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Breaking Down the Broncos’ Wide Receivers

This article is about the Broncos’ wide receivers, and we will get to that (I promise). But first, I wanted to talk a little bit about how I got here, writing for FFStatistics.com

Enjoy.

What a quick and strange journey it’s been! When I joined Twitter on August 2nd, I just wanted to talk fantasy football with strangers. As a female, most of my friends don’t play fantasy sports. Sure I have my husband to talk to (plus two other friends) but I wanted more than three people to talk fantasy with. So, I finally took the plunge and joined Twitter.

 Fast forward two weeks – I have a message in my inbox asking me if I am interested in becoming a fantasy contributor to one of the websites I follow. Another message from another site soon followed. I have to admit, I was shocked. Who cares what some girl from Utah has to say about football? But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I would love to write about the sport I’ve watched since I was born. I already have my dream job (I write procedures for a bank) but what’s better than one dream job – two dream jobs! So here I am, jumping in with both feet.

 For my first article I wanted to pick:

  1. Something I’m interested in
  2. Something I’m curious about
  3. A fresh idea – that I hadn’t seen any articles about yet

The more I brainstormed, the more I gravitated to my own team – the Denver Broncos. We moved to Denver on my third birthday, and I have been watching the Broncos every Sunday ever since. Last year was the worst year for the Broncos that I can remember. Consequently, no one has been talking about Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders this draft season. I love Sanders this year (I just got him in the ninth round (!!) of a draft – the steal of the draft if you ask me). And Demaryius is due for a good year (more on why I think that later).

This article is my journey to discover – is it my inherent Broncos bias that makes me think DT and Sanders are both going to have a good year? Or is there something real there? Let’s dive in using some of my favorite things – data and graphs/charts.

Should You Draft The Broncos’ Wide Receivers?

The Question of Case Keenum

My first question centers on our new starting quarterback – Case Keenum. Can he support two fantasy-relevant wide receivers? Let’s look at some numbers for the top two receivers Keenum threw to last year – Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Diggs finished as WR19 with 95 targets, 64 catches, 849 yards, and 8 touchdowns. Thielen finished as WR9 with 143 targets, 91 catches, 1,277 yards, and 4 touchdowns. Below is a graph of Diggs’ and Thielen’s average points per game. Both receivers averaged double-digit points with Keenum in the pocket, and Thielen saw a rise in his points per game.

Next, let’s look at consistency data – how often did Diggs and Thielen finish in the top 12, 13-24, 25-36, or below. When I created the charts using FFStatistics data tools, I discovered that Thielen finished in the top 12 6 times last year, but also finished below 36th 7 times. Diggs had 5 games outside the top 36. This tells me Keenum is able to support top wide receivers, but it may be inconsistent week-to-week.

Looking at Thomas’ and Sanders’ consistency data below shows us that they had the same amount of games outside the top 36 last year that Diggs and Thielen had. Based on what we saw from Keenum last year, we can expect similar finishes from Thomas and Sanders this season, but they need to improve their top 12 finishes.

Ok, so now we know that Keenum definitely can support two fantasy-relevant wide receivers. But will he? As I was contemplating this, I began to think about the 2015 Denver Broncos. The year we won Super Bowl 50. What a time to be alive … but I digress. Demaryius finished as WR11, and Sanders finished as WR19. Both went for over 1,000 yards and they each had 6 touchdowns. I know what you’re thinking – they had Peyton Manning throwing to them. I think we can all agree that Peyton Manning that year no longer had the firepower of the Peyton Manning who took the 2013 Broncos to the Super Bowl; and my fellow Sun Devil Brock Osweiler started 7 games that year. I figure Case Keenum is some kind of combination between Peyton in his last year and Brock Osweiler, right? I believe in Case!

Can Keenum’s Success Translate to Denver?

Demaryius Thomas

Knowing that Keenum is capable of supporting two top-20 wide receivers, I sat down to make my projections. Demaryius saw 140 targets last year, and 177 in 2015. The Broncos will throw more this season, he is healthy for the first time in two years, and I like round numbers, so I gave him 150 targets.

 I then used the data on FFStatistics.com to estimate his reception percentage based on his career numbers. With a 59% catch rate, this puts him at 89 catches. Using his average yards per reception from last year, I calculated his yards to be 1,017, and I gave him 6 touchdowns. Using PPR scoring, he would get 226.7 fantasy points, which would have been WR11 last year. His current ADP per fantasyfootballcalculator.com is WR19.

A note about Demaryius Thomas – he has had a nagging hip injury for two years, which has affected his play. He even contemplated retirement. In an effort to improve his health he started a new diet – no dairy, no alcohol, no shellfish, no pork (that means no bacon the poor thing). I have seen firsthand how much a diet like that can improve your health. He said he feels 20 years old and I believe in the power of a good diet. He said he wants to play as long as Larry Fitzgerald. Count me in on Demaryius this year!

Emmanuel Sanders

I used the same method to project Sanders’ stats: 130 targets (he saw 92 last year and 137 in 2015), his catch percentage puts him at 72 catches, his average yards per reception puts him at 850 yards, and let’s give him 5 touchdowns (his 2 touchdowns last year was a regression from his career numbers, and I predict he will be closer to his career average). My projections would give him 187 fantasy points, which would have been WR24 last year in a PPR league. His current ADP: 33.

And Sanders is clicking with Keenum in camp. In our week 2 preseason game against the Bears, he saw 7 targets (out of 16 attempts). Keenum will be looking for Sanders in the slot like he looked for Thielen last year.

Courtland Sutton

Now there are obviously more than two Broncos’ wide receivers. So what about rookie sensation Courtland Sutton? Won’t he be involved in the passing game and take targets from DT and Sanders? I looked at the Vikings target distribution last year and their “third receiver” Kyle Rudolph saw 81 targets. That sounds about like what Sutton will see this year, so good news – DT and Sanders will be fine.

Sutton and fellow rookie Daesean Hamilton are pushing Thomas and Sanders to be better receivers. Sutton and Thomas will line up on the outside in 11 personnel, leaving the slot wide open for Sanders. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave runs 11 personnel 51% of the time.

Verdict

So, what’s the verdict? It’s not my Broncos bias – draft Demaryius and Sanders everywhere and watch them outperform their ADP. Sanders especially is a bargain this year. Happy drafting!

2 Comments

  1. Peter Howard

    Well I for one am very glad I read this artilce as soon as I saw the link :p

    I’m a little worried about the steady decline in Thomas’ production the last 3 years but definitely think they are both being undervalued.

    Nice work

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