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Denver Broncos fantasy football draft preview: The rich get Welker

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

How much better does Peyton Manning make these players and how much better will Wes Welker make Manning?

Do we need any more proof that Peyton Manning is good? Perhaps the best ever?

In Manning's final year actually on the field with the Colts, they went 10-6 and finished fourth in the NFL in scoring. He missed the following season with a neck injury and Indianapolis went 2-14 and finished 28th in scoring.

The year before Manning arrived in Denver, the Broncos went 8-8 and finished 25th in scoring. Even the .500 record and playoff win are misleading, considering that the Tim Tebow Mile High Miracles won three games in overtime (not including playoffs, where they beat the Steelers in OT) and another three games by four points or less. The 2011 Broncos weren't all that far away from going 2-14 as well.

They made the "daring" decision of replacing a God with a false idol and then went 13-3 and finished second in the league in scoring. With basically the same offense.

Demaryius Thomas went from 50.1 yards-per-game to 89.6 yards-per-game. Eric Decker went from 38.3 yards per game to 66.5 yards-per-game. The third-leading receiver in 2011 was Brandon Lloyd with 283 of 'em, and he was traded away after four games. The third-leading receiver for Manning was tight end Jacob Tamme and he finished with 555 yards. Brandon Stokley, who caught one pass the year before, had 544 yards with Manning. Even second tight end Joel Dreessen had 356 yards.

Manning is a special player that makes everyone around him better. He's coming off of one of the best seasons of his career and hasn't shown even a hint of deteriorating skills at age 37, despite still recovering from four neck surgeries.

The plan was to sign Manning and go win the Super Bowl in the weak AFC, but that didn't quite work out. The Broncos were still one of the best offenses and all-around teams in the NFL with Manning leading the show. Perhaps only the Patriots ran a better offense last season behind the efforts of players like Wes Welker.

Oh, and by the way, the Broncos now have Welker, too.

Denver doesn't need miracles anymore to win games, they've got Goliath. Here are a slew of good options for your fantasy team and my predictions for how they'll do.

Quarterbacks

Peyton Manning, 37

2012 stats: 400-of-583, 68.6%, 4,659 yards, 37 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 8.0 yards per attempt, 105.8 QB rating, 84.11 QBR (1st) , two fumbles, 1,800 DYAR (2nd)

There were concerns about how cautious they would have to be with Manning after taking a year off, or that his throwing motion would be hindered and he wouldn't be able to throw the deep pass like he used to. Instead, it seems like Manning should get hurt more often.

(Wait, somehow that logic doesn't seem to work there.)

Manning threw the third-most attempts of his career, the second-most completions, the second-highest completion percentage, second-most yards, second-most touchdowns, third-lowest interception percentage, third-highest yards per attempt, second-highest quarterback rating. That's even more impressive when you consider that Manning is "old" and has played so many seasons.

Why so good?

Well, the AFC is bad, the defenses in the AFC are bad, the Denver running game wasn't very good, and the weapons he had are perhaps as good as the Reggie Wayne-Marvin Harrison duo of yesteryear. What's changed there?

Not much.

Thomas and Decker are still here. The running game is still questionable at best. They still play the Chargers, Raiders and Chiefs a total of six times (though the Chiefs might be better). Manning is 2,000 yards shy of Dan Marino for second all time, and he'll get there before midseason. He's over 12,000 yards shy of Brett Favre though -- with a couple more years in the AFC he might get there quicker than you'd think.

2013 Prediction: 390-of-575, 4,770 yards, 39 touchdowns, 10 interceptions

Backup

Brock Osweiler, 23

The Broncos drafted Zac Dysert in the seventh round of this years draft, but the player they're prepping for the future is still Osweiler. Even though he is almost guaranteed to not play for the next couple of years, who wouldn't want to be in Osweiler's position?

He gets to sit behind maybe the greatest quarterback of all time, learn from him for a few years, have zero pressure placed on him, and then if he does well in practice, preseason and short spurts of regular-season action, walk into a great situation of offensive weapons around him. If he does really well in the preseason, teams will probably also be willing to trade for him and sign him up for a fat contract like they've done with others such as Matt Cassel and Matt Schaub before they've ever had a chance to start in the NFL.

Sounds like a good deal to me.

If anything happens to Manning, I'd snatch up Osweiler right away. Thomas-Decker-Welker is gonna be good for anybody.

Running backs

Knowshon Moreno, 26

2012 stats: 139 carries for 525 yards, four touchdowns, 3.8 yards per carry, one fumble, 21 catches for 167 yards, no touchdowns, 55 DYAR (20th), 56% success rate

By the time you read this the Broncos may have named their starting running back, but how much will it matter? Even if they named Moreno, Ball or Hillman the starter for Week 1, it doesn't guarantee for a second that they'll be starting in Week 2. This isn't like electing a president.

If the guy sucks right away, you can impeach him right away without due process. And John Fox will do that in a heartbeat. This also means that drafting a Denver running back with anything higher than a fifth- or sixth-round pick could be dangerous.

I've liked Moreno for a long time. I've like Hillman since his days at San Diego State. I'm highly intrigued by Montee Ball. The best gamble though would probably be to wait and then see if you can snag the Denver Broncos' starting running back off the waiver wire in Week 3 because someone got hurt or got a case of the fumbles. This is very likely with this group.

2013 Prediction: 180 carries for 810 yards, six touchdowns, 30 catches for 250 yards and two touchdowns

Montee Ball, 22

Rookie, 58th overall pick out of Wisconsin, 5'10 and 210 lbs, 4.66 40-yard dash, 356 carries for 1,830 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior.

I don't think a coach like John Fox is used to not having a running game, nor does he like it very much. The Broncos were great in passing offense, passing defense and rushing defense, but finished 25th in yards-per-carry at 3.8 as a team. That's why they drafted Ball in the second round even with a stable of young running backs already on the roster.

Ball scored an unreal 73 rushing touchdowns over his final three years with the Badgers. His 39 touchdowns as a junior in 2011 were a Big Ten single-season record as well as being tied for the NCAA single-season record, with some guy named Barry Sanders. It was the most points ever scored by anyone other than a kicker.

If he can't catch on in Denver, it won't be because he didn't have the opportunity.

2013 Prediction: 100 carries for 450 yards and six touchdowns

Ronnie Hillman, 22

2012 stats: 84 carries for 327 yards, one touchdown, 3.9 yards per carry, 10 catches for 62 yards, two fumbles, -24 DYAR

And then there's Hillman. Literally any three of these guys could lead the Broncos in rushing this season and literally any one of them could do nothing. Hillman has had issues with fumbling and they've continued into this preseason. If he doesn't become the breakout player that many expect them to be, it will literally be because of dropping the ball.

2013 Prediction: 100 carries for 430 yards and two touchdowns

Backups
C.J. Anderson, 22

Anderson has been a surprise this year after going undrafted. He earned a roster spot, and given the question marks at running back, he could find his way into the mix. But the real rookie of the future is Montee Ball, so Anderson has limited value.

Wide receivers

Demaryius Thomas, 26

2012 stats: 94 catches for 1,434 yards, 10 touchdowns, 67% catch rate on 141 targets, 393 DYAR (3rd), two fumbles

One of the greatest songs of all time is Starship's "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" from the classic film Mannequin -- the tale of a beautiful store mannequin that comes to life to be Andrew McCarthy's one true love. I trust a lot of readers are younger than me so do yourself a favor and watch that as a double feature with Weekend at Bernies for a McCarthon. (While avoiding Mannequin II and Weekend at Bernie's II, of course.)

I tell you all of this because nothing is gonna stop Demaryius now. Yeah, only because of that.

2013 Prediction: 100 catches for 1,600 yards and 12 touchdowns

Eric Decker, 26

2012 stats: 85 catches for 1,064 yards, 13 touchdowns, 69% catch rate on 123 targets, 389 DYAR (4th), no fumbles

People often say that Manning creates 1,000-yard seasons for receivers that don't have the true talent of 1,000-yard seasons. Here is the list of receivers who have had over 1,000 yards receiving with Manning:

Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Brandon Stokley, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker. Only Stokley's season was a true anomaly. To get 1,000 yards with Manning, you still have to be good.

2013 Prediction: 80 catches for 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns

Wes Welker, 32

2012 stats: 118 catches for 1,354 yards, six touchdowns, 67% catch rate on 175 targets, 245 DYAR (19th), two fumbles

Manning's 2004 season with the Colts featured three 1,000-yard receivers, including that Stokley season, but can he do it again with these three? Have I underestimated Manning's yard and touchdowns? Can you imagine a season when Welker doesn't get 100 catches and over 1,000 yards? This is a really difficult one to project.

Would you rather have Welker in Denver as the third receiver or Danny Amendola in New England, taking Welker's place?

I don't think you can go wrong with either, but just the mystery of seeing what a full year of Welker in this offense will produce ... how can teams even concentrate on Welker anymore with Thomas and Decker out there, too? Is Decker going to be the odd man out? And what about these tight ends?

2013 prediction: 85 catches for 1,050 yards and six touchdowns

Backups
Andre Caldwell, Trindon Holliday

These are the ones I've placed here based on the Mile High Report's projections and that's an insanely logical conclusion.

And it would be insanely illogical to think that any other receiver besides the top three will have even 100 yards.

Tight ends

Julius Thomas, 25

2012 stats: 1 catch for 5 yards

Backups

Jacob Tamme, 28

2012 stats: 52 catches for 555 yards, two touchdowns, 62% catch rate on 84 targets, 5 DYAR (35th)

Joel Dreessen, 31

2012 stats: 41 catches for 356 yards, five touchdowns, 71% catch rate on 58 targets 22 DYAR (28th)

Virgil Green, 25

Tamme is always a cap casualty possibility, but how expendable he actually is would have a lot to do with when Dreessen is healthy again and how Green and Thomas do. Thomas has blossomed quite a bit this year and despite catching just one pass in his career, is seen as a player that could explode onto the scene this season. He has secured the No. 1 tight end role for now.

It would be hard to imagine a Denver tight end being super valuable in fantasy football this year. If Manning threw for 5,000 yards, you'd expect that about 30 percent of that would go to Demaryius. At least 40 percent would go to Welker and Decker. About 10 percent could go to the running backs.

That leaves about 1,000 yards for the tight ends and receivers outside of the top three. No one tight end is going to get the full amount of that pie, and that's only if Manning throws for 5,000 yards. The topper here would probably be 500 yards for somebody, all things considered.

Given that Tamme and Dreessen don't have a ceiling worth worrying about, I would only draft Thomas and that would be very, very late as a sleeper that is only your backup option at tight end.

Team Defense

The loss of Von Miller for six games is, well, kind of a big deal.

Without Miller and Elvis Dumervil (clerical error leading to free agency), Denver has lost 29.5 of their 52 sacks last season. The third-leading sack-getter was rookie Derek Wolfe, who had six of them. Linebacker Wesley Woodyard had 5.5. Wolfe has missed time this preseason with injury, but believes he will be ready for the season opener.

That would be, well, kind of crucial. So would be getting back 2012 Pro Bowl corner Champ Bailey, also hurt, and now 35 years old.

The team added Dominiquie Rodgers-Cromartie, Quentin Jammer, and Shaun Williams through free agency, as well as defensive tackle Sylvester Williams in the first round of the draft. Whether or not that combination of players makes up for the loss of one Miller remains to be seen, but Denver certainly looks like they will be less-talented in Week 1 than they were last year. And last year they finished just 16th in turnovers forced.

In fantasy, you care about points allowed, turnovers forced and sacks, and it looks like at least two of those three things are lacking at the moment. On the other hand: Raiders, Chiefs Chargers?

Even finishing second in scoring defense, I'm slightly worried about the Denver defense. Can Fox do his magic once again without their top two players from a year ago? I'd probably stay away unless the value is just too good to pass up.

Either way, this team is going to be fighting for a Super Bowl again, but it's almost all thanks to a guy named Manning.

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