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Fantasy Football 2020: Projecting the Broncos Backfield

by Alex Kurpeski

 

The Denver Broncos made a bold statement when they signed former Pro Bowl RB Melvin Gordon to a two-year, 16 million-dollar contract in free agency. This statement, directed at a number of different parties (the running backs already on the roster, the fans who had grown tired of complacent front office moves, the Chargers for allowing an elite back to walk to a division rival, etc.) effectively announced the integration of a new era of Broncos football. While Gordon will be asked to share the sugar with incumbent starter Philip Lindsay and the rest of the team’s backs, he should benefit from the change of scenery. 

 

Perhaps the most polarizing element of Gordon’s game is his unparalleled productivity in the scoring department. After scoring zero touchdowns in his first season with the Chargers, Gordon averaged 9 rushing touchdowns per season in his final four years with the organization, while also topping the 1,000 yard threshold in 2017. Say what you will about the source of Gordon’s fantasy production, but his track record speaks for itself. Since entering the league in 2015, Gordon has finished as the RB48 (yuck), RB7, RB5, RB8, and RB23 despite missing 16% of his games. For the last half-decade, Gordon has been a mainstay in the fantasy sphere and that should continue even as he finds himself in a new situation with the Broncos. With a well-rounded, relatively healthy back like Gordon, the sky’s the limit even in a RBBC.

 

gordon 2

 

While Gordon’s shiny contract should keep him at the head of the backfield, he should have a close timeshare with Lindsay on both passing and running downs. Despite standing at just 5’7, 195 lbs, Lindsay looks the part of a workhorse back when the Broncos have leaned on him in that capacity, having led the team in every rushing category in both 2018 and 2019, finishing as the RB13 and RB19 while averaging 13.56 fantasy points per-game across that two year period. Lindsey’s floor as a feature back is as a low-end RB2, so it would be odd for the team to ice him out of the game plan completely. Lindsey has also caught 70/95 targets in his professional career, displaying impressive chops as a third-down back. He’s incredibly undersized but you wouldn’t even notice by watching him play, as Lindsey has shown no fear running through tacklers when he has to. Combining his overall competence with Gordon’s similar skill set (in a much larger frame) could make Denver’s rushing attack one of the league’s best in 2020. 

 

The biggest issue when it comes to top-heavy committees is that the third and fourth backs on the depth chart will often pop in to steal some pivotal carries in the red zone, often ruining the fantasy performances of one or both of the other backs for that week. For the sake of any managers rostering either Gordon or Lindsay, the fate of current third-stringer and former dynasty league super-prospect Royce Freeman will be a curious case worth monitoring. Freeman, who has fallen behind Lindsey for two consecutive seasons, may be best served to be traded or released this offseason, as there will be very few touches left for him now that Gordon is in the mix. While the former Oregon standout did bring some utility as a pass-catcher last season (43 receptions on 50 targets), he’s been largely ineffective on the ground, averaging just 3.9 YPC on 262 attempts. At 5’11, 240 lbs, Freeman is a beastly back who has yet to run as angrily as he did when he was the workhorse back for the Ducks. Unlike most backs his size, Freeman is fairly well-rounded, so his issues translating that talent into production remain mysterious. It’s quite possible that this 1-2 punch becomes a ‘three-headed monster’, especially if Freeman impresses during mini-camp. If this becomes the case, the Broncos backfield will become borderline untouchable in my opinion, with far too many mouths to feed. 

 

lindsay

 

Behind these three backs, there could be a small role for either Khalfani Muhammad or undrafted rookie LeVante Bellamy, both of whom resemble Lindsay’s archetype as undersized backs who play much bigger than they look. Given Muhammad’s inability to carve out a role these past couple of seasons, I would bet on Bellamy making the roster ahead of him, especially after his record-setting career at Western Michigan, where he tallied 1,472 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns in his final season, his only season as a college ‘bellcow’. The converted receiver brings all the skills to the table that you want to see in an NFL tailback, so should the Broncos move on from Freeman, Bellamy could very well have some sneaky upside in dynasty formats. Let’s take a look at some rough projections for how I think this backfield may look: 

 

Melvin Gordon:

 

  • 864 rushing yards
  • 201 ATT
  • 5 rushing TDs
  • 28 receptions
  • 247 receiving yards
  • 2 receiving TDs
  • 188.1 fantasy points (RB17-24)

 

Philip Lindsay

 

  • 613 rushing yards
  • 135 ATT
  • 4 rushing TDs
  • 23 receptions
  • 305 receiving yards
  • 2 receiving TDs
  • 150.8 fantasy points (RB27-36)

 

Royce Freeman

 

  • 287 rushing yards
  • 57 ATT
  • 2 rushing TDs
  • 14 receptions
  • 109 receiving yards
  • 0 receiving TDs
  • 65.6 fantasy points (RB57-66)

 

LeVante Bellamy 

 

  • 113 rushing yards
  • 19 ATT
  • 0 rushing TD
  • 7 receptions
  • 56 receiving yards
  • 0 receiving TD
  • 23.9 fantasy points (RB90-100+)

 

Both Gordon and Lindsay should finish in the top-35 barring injury, as they should both easily surpass 100 rushing attempts while sharing duties in the receiving game. As for Freeman and Bellamy, they could have some big games if given double-digit touches, however it may be hard to forecast when these games may occur. 

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