- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Not only did the Denver Broncos lose to the Oakland Raiders on Monday night, but it's been an unsettling few days since then for the team's key fantasy options. First, many people in Denver have seemingly forgotten how good Kyle Orton can be, and they're predictably and impatiently calling for Tim Tebow. Let me remind you that Orton is so awful that he was leading the NFL in passing yards through 11 games last season with 3,370 and had 20 touchdown passes with only six interceptions at the time. The benching wasn't exactly his fault.
Next, disappointing running back Knowshon Moreno and his sore hamstring are likely to be nowhere near the field this week, making the choice easy for frustrated fantasy owners on the fence about using him and meaning Willis McGahee made a really good call signing a contract in Denver (and DeAngelo Williams did not). McGahee is going to be like Cadillac Williams this week, a nice free-agent add who will put up big numbers, just a day earlier, and who is still out there in many leagues.
Then there's Brandon Lloyd. Ho hum. Anyone remember him? The best wide receiver in fantasy last season pulled a hamstring in the loss to the Raiders and did not practice Wednesday or Thursday. His participation in Sunday's game seems unlikely at this point, enough for me to lose faith and remove him from the Friday updated rankings (my cohorts agreed). OK, so Lloyd probably will not play, but Orton was given a vote of confidence ... someone's got to catch the ball.
We welcome back to fantasy relevance Eddie Royal and shine the spotlight on exciting sophomore Eric Decker. Royal had a nice first month or so last season with Orton, catching 25 passes in four games and scoring a few touchdowns, until Lloyd pretty much did everything after that point. Decker wasn't a factor last season, but on Monday he caught three passes for 53 yards and made people ooh and aah with a 90-yard punt return. It sure looks like this kid can play. And as bad as Orton was made out to be, he did throw for 304 yards, although I admit it wasn't one of the better performances.
The Broncos are not my team of rooting interest and I don't have an investment in Orton's career, but I have to say I think the panic buttons are being pushed way too early in Denver. We can debate all day what the Broncos should do at quarterback and whether Moreno is ever going to be a legitimate, reliable and consistent running back -- I have a good idea what people think about Orton, Tebow and Moreno, incidentally -- but looking solely at the matchup this Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, I see opportunity. Orton is going to throw the football 35 times, at least. He should complete more than half his passes and approach 300 passing yards. I ranked neither Royal nor Decker as a fantasy starter for this week, but I wouldn't want to see my opponent using them, either. Each is capable of a 100-yard game with a score.
Injuries are a part of football, and often the best statistics come from these opportunities. Looking around the league at other relevant players who could miss Week 2, I feel like we've discussed Cadillac Williams/Steven Jackson, Domenik Hixon/Hakeem Nicks and of course Ben Tate/Arian Foster quite a bit. Why not the Broncos? It sure appears the Denver defense, despite awesome new linebacker Von Miller, is going to be kind to opposing offenses, which is good news for Orton. Perhaps you don't like Orton; that's OK. I wasn't calling him a fantasy starter in the first place, more like the mid-teens in the rankings. But Lloyd became a star, and this week, someone among the wide receiver crew -- Matt Willis and tight end Daniel Fells also should see targets -- will be stretching the field.
Have a great weekend, and good luck in Week 2 and beyond.