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Joe Flacco Traded to Denver - Fantasy Impact

What a week it has been in the NFL! Between the Kyler Murray and Kareem Hunt news, there was already plenty more going on than you might expect for a random post-Super Bowl week in February. However, the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens grabbed some of the spotlight with a trade in principle to send former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco to the Broncos. The two teams cannot officially announce the trade until March 13, but the suggestion is Flacco will head to Denver in return for one of their two fourth-round picks.

For many, this news came out of the blue. Not just the fact it is a weird time for trade news but also because many people believed the Broncos would have its eyes mainly on the draft in terms of looking for a new quarterback. Many expected to see Flacco staying on the East Coast and perhaps even in the DMV area with the Washington Redskins.

The biggest question on fantasy owners' minds right now is what this deal does for the value of both he and Case Keenum as well as the other skill players in Denver. Is Flacco suddenly going to develop fantasy significance? Does Flacco's presence suddenly mean that Courtland Sutton is a more desirable fantasy prospect? What about Denver's other receivers?

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Is Flacco Set to Fly at Mile High?

There is no real denying that Flacco's career has had its ups and downs. However, from a fantasy perspective, he has never really made much of a blip on the radar, especially in standard-sized leagues. Flacco has only ever once ranked among the top-12 quarterbacks for fantasy once in his career, back in 2010 when he finished 11th. Over the last four years of his career, his best finish is 20th at the position and even before sitting out the second half of 2018 he was as good as irrelevant in the minds of fantasy owners.

In an era of pass first and quarterbacks throwing the ball for fun Flacco has a career high of 4,317 passing yards. That was also the only time in his career he broke the 4,000-yard barrier. However, the positive is that he set that career high as recently as 2016, and he was on pace to break it again prior to his injury last season. From those numbers, you could argue that Flacco is as good now as he has ever been in his career. However, as we saw above his career-best numbers did not even make him a top-12 fantasy option.

The interesting aspect for Flacco this year is the arrival of Rick Scangarello as offensive coordinator. Scangarello spent the last two years under Kyle Shanahan as quarterbacks coach, having also been with Shanahan at Atlanta for a year in 2015. Therefore, there is a decent chance that the Broncos look to implement a similar style of offense as those Shanahan offenses. That offensive style had great success with Matt Ryan, flashed with Jimmy Garoppolo at the end of 2017 and even made Nick Mullens into a competent fantasy quarterback at times. The question is whether Flacco can adjust to that style of offense? If he can, he could have the best year of his career and be a valuable in-season pickup or nice value draft pick in two-quarterback leagues.

Flacco will get to play with an above average offensive line when it comes to pass protection. Last year the Broncos offensive line ranked 11th in the league when it came to pass blocking, and was only slightly worse than the Baltimore line in adjusted sack rate according to Football Outsiders. All of this means Flacco has a chance to put up the best fantasy season of his career. He by no means becomes anything close to relevant in standard one quarterback fantasy leagues, but he has a better opportunity in Denver than he likely would have at other destinations.


The Denver Weapons

Denver is in an interesting position at the wide receiver position. They placed Emmanuel Sanders on the injured reserve last season when he was in the middle of his best season in four years. There are a lot of question marks about whether he will return to Denver next season, but as of right now he is still on the Denver roster. Sanders demonstrated last year that with a competent quarterback he could put up fantasy relevant numbers. Sanders put up the best catch rate of his career, 72.4%, the second-best number of his career when it came to receptions per game (5.9) and the third-best yards per game of his career (72.3). If he is on this roster, Sanders should be able to have a decent season with a quarterback who demonstrated he likes to hit receivers over the middle in 2018.

Second-year receiver Sutton is the big breakout candidate. Sutton averaged 16.76 yards per reception last season, and now he gets a quarterback who loves to throw a deep ball. Over the last five weeks of the season, Sutton had four games with six or more targets and caught two touchdowns in that period. He will now have a decent amount of time to work with Flacco in the preseason and has a real chance to be a breakout candidate. The 50% catch rate is a major issue but as a rookie that is definitely something he can improve on if he gets first-team reps all preseason this year.

Among the other wide receivers, there is no one I particularly feel strongly about. Tim Patrick and Daesean Hamilton should both get opportunities, but neither is likely to be drafted. That could change of Sanders is traded, and one of them can stand out in preseason and training camp. However, right now, neither of those options excite me as potential breakouts.

Flacco has never really been able to turn a tight end into a major fantasy weapon. There have been a few 500-yard, 4-5 touchdown performances, but not a truly elite tight end performance. Therefore, as it stands, the mess the Broncos have at tight end is hard for me to get excited about. Even when Flacco has had talented guys drafted he has struggled to really get the best out of them, so even if the Broncos draft another one, I have concerns about what they can produce. Jake Butt and Troy Fumagalli are deep dynasty stashes but no more.


What About Case Keenum?

The Keenum situation is pretty messy. The Flacco trade does not become official until March, and that means that the Broncos cannot realistically release Keenum until the trade is official. That damages Keenum's ability to go out and find a starting job elsewhere. The Broncos may privately permit him to talk to other teams, but he will not be able to officially sign until the other free agents can. The best case scenario for Keenum, therefore, is a trade. If a team on the rebuild is willing to trade for him as a stopgap, then there is a chance he could be a starter next season somewhere like Washington, Miami, or New York.

The most likely option is that he is backup somewhere. That means he will have little fantasy value but could become an option as the season draws on, if he gets the chance to start. I would put the likelihood that he starts in Week 1 at a maximum of 25% right now. Even if he does start then his value is mostly in deeper and two-quarterback leagues. Even when he was at his best in 2017, he still only finished 14th among quarterbacks when it came to fantasy points.


The Wrap-Up

Overall this trade has a lot of question marks for fantasy purposes. If Flacco adjusts to the new system in Denver, there is a chance he is a sneaky fantasy-relevant quarterback as a streamer. However, the odds are that he will not be anyone that is taken seriously most weeks in fantasy and he just sits in that abyss of solid but unspectacular QBs. As for the receivers, Sutton probably sees the biggest boost here as he is the most likely option to be a deep threat, and Flacco has shown the capability to throw the deep ball plenty in his career. Keenum is the big loser in real life, but in fantasy purposes, he just goes from a very low-end fantasy option to an extremely low-end fantasy option.

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