scout are very intriguing:

Marquise Brown, DeSean Jackson, Brandin Cooks, and Mike Wallace were all strong contributors in their rookie seasons and were fantasy relevant for much of the season. While they all perhaps boasted a better QB situation than Hamler does, Hamler already showed himself to be the main beneficiary of the Sutton injury. In his first taste of NFL action, Hamler had seven targets and a 18% target market share, exactly the same as his rookie counterpart in Jeudy, and had more air yards (116, 10th in the league this past week) on top of that. While Jeudy is the wide receiver to own with Sutton out, as Tim Patrick and DaeSean Hamilton will still cut into Hamler’s work, Hamler has the upside to do just as his comps did and be a flex option at points during the season.

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