2022 Denver Broncos Team Outlook
With high-stakes fantasy football legend Shawn Childs anchoring Sports Illustrated's fantasy coverage, we decided to give our take on Shawn's Team Outlooks. While we won't always agree, Shawn's pedigree speaks for itself. Shawn has been a high-stakes Fantasy Football legend since 2004 when he had success in his first season (three titles and $25,000 in winnings). Childs has competed and won six-figures in all different formats – auctions, draft championships, main events, and high-dollar leagues. We dare you to find an expert who knows the NFL player pool better than Shawn Childs -- it can't be done!
Other four seasons with Peyton Manning from 2012 to 2015 (50-14 with a Super Bowl victory and a Super Bowl loss), the Denver Broncos haven't had a franchise quarterback since Jon Elway retired after the 1998 season. So the Broncos sold their future (multiple early-round draft picks) over the winter to acquire Russell Wilson, to hopefully recreate a magical run similar to the Manning era. Denver has a developing potential stud running back (Javonte Williams) plus two young, high upside wide receivers (Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy). Wilson is an excellent quarterback who knows how to win games late. Denver won't have an easy path to the playoffs in the competitive AFC West, but they look to be a much better heading into 2022 with a proven quarterback behind center.
Last year Denver wanted to run the ball as much as possible, but lack of quarterback play and game score hurt their chances. They finished below the league average in pass attempts (31.8 per game – 22nd) while running the ball 45.7% of the time. Russell Wilson has thrown over 550 passes (558) only once in his career, so the Broncos should try to run a similar offense this season.
The run game for the Broncos progressed again last year, leading to a three-year high in rushing attempts (415), rushing yards (1,867), and touchdowns (17). They caught 20.6% of Denver's completions while more than doubling their output in receiving yards (551 – 272 in 2020).
The Broncos struggled to get their wide receivers involved last season. As a result, their wideouts caught only 48.3% of Denver's completions despite finishing with a three-year high in catches (171). In addition, they had a regression in receiving yards (2,257) and touchdowns (8).
The tight end position has become more relevant in the Broncos' offense over the past two seasons thanks to the development of Noah Fant (62/673/3 and 68/670/4). They set three-year highs in catches (109), receiving yards (1,047), and touchdowns (7) last season, but part of the cost of acquiring Russell Wilson was Noah Fant. Wilson tends to look for his tight ends in the red zone in his career. Therefore, regression should be expected by Denver's tight end in 2022.
Nathaniel Hackett takes over as Denver's head coach after spending most of the past 10 seasons running the offenses for Buffalo, Jacksonville, and Green Bay. His progression with the Packers between 2019 and 2021 created his opportunity.
The Broncos' offense is now in the hands of Justin Outten. He spent the last three years as the tight end coach for the Packers. Outten has six seasons of coach experience in the NFL.
Denver finished 23rd in points scored (335) and 19th in offensive yards, their seventh straight year with a below league average offense.
Ejiro Evero earns his first defensive coordinator job after spending the previous 11 years in various positions in the NFL. He worked as the Rams' secondary coach and passing game coordinator in 2021.
Their defense finished with the third-lowest number of points allowed (322), 124 lower than 2020 (446). Denver bumped to eighth in yards allowed.
The Broncos added DE Randy Gregory, DT D.J. Jones, and CB K'Waun Williams to their defense. Both defensive linemen project to help their run defense. They lost QB Teddy Bridgewater and CB Bryce Callahan to free agency, while LB Alexander Johnson, T Bobby Massie, and CB Kyle Fuller remain unsigned. Denver brought in T Billy Turner and T Tom Compton for depth on the offensive line.
The focus of the 2022 NFL Draft was to improve the talent on the defensive side of the ball – DE Nik Bonitto (2.32), CB Damarri Mathis (4.10), DT Eyioma Uwazurike (4.11), S Delarrin Turner-Yell (5.9), DT Matt Henningsen (6.28), and CB Faion Hicks (7.11). Their other players added were in the third (TE Greg Dulcich) and fifth (WR Montrell Washington and C Luke Wattenberg) rounds.
The Broncos repeated their 13th place finish in rushing yards (2,025) with 16 touchdowns. Their ball carriers gained 4.5 yards per carry with 10 runs over 20 yards.
Denver climbed to 22nd in passing yards (3,856) with 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Their offensive line allowed 40 sacks while gaining only 7.1 yards per pass attempt.
Their offensive line has four players that project to be league average or better in pass protection. Denver needs someone to step up at right tackle with growth needed in run blocking. The Broncos' line should push toward the top third in the league in 2022.
The Broncos worked their way to 15th defending the run (1,892 yards), with ball carriers gaining only 4.3 yards per rush. They allowed nine touchdowns with 10 runs over 20 yards.
Denver ranked 8th in passing yards allowed (3,652) while allowing 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. The Broncos picked up 36 sacks. Quarterbacks gained 6.9 yards per pass attempt with 48 completions over 20 yards.
S Justin Simmons and CB Patrick Surtain set the tone for the Broncos' secondary. Simmons is an excellent all-around player, while Surtain has the talent to be a lockdown cover corner. DE Bradley Chubb continues to battle injuries since his impactful rookie season (60 tackles and 12 sacks). The first and second levels of Denver's defense have plenty of question marks, inviting regression in play this year.
The AFC West is loaded with offensive talent, making the Broncos' defense a challenging fantasy ride each week. They rank 9th in the NFFC in the early draft season, but I only see matchup value if a couple of players emerge in the pass rush.
QB Russell Wilson, DEN - Solid/Safe Pick
Over 10 seasons with the Seahawks, Wilson went 104-53-1 with eight trips to the postseason (9-7 with a Super Bowl win and loss). His completion rate (65.0) and yards per passing attempt (7.8) graded well, but he has never played behind a stellar offensive line (361 sacks from 2013 to 2020 with a low of 41 sacks in 2016).
From 2017 and 2020, Wilson delivered 150 passing touchdowns (eight on the ground) with 36 interceptions. Last season, he missed games (3) for the first time in his career due to a broken right middle finger. Wilson finished with a career-low in rushing production (43/183/2) while being on pace to pass for 3,780 yards and 30 scores.
Fantasy outlook: Denver has the offensive tools to give Wilson a similar outcome as his best days with the Seahawks. He'll make WR Courtland Sutton and Jeffry Jeudy better while having enough secondary receiving depth to pass for 4,000+ yards with a run at 35 touchdowns. The AFC West has plenty of high-scoring offenses, which should be a win for Wilson's expected passing opportunity. In the early draft season in the Fantasy Football World Championship, he ranks 10th at quarterback.
Other Options: Brett Rypien, Josh Johnson
RB Javonte Williams, DEN - Solid/Safe Pick
In his first season with Denver, Williams gained 1,219 combined yards with seven touchdowns and 43 catches. He finished 17th in running back scoring (206.30) in PPR leagues. His best value came from Week 12 to Week 14 (372 combined yards with four touchdowns and 10 catches). Williams gained over 100 yards in one other matchup (17/111). On the downside, he scored fewer than 10.00 fantasy points in eight games (5.50, 8.40, 8.90, 9.80, 6.80, 6.90, 4.20, and 8.40).
Williams has a chain-mover feel while relying on his power and fight to finish off carries. He runs with a smooth rhythm while waiting for a hole to open. Once Williams sees daylight, his acceleration pushes into the second level of the defense. He won't hit on many long touchdowns, but his short-area quickness plays well. Williams shows plenty of grit, and his style should wear defenses down. Despite a limited role as a receiver, he projects well in the passing game while having the smarts to pick up an NFL offense on all downs.
The Tarheels used Williams in a split role over the last two seasons, leading to 2,554 combined yards with 28 touchdowns and 42 catches. He played at the highest level in 2020 (1,445 combined yards with 22 touchdowns and 25 catches).
I sense some of Frank Gore's traits in his game. Williams has a winning feel, and I expect him to do the dirty work in the run game. He'll bring punch after punch on his runs, which in turn leads to productive showings on most days.
Fantasy outlook: Once the Broncos resigned Melvin Gordon, Williams saw his ADP (13) in the FFWC slide into the second round in more drafts. Denver will continue to rotate in a second back, but Williams should see growth in his role in 2022. His next step should be 1,500 combined yards with double-digit scores and a push over 50 catches or about 260.00 fantasy points. I see a buying opportunity, especially if Williams slides in drafts.
RB Melvin Gordon, BAL - Quality Backup
Denver had Gordon on the field for 514 plays last season compared to 551 plays by Javonte Williams while missing one game. He ended the year with 1,113 combined yards with 10 touchdowns and 28 catches. His best play in the run game came in Week 1 (11/101/1), Week 14 (24/111/2), and Week 18 (12/110/1). Gordon delivered competitive yards per rush (4.6 and 4.5) over the past two seasons, but his rushing output came in weaker on the road (79/303/2 – 3.8 yards per rush). He finished 18th in running scoring (198.70) in PPR leagues, one spot below Williams.
Fantasy outlook: Surprisingly, Gordon signed only a one-year deal for $2.5 million. He brings a veteran presence while still having three-down ability. Denver should give him between 175 and 225 touches, pointing 1,000 combined yards with some value in scoring and catches. Gordon is the 39th ranked running back in the FFWC in May with an ADP of 110. I expect him to be an RB2 at a minimum, making him a value in fantasy drafts.
Other Options: Mike Boone, Damarea Crockett, Tyreik McAllister
WR Courtland Sutton, DEN - Solid/Safe Pick
After missing most of 2020 with a torn ACL, Sutton came into last year with questions about his early health. He caught only one pass for 14 yards in Week 1, but his game was fantasy worthy in three games (9/159, 7/120/1, and 8/94/1) over the following five matchups. Unfortunately, Denver struggled to get him the ball over his final 10 games (20/237/0 on 40 targets). Over this span, Sutton had two catches or fewer in eight games. When at his best in 2019, he caught 72 passes for 1,112 yards and six touchdowns. His catch rate (55.9) has been relatively low to start his career while gaining 15.2 yards per catch.
Fantasy outlook: Sutton should have a role similar to DK Metcalf in the Broncos' offense. His size (6'4" and 215 lbs.) points to a natural progression in scoring, and Russell Wilson will find him in the open field in the deep passing game. He comes off the board as the 26th wideout in the early draft season with an ADP of 66 in the FFWC. Sutton should have a floor of 70 catches for 1,100 yards with a chance at double-digit touchdowns.
WR Jerry Jeudy, DEN - Solid/Safe Pick
Fantasy drafters can draft Jeudy with confidence again after his off-the-field incident in May was dismissed. The NFL could still suspend him, but any action looks to be minimal. In his sophomore season with Denver, he had growth in his catch rate (67.9) while failing to score a touchdown. Jeudy worked closer to the line of scrimmage (12.3 yards per catch – 16.5 in 2020). An ankle injury cost him six games, and a late-season battle with Covid-19 pushed him to the bench in Week 17. He finished last year with no impact games (his highest fantasy point total came in Week 1 – 13.20 in PPR formats).
Over his last two seasons at Alabama, Jeudy caught 145 passes for 2,479 yards and 24 touchdowns over 28 games. The Tide used him as a big-play wide receiver in 2018 (68/1,315/14). The following season, Jeudy worked more as a traditional receiver (77/1,163/10), where he relied on his route running to get open. Many of his catches were in the flat or coming back to the quarterback, leading to less explosiveness after the catch. When able to secure passes going forward, his speed and acceleration become more disruptive. Jeudy doesn't have the same explosiveness when caught flat-footed with the ball trying to make defenders miss.
His release projects well while having the speed (4.45 40-yard dash) to test a defender deep. However, Jeudy needs to add some bulk (6'1" and 195 lbs.) to help combat physical corners. He also grades lower than expected with his short-area quickness.
Fantasy outlook: With Russell Wilson taking over at quarterback, Jeudy projects to be the higher volume wideout, improving his scoring and big-play ability. His ADP (61) on the high-stakes market ranks him 24th at wide receiver. Jeudy looks to be on a path to catch 80+ balls for 1,100 yards with six to eight scores.