The 2018 NFL regular season has concluded, so it’s time to briefly examine the state of each team’s skill positions for fantasy purposes with an eye towards next season and/or beyond. I will be reviewing each team in the reverse order of the final standings.
Denver Broncos (6-10)
A year ago at this time, the Broncos were in dire need of competent quarterbacking after all of Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and Brock Osweiler proved incapable of leading the offense. Rather than unloading their bank vault for Kirk Cousins, the Broncos opted to sign former Minnesota quarterback Keenum for a less costly two-years/$36 million. While Keenum wasn’t terrible in his inaugural season with the blue and orange, his presence under center generated just one more win than the season prior. Part of the issue could be attributed to a vanilla offensive scheme helmed by offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave (not retained for 2019), multiple season-ending injuries along the offensive line, and the losses of experienced pass game targets Demaryius Thomas (trade) and Emmanuel Sanders (Achilles). Rightly or wrongly, the Denver front office decided Keenum’s 2018 performance wasn’t up to snuff, so the Broncos reportedly agreed in principle to a trade with Baltimore for Joe Flacco (the trade doesn’t become official until the new league year begins on March 13). The Broncos didn’t trade for the 34-year old Flacco to see him ride the bench, so the move almost assuredly relegates Keenum to a very high-priced backup at the moment. Denver will likely hold out hope that it can get something for Keenum via trade, though finding a suitor interested in taking on an $18 million 2019 salary will be a daunting task. Otherwise, a contract restructure or release for Keenum could be in the cards (the latter of which would save the Broncos $1 million in 2019 salary cap room, but result in $10 million worth of dead money). Meanwhile, Flacco’s situation doesn’t improve much from Baltimore aside from the fact he’ll be starting again, as the Broncos have one of the least experienced/proven receiving corps in the NFL, while the entire team will be undergoing an offensive overhaul under defensive-minded head coach Vic Fangio.
Many fantasy managers found themselves salivating when Denver selected Freeman in the third-round of the 2018 draft, as he figured to step right into the early-down starter role formerly held by C.J. Anderson. However, almost nobody accounted for fellow rookie (undrafted) Lindsay bursting onto the scene, and throwing a wrench into the plans of anyone who tabbed Freeman as a fantasy sleeper. Denver began the season utilizing a three-back committee, with Lindsay and Freeman sharing touches fairly equally, while 2016 fourth-round pick Booker was primarily used in hurry-up and other obvious passing situations. Slowly but surely, Lindsay and Freeman began to see their usage trend in opposite directions, and it wasn’t necessarily because Freeman was bad, but Lindsay was simply better. Freeman’s fate was essentially sealed after suffering an ankle injury during the Broncos’ Week 7 loss to Arizona, after which point Lindsay took the lead job and never looked back. Between Weeks 8 and 16, Lindsay averaged 90 total yards per game, and scored seven of his nine touchdowns before a wrist injury suffered on Christmas Eve ended his season early (leaving Lindsay 68 yards shy of Dominic Rhodes’ undrafted rookie season rushing record set in 2001). While Lindsay was a revelation in his magical rookie year, there’s reason to preach caution heading into training camp. With a new coaching staff in town, jobs are up for grabs, so Lindsay may need to prove himself all over again, and the aforementioned wrist injury (reported 4-6 month recovery time as of December) could put him at a disadvantage for learning a new offensive system if any setbacks occur. Additionally, Freeman is still lurking, and also graded out more positively than Lindsay in several advanced metrics this past season: broken tackle rate (16.0 Freeman > 4.2 Lindsay), percent of yards after contact (69.3 Freeman > 42.4 Lindsay), and average yards after contact (2.8 Freeman > 2.3 Lindsay). If healthy, Lindsay should still have a leg up on Freeman given the former is simply a more versatile backfield chess piece. However, expecting borderline RB1 numbers out of Lindsay for a second season in a row may be a stretch considering there may not be much room for error if he experiences a sophomore slump, and the offense as a whole will still likely have issues scoring.