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So much for Tebowmania?
According to multiple reports from Broncos beat writers, Tim Tebow has been thoroughly outplayed by Kyle Orton in training camp, to the extent that team officials are now proclaiming that not only will Orton not be traded, but he's the team's clear No. 1 quarterback. That's a huge reversal from the accepted party line all summer, which proclaimed that the Broncos would get a midround draft pick for Orton and give Tebow a shot at translating his running and leadership skills into being an NFL starter.
Now, let me pump the brakes here a minute. The Dolphins were reportedly relatively close to trading for Orton a week or so ago, although they claim that no official offer was made. That could just be semantics; insiders suggest the biggest sticking point to a deal wasn't draft-pick compensation, but rather contract negotiations between the Dolphins and Orton. The Dolphins have subsequently hitched their wagon to Matt Moore's star (Moore will likely back up Chad Henne), which sounds awful to me. They or some other team could easily still come calling, either during August or once the season begins. Those who say an Orton trade is definitively dead are, I think, overstating the case. Orton will absolutely not get traded right up until the moment he does (if he does). I don't believe it's an impossibility, and so Tebow isn't completely out of the running here.
Still, it's foolish to ignore observers who claim Tebow isn't throwing well, so for the moment let's take the news at face value: Orton is the No. 1 QB in Denver, and Tebow will battle with Brady Quinn for backup duties. What does this mean for fantasy?
Orton was on his way to a very nice season with Josh McDaniels at the helm last year: He began with five straight games of at least 295 yards passing, and through Week 10 was legitimately still in the Pro Bowl conversation. But he crashed and burned thereafter, and lost his starting job. It's tempting to say he could build on 2010's fine start, only I'm not so sure John Fox wants it that way. No, Fox isn't Bud Grant or Chuck Noll. He's not an archconservative playcaller. But he's not a wild-and-crazy passing guy, either: He plays as close to the vest as his defense will allow him. The Broncos will still probably give up a lot of points this year, so they'll have to throw some. But I think it's fair to say Fox's tendencies don't allow him to throw down the field nearly as much as McDaniels'.
Because of this, and because of the specter of Tebow jumping in at any time, I'd hesitate to consider Orton anywhere near a fantasy starter even in a 12-team league. But in today's NFL, with a passel of ugly QB situations, he probably is a top-20 option. Tebow, on the other hand, is nothing but a (very) late-round gamble. He could rush for some TDs in specialty packages. He could take over the job at some point and play passably well. But it's often difficult to carry an inexperienced backup QB on a standard-league fantasy roster.
The real question ESPN standard-league players have about the Broncos' offense may be: Does this news make Brandon Lloyd any more attractive? After all, this was fantasy's No. 1 wideout last season, and as a group our panel of experts ranked him 17th at his position. Does this news make a repeat of last season more likely? My short answer is: No.
Lloyd derived much of his '10 value from running down the field and catching bombs. His 15.9 yards-at-the-catch average was the highest for any receiver with at least 40 grabs last year. Though he and Orton made some sweet music together, that came under McDaniels. I don't see Fox authorizing the same throw-it-up-in-the-air-and-let-Brandon-go-get-it playbook. In his very best season, Carolina's Steve Smith's top yards-at-the-catch average was 12.6, and his second-best was 10.0. Heck, according to STATS, Inc., no Panthers receiver under Fox ever beat that 12.6 mark.
Add to the fact that Lloyd still has the whiff of a "one-year wonder" about him (he'd been in the NFL seven seasons before his breakout '10 campaign), and I think a No. 17 ranking among WRs is frankly generous. Personally, I don't think I'd have him in my top 20, regardless of whether Orton stays the starting QB all year.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy.