Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Fantasy outlook

Fantasy football drafts are in full swing, so here’s some thoughts on the Broncos’ skill position players:

Quarterback Jay Cutler: Cutler’s rookie numbers look good when you project them over a season, and he has enough talent around him to have a good season, but there are probably safer picks for your starting quarterback. The Broncos will run the ball a lot, and Cutler is still inexperienced and will have some mediocre games. As a backup he does have some upside. I’d take him over a guy like Carolina’s Jake Delhomme, who’s ranked in the same area.

Running back Travis Henry: I’d want a late-round first-round pick just to have a shot at Henry, who I think is a bit undervalued. Assuming Henry is fine, and the Broncos have no worries he’ll be back for the season opener, he will carry the ball all the time. Mike Bell and Cecil Sapp won’t get a lot of time until Henry gets banged up. And based on his workload and tough running style, I’d assume Henry will miss a game or two this year. But I still think he’ll be in the 1,500-yard range with a lot of touchdowns. He could be a top 5 back who you can get at the end of the first round.

Wide receiver Javon Walker: I don’t really think he’s a good or bad value, he’s a borderline top 10 wide receiver who is a borderline top 10 pick. He’ll have some big games and make some big plays. If you’re optimistic, you think he’ll have a big year because he has a better quarterback. If you're pessimistic you might think he’ll have some low-scoring games because the Broncos are going to run the ball more. Either way, he should be a safe pick as a No. 1 receiver if you can’t grab a Chad Johnson or Terrell Owens.

Wide receiver Brandon Marshall: Take advantage of the bad publicity Marshall got early in training camp as he was nursing a quadriceps injury. The best thing that could happen if you want Marshall is for him to have a relatively quiet remainder of the preseason. Then pounce on him as a good value pick late in the draft when others are snatching up Kevin Curtis, Joe Horn and Derrick Mason. Marshall might be a year away from his breakout season, but he’s worth a shot. He’s looked good since returning to practice and didn’t look rusty against Dallas.

Tight end Daniel Graham: Tight end is such a deep position, there’s not much reason to select Graham unless the Broncos look his way often early in the season. After Graham caught a lot of passes the first few days, the Broncos didn't pass his way that much the rest of camp. He might be a good bye week fill-in at tight end. For a very deep sleeper keep an eye on Nate Jackson early in the season. He had a fantastic camp and could get some playing time early in the year as Tony Scheffler gets back into the groove.

Kicker Jason Elam: Draft him and you’ll be safe for a 100-point season. He made almost all of his field-goal attempts last year and he’ll be solid again this year.

Team defense: If your league gives points for sacks and interceptions, I don’t think the Broncos have great value. They weren’t great rushing the passer last year and are banged up on defense. Interceptions should increase a bit though, with Dre Bly alongside Champ Bailey. Fantasy-wise the Broncos’ defense should be taken somewhere in the middle of the pack.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Tailback conundrum

Selvin Young better be ready for a long day Saturday, when the Denver Broncos play Cleveland in a preseason game.
Young, the Broncos’ fifth-string tailback, is one of the few upright running backs for the Broncos. Young and Cecil Sapp were the only two tailbacks able to practice Monday. Travis Henry, Mike Bell and Andre Hall were out with injuries.
Henry and Bell could return for the regular season opener. Broncos coach Mike Shanahan indicated Henry’s knee injury was minor and he might return for this week’s preseason game. But the Broncos aren’t likely to risk Henry getting injured further in a game that doesn’t count. Sapp is fine, but with the tailback situation so tenuous, the Broncos can’t afford to get him hurt in a preseason game either. Hall has dealt with a hamstring injury and could play if he improves during the week, but he didn’t practice Monday.
That leaves Young. An undrafted rookie from Texas, Young might get a lot of carries to get the Broncos through the game, like in baseball when a relief pitcher is asked to eat up innings in a blowout. That actually is a great opportunity for Young, who is trying to make the team, but has to be a bit concerning for the Broncos.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Tweaking history

Tony Romo could have been handing off to Julius Jones or Marion Barber and throwing to Terrell Owens in Denver, not Dallas, if history had been just a bit different.

Romo said the Broncos and Cowboys were his two options coming out of college after he wasn’t drafted, but he chose Dallas. The Broncos passed on both Cowboys’ tailbacks for options who didn’t pan out. Tatum Bell was selected in the second round and Jones, who has more than 2,000 yards the past two years, was selected two picks later.

At least Bell had some good moments for the Broncos. A year later, the Cowboys got a good deal when Barber fell to the 109th pick of the draft, eight picks into the fourth round. The Broncos got a running back with the final pick of the third round. Yep, it was Maurice Clarett. Barber had 14 touchdowns last year and averaged 4.8 yards per carry as Jones’ backup.

The Broncos decided to pass on Owens after bringing him in for a visit. So how would things have changed if Romo, Jones, Barber and Owens had come to Denver? Jay Cutler might have not been drafted by the Broncos. Travis Henry would almost definitely be somewhere else, Mike Bell might have never got a look in training camp last year and Cecil Sapp would probably still be toiling at fullback. Javon Walker likely would have never been acquired from Green Bay.

Something to think about as Romo, Jones, Barber and Owens play against Denver in Saturday’s preseason game.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Preseason opener thoughts

A few thoughts from the day after the Broncos’ preseason opener:

-- If there was an area of concern Monday, it was the passing game aside from Jay Cutler and Javon Walker. Backup Patrick Ramsey had only 45 yards passing in almost three quarters of work. None of the receivers had a notable game, with Brandon Marshall, Brandon Stokley and David Kircus sitting out with injuries. The Broncos will continue to search through their options to try to find which receivers are worthy of a roster spot.

-- Denver’s run defense wasn’t great, but that shouldn’t be a big problem. Teams play very cautiously early in the preseason. They don’t want to give much away. With Jim Bates’ new scheme, the Broncos will likely continue to play it close to the vest until the games count.

-- Yes, cornerback Champ Bailey gave up a catch. That was very rare last year. But the pass, caught by San Francisco’s Darrell Jackson, showed that Bailey is still on his game. The route, the pass and the catch were perfect, or Bailey probably would have knocked it away.

-- Rookie defensive end Jarvis Moss keeps trying to play through a sore knee, and he was hobbling around a lot on Monday night. The Broncos have to try to weigh whether playing through the soreness is better than him sitting out and falling behind.

-- Travis Henry is legit. Fantasy leaguers who watched Henry plow through tackles Monday night probably moved him up a bit on their board.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Walker's interview

Javon Walker gave an interview to HBO’s “Real Sports” about the death of Darrent Williams, which will be aired Tuesday. In an advance copy of the segment, Walker talks about the incident and the aftermath. And even though training camp has been pretty normal, the interview was a reminder of how fresh Williams’ death is.

Although nobody had the same experience as Walker, who held Williams as he was dying, the entire organization will continue to be affected by the death. There will be so many reminders during the season – some private, some public – that putting that aside will be impossible.

Walker was asked by HBO if the incident will affect his playing career, and the first thing he said was “I really don’t know.” He said he knows that he’ll give it his best. You’d assume all the Broncos would feel that, to various degrees. And it’s impossible to know when things will be back to normal. There’s no precedent for moving forward, at least in the Broncos' organization. Williams and Damien Nash were the first two active Broncos players to die, and they died within two months of each other.

The next reminder for the entire team will come next week. The Broncos will spend the week practicing against the Cowboys, not far from the site of Williams’ funeral, which was attended by the team.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Backup battle

Travis Henry will get at least 25 carries in many games. He’d get 50 if the Broncos thought he could handle it. So most of the time the backup tailback will be able to figure out the trivia question on the stadium scoreboard and try different flavors of Gatorade. Remember, from 1996 to 1998, the most carries a Broncos backup got in a season was 59 by Aaron Craver in 1996. That’s less than 3.7 carries per game. And remember, that was the highest mark in Terrell Davis’ three greatest seasons. Henry might not be Davis, but he’ll likely be used as such.

So why does the battle between Cecil Sapp and Mike Bell matter? Because at some point, the Broncos might need to win a game or two without Henry. Injuries are part of life for running backs, especially those like Henry who crave contact. So either Sapp or Bell could be in line for an important role in this season.

Sapp has taken many of the snaps with the second team, but Bell took most of them today. The four preseason games, starting Monday at San Francisco, should determine who gets the chance to back up Henry, which will be one of the more interesting subplots to the preseason.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Henry health

The biggest question – maybe the only question – with Broncos running back Travis Henry will be if he can take a 350-carry pounding this season.

Henry’s talent has been obvious during training camp practices. He hits the hole with authority and delivers a blow, and has the explosion to break some big runs. He’ll probably average close to 5 yards a carry in this offensive scheme that has produced so many 1,000-yard backs. But will Henry be able to play long enough this season to reach 1,500 yards? His style is to not take the easy road too often. He will get a lot of carries, and get a lot of punishment. Already in this camp he said he was a little worn out after the first few days, then had a minor hip pointer at the end of the first week.

At this point, the only thing that will keep Henry from being one of the most productive running backs in the AFC is if he can’t go 16 games.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Injury woes

If Jarvis Moss’ knee injury isn’t serious, and the initial thought by Broncos coach Mike Shanahan was it was just twisted, it still could set Moss back.

Rookies who miss practices in training camp have a tough time early in the season. In 2003, offensive tackle George Foster and running back Quentin Griffin missed most of camp and were non-factors for the team most of the year. Last season, receiver Brandon Marshall hurt himself in the first preseason game, missed the rest of preseason and had only 22 receiving yards through Denver’s first eight regular-season games.

Moss might be in the same boat if his injury is serious enough to knock him out for a week or two. His usefulness early in the season could decrease with every day he sits. And if the injury keeps him out for a long time? The Broncos would rather not think about that possibility.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Graham pitching in

The Broncos didn’t pay tight end Daniel Graham $30 million, including $15 million in guaranteed money over five years, to be just a blocker. Through the first week of training camp, it’s pretty obvious Graham will be included in the passing game as well.

Graham, who caught only 37 passes the past two years combined in New England, has been a favorite target of Broncos quarterbacks. He’s rewarded them by making some nice grabs, including a few Friday. For a man so big – and if you see Graham in person, you realize how massive he is, even compared to other tight ends – he is very agile and has good hands.

Remember too, the Broncos like using the tight end in the passing game. Shannon Sharpe became a Hall-of-Famer, Dwayne Carswell had a Pro Bowl year and Bryon Chamberlain had some good years as the main tight end in the Broncos' offense. Although the second tight end has been featured more prominently than former starter Stephen Alexander the past few years, if Graham is targeted like he has been in camp he could far surpass his season-best of 38 catches this season.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Marshall questions

If Brandon Marshall comes back to practice soon and plays like the Denver Broncos think he can, he’s probably the frontrunner to start at the receiver spot opposite Javon Walker. But as Marshall sits out of training camp nursing a quadriceps injury, that window of opportunity might be getting smaller.

By calling out Marshall this week, Broncos coach Mike Shanahan put him on notice. He wants to see something, and soon. Marshall’s biggest edge now might be that there are questions marks associated with all the other candidates. Domenik Hixon has never played an NFL game. Brandon Stokley is better suited as a third receiver – he has never been a full-time starter – and even though he has looked good in camp he is still recovering from a torn Achilles’ tendon. And deep backups like Brian Clark, David Kircus and Quincy Morgan aren’t appealing as starters.

Marshall said he should be back soon, and he thinks he will win a starting job.

“I’m not worried,” Marshall said. “I know what I can do when I get back out there and if I’m healthy enough, I’m not going to worry about it.”

Whether Shanahan agrees will be seen when Marshall returns to practice.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Rod Smith

By Frank Schwab

To Mike Shanahan, there isn’t a predicament on what to do with Rod Smith. Smith is recovering from hip surgery and hasn’t practiced yet. But Shanahan said he has told Smith he will have a place on the team, which probably means at the cutdown date he’ll be put on the physically unable to perform list and miss the first six weeks. Shanahan said Smith can take as long as he needs to heal.

Even if Smith never plays again, keeping him around wouldn’t be Shanahan’s worst idea. Smith is recognized as the leader of the Broncos, especially now that linebacker Al Wilson is gone. Is that leadership more valuable than keeping around a seventh linebacker or fifth safety who might be inactive every week? Probably.

Also, as businesslike as Shanahan is, he is sentimental about players like Smith who have done so much for the Broncos franchise. Remember, at Ed McCaffrey’s retirement press conference, Shanahan got very emotional. Parting with Smith won’t be easy either.