The Broncos come into 2022 with a lot of ambiguity regarding their fantasy outlook. The drastic QB upgrade will no doubt make the weapons in this offense more desirable, but there are questions to be answered. Will Javonte take over this backfield? Which receivers should I draft? I’m here to try to provide some clarity on all of this with a position-by-position breakdown.
Quarterback: Russell Wilson
There is not a ton to say here. Going from Bridgewater/Lock to Russ is just about as big of an upgrade as a team can ask for. It will be night and day in comparison to last year. All the Broncos fantasy weapons have seen their stock on the rise. Russ loves slinging the ball downfield which bodes well for his receivers. As a fantasy option himself, Russ has finished outside of the top 10 just twice in his nine year career. However, one of those finishes was last year at QB19. He missed a couple games due to injury but his major downfall was his sharp decline in rushing yards. He tallied just 183 of them, which was by far the lowest of his career. As we know, rushing ability is arguably the most coveted trait in a fantasy quarterback. That being said, Russ’ raw ability as a passer in what should be a high powered offense keeps him firmly in the low-end QB1 discussion.
Running Backs: Javonte Williams, Melvin Gordon III
These two guys saw themselves in a 50/50 timeshare in 2021, as the two interestingly each saw exactly 203 carries a piece. They both finished inside the top 20 in half PPR last year, with Javonte at 16 and Gordon at 18. They were both very efficient as well, both finishing top 10 in evaded tackles and juke rate. They proved to be one of the most effective backfields in the league in 2021.
In 2022, they head into a revamped offense with Javonte ranked as the RB13 while Melvin is all the way down at RB34. This might seem strange in correspondence to last year’s numbers, so let’s look at why there is such a disparity in rankings.
For starters, the uber-talented second year RB Williams is young and spry yet Gordon is almost 30, way past the age that RBs tend to break down. Javonte also edged out his counterpart in a couple of key areas. The first being Javonte’s role and ability in the receiving game. He saw 53 targets compared to Gordon’s 39, and proved far more efficient with a 1.45 yard per route run in comparison to Gordon’s 0.97. Javonte was also just clearly the better runner, which can be verified by not only the eye test but also his 3.42 yards created per touch which was good for 7th in the entire NFL. Melvin’s 2.62 was good for just 26th in the league. None of this is a knock on Gordon, and I actually even think he’s a solid value at his ADP. It’s rather a nod to Javonte, who is already one of the most talented backs in the league going into year 2.
For the reasons above, I am estimating a 65-35% split as Javonte continues to progress in 2022. He finished as the RB16 last year in a bad offense garnering 50% of snaps, so if he’s able to boost that up to 60-65% or more, he should land in the top 12 pretty easily. However, RB13 seems like a fair label for now given the slight risk of his role potentially not being as large as we anticipate.
Wide Receivers: Cortland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick
When a receiver goes from dealing with a lackluster QB room to catching passes from a future HOFer like Russ, it makes a world of difference. That makes this receiver room very hard to project in 2022. Sutton is currently the WR21, Jeudy is WR24, and Tim Patrick is all the way down at WR60.
Right off the bat, the value Patrick presents jumps out at me. In 2021, he was second on the Broncos in route participation at 87.3%. This was just slightly less than Sutton, and almost 10% higher than Jeudy’s 78.3%. They all averaged right around 5.5 targets per game. To build on this, there is a very interesting stat to look at from playerprofiler.com called “target premium”. Target premium is basically how many fantasy points per target a WR generates in comparison to his teammates, and it’s specifically useful for estimating how much a quarterback upgrade will help a player’s future production. In 2021, Sutton and Jeudy posted target premiums of -8.9% and -9% respectively, good for 70th and 71st in the league. Tim Patrick on the other hand had a 15%, which was good for 15th in the entire league. Not to say this metric is the end-all-be-all, but is most certainly noteworthy and is potentially an indicator of what’s to come in 2022.
Outside of this, I believe Russ’ style of play is important to take into account when trying to project which receiver will do what in 2022. Russ has an affinity for the deep ball. And this benefits Sutton’s skill set the most, who is a proven vertical threat. Last year he was 8th in air yards with 1,534 and 2nd in the league in average depth of target (adot) at 15.7. To piggyback off this point, Russ loves throwing to the outside of the field, which also benefits Sutton as well as Patrick rather than Jeudy as they make their living on the outside.
Factoring in all the above, I like Patrick, Sutton, then Jeudy in that order in respect to their ADP. I think these 3 all have something to prove in 2022. I also believe they all will be of value. The difference of Patrick’s draft position in comparison to Sutton and Jeudy leaves him as a screaming value, as he sees similar route participation and you could make an argument that he’s been the most effective of the three so far in their careers. Let’s not forget he also got paid too.
This offense will likely prove hard to predict weekly WR performance as it was with Seattle’s receivers in the past, which is all the more reason to scoop up Patrick in the late rounds of your drafts rather than jumping on the other two. To counterpoint, I think Sutton has to be the preseason favorite to lead this team in fantasy WR points. He easily has the best career receiving stats of the three. He is a big target who has a proven track record as an outside deep threat which will most likely align perfectly with how Russ operates.
To round out the three, Jeudy is a talented player and is well known for his ability to separate from defenders yet I don’t see the value. He hasn’t produced much so far in his career, has had drop issues in the past, and took 66% of his snaps from the slot where he severely lacked high-value red zone and deep targets in 2021. There’s of course the chance for a breakout with his talent and pedigree, but I’m not willing to buy in at low WR2 value in 5th round when other high-upside, more proven assets are still available. All things considered, Tim Patrick is the guy I’m going for in Denver. He appears to be at or near the level of the other two receivers, and I think is a dark horse to lead this team in receiving.
That being said, if Sutton (or Jeudy) are the WR1 in this offense it won’t matter much… Patrick can still easily remain the clear best value at his current ADP.
Tight End: Albert Okwuegbunam
Albert O is coming into the 2022 season ranked as the TE21 based on FantasyPros ECR, but he is a prime breakout candidate. He hasn’t produced too much in his 3 year career as the TE2 on this team, but will now get a chance to with Fant out of town.
Like the rest of this offense, he greatly benefits from the major QB upgrade. He is extremely athletic, standing 6’6 tall and with an electric 4.49 40-yard dash. His 7.4 YAC per reception was good for 1st in the entire league among tight ends with 30 or more receptions. He also posted a very efficient 2.46 yards per route run in 2021, albeit on low volume. With his price tag being essentially free, he is no doubt worth the late-round flier. The hyper-athletic tight end has back-end TE1 potential if things break in the right direction in 2022.