Denver Broncos 2022 Fantasy Football Sleepers, Busts

The Denver Broncos finished the 2021 season ranked 19th in pass production and 23dr in points per game (19.7).

That resulted in the firing of head coach Vic Fangio and the hiring of offensive guru Nathaniel Hackett for head coach while also acquiring quarterback Russell Wilson to steer an eleven anemic offense towards the playoffs.

These moves combine to give us interesting breakouts, busts, and locks for our 2022 fantasy football season.

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The breakout candidate might not run it out of the end zone right away, but be sure he will be relevant before the season is over. In this case and in this offense sooner rather than later. Dulcich was selected 80th overall in the third round by the Denver Broncos. He was the third tight end off the board.

The Broncos traded away their TE1, Noah Fant when they acquired Wilson. Last season in 16 games, Fant accounted for 90 targets, an 18.3% target share where 16 of those targets were red-zone targets culminating for Fant in four touchdowns. This gaping hole in production needs to be filled.

Now Albert Okwuegbunam is penciled in as TE1 in Denver’s offense. Last season he had 40 targets, a 9.9% target share with five red-zone targets and two touchdowns. I have played in 12 games. In the last two seasons, he has played in only 18 games. This is a new regime that didn’t draft Okwuegbunam and has had nothing but effusive praise for the tight end they did draft.

Head coach Hackett on Dulcich: “When you have a guy [like Dulcich] that can stretch the field as he can, it’s really exciting…it’s not just the intermediate stuff but the impact he makes truly down the field.” Of course, we must filter for ‘coach speak,’ but even pre-draft analysis was high on Dulcich.

Dane Brugler from The Athletic: “Dulcich is at his best a “big slot” with his ability to find open zones or attack seam/crossers with his pull-away acceleration…he is explosive as a pass-catcher with a good-sized catch radius and separation burst before and after the catch.”

Even NFL analyst Daniel Jeremiah agrees, “Dulcich is a twitchy tight end prospect with big-play production. He aligns inline or flexed in the slot. He’s quick off the line, and he can really build speed by working down the field. He displays nuance and polish at the top of routes to create separation out of the break. He is very effective on seams and crosses using his speed to pull away… hands well above average… Overall, Dulcich is exactly what teams are looking for at the position and he should emerge as a quality starter.

There is the ever-present narrative (and stats) that say rookie tight ends have a steeper learning curve and for the most part, it is true.

Last season:

For a rookie tight end to be fantasy-relevant they either (per last season stats…small sample size) are going to need a lot of yards or a lot of touchdowns. Can Dulcich do either in Denver?

Dulcich is a wide receiver converted to a quarterback. His blocking skills from him though energetic are not very good. He is an above-average route runner who averaged 18.0 yards per reception per Next Gen Stats, leading the Pac-12 in 2020 and finishing second in the category in 2021. In 2021 he had 42 receptions, 725 yards, and 12 touchdowns in 11 games played.

When he gets on the field in Denver there are a lot of mouths to feed. The good news is that Wilson in his career has averaged 21% of his passes to his tight ends and that number jumps to 27% in the red zone.

Dulcich is a vertical threat that is best used detached from the line of scrimmage. The more he is used as a receiver, the better our chances of reaping fantasy capital. Dulcich’s size and speed make him too big for safeties (6’4”, 234 pounds) and too quick for linebackers (he ran the fifth-fastest 40 times for tight ends at 4.70).

His current ADP is TE45 in non-PPR leagues. His breakout from him may take mid-season but look for it.

The bust isn’t someone who will completely flame out. It is someone who will not live up to expectations. Jeudy is playing under very high expectations and his chance of once again not reaching them is high.

This is year three for Jeudy and he has averaged less than 10 PPR fantasy points in each of these first two years. Yes, there is the often-spoken narrative of him having to labor under poor quarterback play, it’s true. Last season he also missed six games because of an injury. Currently, Fantasy Pros has Jeudy’s overall ADP #69 and the 32na wide receiver, which puts him behind Courtland Sutton (62na overall and the 26th wide receiver) and way ahead of Tim Patrick (157th overall and the 65th wide receiver).

In the overall picture Jeudy is currently drafted ahead of Adam Thielen (76th overall, 35 wide receivers), DeAndre Hopkins (facing a six-game suspension, so there is that), and rookies Treylon Burks (89th overall, 38 wide receivers), Drake London (94th overall, 41st wide receiver) and Chris Olave (110 overall, 49th wide receiver); all who will be the WR1 on their teams.

Fantasy Football Calculator has him 76th overall with an ADP of 7.04, while Sharp Football Analysis has Jeudy as the 30th wide receiver taken, five slots behind Sutton and two spots ahead of Hopkins.

There is no question of Jeudy’s talent. I have a 96th percentile separation percentage. That means he was on average 2.45 yards away from a defender when a pass arrives. He is an accomplished route runner and when healthy he can play either in the slot or outside. Even with those talents, he has managed only three total touchdowns in his last three years. Yes, (yawn) partly from poor quarterback play and partly from injuries that have limited his time on him.

Poor quarterback play no doubt stunted Sutton’s growth. Sutton has had two touchdowns in the last two seasons, and last season back from his ACL injury he only had 776 receiving yards on 98 targets and 58 receptions (according to target accuracy is 7.2 which was 58th in the league).

Patrick in the last two seasons has collected 11 touchdowns. In neither season did he have more than 745 receiving yards, although he was targeted 79 and 85 times in seasons 2020 and 2021 respectively, playing with the same quarterbacks’ inaccuracies.

And herein lies the rub. Jeudy is not a touchdown machine. Yes, in the nine games after he returned from an ankle injury last season, he led the team in average targets. He averaged 5.3 targets, Patrick had 5.1 targets, and Sutton 3.9. Was that a result of quarterbacks’ reluctance and inefficiency when throwing downfield? That won’t be a question this season. Per Pro Football Focus, in the league, Wilson has the fifth-most pass attempts of 20 yards or more and has the third most deep passing yards.

2021 Statistics

Jeudy 6 deep ball targets 3 red-zone targets to DOT 10.5
Patrick 18 deep ball targets 11 red-zone targets to DOT 11.8
Sutton 29 deep ball targets 11 red-zone targets to DOT 15.7

Jeudy had 256 slot snaps (66.0% rate), Patrick collected 157 slot snaps (19.6% rate) and Sutton saw 92 slot snaps (10.4% rate). It is not difficult to imagine both Sutton and Patrick out wide and Jeudy in the slot.

Wilson has ably sustained two top-15 wide receivers, but never three. The question is who will be the two? Jeudy is already missing valuable time as the team is “being careful” with a groin injury. The time that is needed to get accustomed to both a new coach and a new quarterback.

You aren’t fading any of the receivers in Denver, but why are you picking Jeudy over Patrick? Jeudy won’t be a complete bust. I just won’t exceed your lofty expectations.

There is no surer lock than Russell Wilson. Per Fantasy Pros Wilson’s current status is 73dr overall pick and 11th quarterback off the board…ouch! He is sitting behind Aaron Rodgers (10th quarterback, 74th overall) and Jalen Hurts (8th quarterback, 70th overall) when he has better weapons than Rodgers (and Rodgers old offensive coordinator calling the shots) and the rushing ceiling that Hurts has (albeit with older legs). Wilson will also enter the season with what Fantasy Pros is proclaiming to be the fifth-easiest schedule for quarterbacks.

So, let’s see, he has better weapons and a relatively easy schedule and he is playing behind the best offensive line he has had in the last few years. Last season with a coaching staff that wasn’t quite offensive-minded to a “let Russ cook” mindset, he still averaged 28.5 passing attempts per game. Before his injury to him, he led the league in yards per attempt (10.4), passer rating (133.6), and passer rating from a clean pocket (130.9). It was a tale of before and after finger injury. In addition to leading in yards per attempt and passer rating, he was also completing 72% of his passes before the injury. After his injury to him, his passing completion percentage dropped to 61% and he was averaging 6.97 yards per attempt. He did state that he returned from the injury too early, but now he is completely healed.

Last season was the first time in eight years that Wilson did not finish as a top-10 fantasy quarterback. Now with a really good run game, weapons on the outside, in the slot, and the red zone, and in a division that all but cries shoot-out with every meeting, Wilson and your fantasy team are set for success.

There is no such thing as a sure thing in life or fantasy football, but Wilson saving your fantasy season seems like it’s pretty close and Jeudy once again letting you down, could happen. Dulcich surpassing Albert O and making a fantasy ripple this season is not out of the realm of possibility.

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