SEAHAWKS // BRONCOS OVERVIEW
By the time I reach this point in the research and writing of the NFL Edge most weeks, I start getting super hyped for the slate. Most of the questions I had heading into my research have been answered, and my perception of the slate has usually started to seriously take shape. And while there is still plenty of roster building and puzzle solving left to do, the enormous bulk of work — the work that I look back on at the end of the season and say, “How is it possible for me to pull off that amount of research and writing in only two days?” — is finished, setting us up with a clear idea of how the slate should be viewed, and putting us in position to maximize profitability throughout the season.
That’s where I am right now, as we hit the final lap on this article for Week 1. Let’s get it!
SEAHAWKS RUN OFFENSE
Last season, Seattle’s offensive line was an embarrassment to function and taste, ranking 31st in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards, 27th in power rank, and 32nd in stuffed rank. Even with the addition of Duane Brown, PFF has the Seahawks’ line projected as the number 30 unit heading into this season.
Chris Carson will open the season as the Seahawks’ two-down starter in the backfield after running circles around rookie Rashad Penny in training camp, and he showed himself to be capable in limited work last year, with a respectable 60.6 elusive rating on PFF (this would have placed him in the top 20 if he’d had enough carries to qualify). His average yards after contact were unimpressive, however, and the Seahawks’ line is not going to do him any favors. Carson should see a few targets as an outlet, but he’s unlikely to be proactively schemed the ball in the air — requiring him to gain his fantasy points on the ground (and lowering his floor compared to other backs we can consider).
Further impeding the upside of Carson is a backward-thinking Broncos coaching staff that “emphasized stopping the run” last year. While forward-thinking coaches (Wade Phillips being a leader among men in this area) have become more and more willing to trust the analytics and allow gains on the ground between the 20s, Vance Joseph and company have emphasized run stopping — finishing last year as the top defense in the NFL in yards allowed per carry. This is a tough matchup for a two-down back behind an atrocious offensive line.
SEAHAWKS PASS OFFENSE
Russell Wilson will be running for his life again this year — which is bad if you are Russell Wilson or a Seahawks fan, but is actually good for fantasy, as Russ is one of the game’s great self-creators, and one of the masters of the broken play. When the offense breaks down, Russ can put pressure on the defense with his legs and his willingness to take deep shots — often tossing the ball 40+ yards downfield into tight coverage or double coverage and trusting his receivers to come down with the rock.
Denver’s pass rush took a huge step back last year, finishing 22nd in sacks (hey…but at least they stopped the run — right?), and they slipped to 14th in yards allowed per pass attempt, before losing Aqib Talib to the Rams this offseason. Denver did allow a below-average catch rate, YAC rate, and average depth of target, so this is by no means a positive matchup; but it is less imposing than the reputation that precedes it, making Russ a guy to keep in mind in large-field tourneys (his floor is low in this matchup, but he still maintains week-winning upside and should go massively overlooked; as mentioned earlier in this article and throughout this site: the time to take a shot on a sub-optimal, low-owned play is when that play carries week-winning upside — so while Russ is not in the “good play” category, he should absolutely cycle through our thinking in large-field tourneys).
It’s quite a bit more difficult to pinpoint any pass catching options to lean on, with Doug Baldwin proclaiming his knee will not be 100% healthy all year, with Paul Richardson gone, and with Jimmy Graham gone. Only Jacksonville, Cincinnati, and Baltimore were tougher on wide receivers last year in fantasy, and that was with Denver struggling in the red zone — which is not guaranteed to carry over to this year. Tyler Lockett or Doug Baldwin could splash with a big play, but this is a significantly sub-optimal spot, and Russ is best considered “naked” (i.e., paired with none of his weapons) if you take a shot on him in tourneys.
BRONCOS RUN OFFENSE
Seattle was more “name” than “game” last year on defense, ranking 14th in yards allowed per carry and allowing above-average fantasy production to wide receivers on FanDuel, FantasyDraft, and DraftKings…before losing Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor this offseason. Earl Thomas is also unlikely to be on the field, as his holdout continues (Update: Thomas has returned to practice; he will improve this secondary, but communication could be an issue among so many guys who haven’t practiced with their theoretical leader; ultimately, I’m not changing expectations on this matchup in any major way). We’ll get to the Broncos’ pass attack in a moment, but in the run game the Broncos bring in an average (to slightly above-average) offensive line, and even with the offensive coordinator change, they figure to keep their approach pretty similar to 2017, when they ranked middle of the pack in run play percentage and pace of play. By holding opponents to the third-fewest plays per game in the NFL last year, the Broncos were quietly able to rack up the second-most offensive plays per game in the league.
This backfield should be a straight split early in the season between Devontae Booker and rookie Royce Freeman, and while expectations lean heavily toward Freeman taking over the lead job as the season moves along, Booker is expected to retain a role on third downs and in the pass game, limiting Freeman’s later-season upside. This will be a backfield to keep an eye on, as Freeman ran great in the preseason, but we head into Week 1 with uncertainty hanging over this grouping, and with “guess and hope” as the only rationalization for putting one of these backs on a roster. There is a chance that talent wins out early and the Broncos allow Freeman to take around 70% of the running back snaps, but the likeliest path to a strong game for one of these guys is “a long run” or “multiple touchdowns,” neither of which is comfortable to hope for at uncertain volume.
BRONCOS PASS OFFENSE
With no serious tight end threat and running backs who project for minimal pass game roles, the Broncos’ wide receivers enter this season once again with a great fantasy setup, in which we know the majority of the targets will flow through a small group of talented players. Three-wide sets for the Broncos this year will feature Emmanuel Sanders, Demaryius Thomas, and rookie Courtland Sutton (or “Megatron Jr.,” as the Broncos have started calling him — ironic, given that Demaryius Thomas was the original heir apparent to Calvin Johnson, and was dubbed Optimus Prime coming out of Georgia Tech).
Sutton has balled out in training camp, impressing with his football acumen, his route-running, and his hands, and he should have an immediate role — probably looking at four to seven targets most games. This is not enough to provide “floor,” but he will have ceiling every week.
By a variety of measures, Demaryius lost a step last season, and I’m entering this season more cautious on his season-long upside than others are (with Demaryius going in the fourth round of Best Ball drafts, I have 0% exposure to him), but I am a longtime believer in Demaryius, and I’ll be watching him closely early on to see if he has regained some of his quickness and explosion. In training camp, he and Case Keenum did not establish a connection as strong as the one Keenum developed with Sanders, but his target floor sits at about six (there probably won’t be more than one game all year in which he falls shy of that mark), and he’ll have numerous games this year of double-digit targets — with his patented YAC ability.
The real standout in this group is Emmanuel Sanders, who costs 10.0% to 10.5% of the salary cap on all three sites — a bargain for a guy who has averaged 7.7, 8.6, and 8.6 targets per game across the last three seasons. Sanders gutted out an ankle injury for most of the 2017 season, and he is fully healthy at the start of this year — with reports out of Broncos camp that he and Keenum were fully in sync. The Seahawks’ starting secondary projects to be Shaquill Griffin, Byron Maxwell, Tedric Thompson, and Brad McDougald. It is dangerous to simply assume that this no-name secondary will fail to come together — but at least early in the season, we should view this as a unit to attack, especially as the Seahawks’ pass rush has taken steps back as well.
When I looked at this game pre-research, I had no idea how I would end up viewing it, but post-research it appears to spit out a few obvious conclusions:
1) Russ and Courtland Sutton are strong tourney targets, as guys with potential week-winning upside and low ownership. With Sutton costing only 7.8% of the salary cap on FanDuel, 7.5% on FantasyDraft, and 7.2% on DraftKings, he is also viable in cash if you can stomach the uncertainty; his target projection is not far off from guys like Keelan Cole and John Brown in the same price range, and his upside is just as high.
2) Emmanuel Sanders is a surprisingly enticing play, and is viable in cash games and tourneys — at a discounted price on all three sites.
3) Royce Freeman, Demaryius Thomas, and (to a lesser extent) Seahawks receivers are all viable in tourneys (though none stand out as great plays), and Case Keenum even has some moderate-floor, decent-ceiling appeal as a salary saver at QB.
*UPDATE: SEPTEMBER 2 // Full “Updates” List
Byron Maxwell (listed above as a likely starting corner) has been “sent to I.R.” Before that happened, there were rumors that the Seahawks were considering cutting him, so clearly he was not going to be on the field if they could help it. Ultimately, this changes nothing for us, but it further emphasizes the overflow of question marks in Seattle’s suddenly no-name secondary.