Broncos training camp is almost here, and this year’s camp will be more important than most, thanks to the COVID-shortened offseason.
John Elway and the rest of the front office will have to make important roster decisions based on training camp performance, which should make this year’s position battles even more fun to watch.
Here are three such battles to keep watch on the offensive side of the ball.
Running Back: Phillip Lindsay vs. Melvin Gordon.
Even though Phillip Lindsay is the incumbent in this race, Melvin Gordon should definitely be considered the favorite to win the job.
This year will be the last on Lindsay’s rookie deal, so if the Broncos wanted to get out in front of re-signing their workhorse back, they would’ve tried to sign him to an extension this offseason. Instead, they signed a big-ticket free-agent running back in Gordon, to a deal that will keep him on the roster through 2021.
That said, Lindsay is one of just four backs to rush for over a thousand yards and seven touchdowns in each of the last two seasons (Christian McCaffery, Derrick Henry, Chris Carson). Meanwhile, Gordon is coming off the worst year of his career since his rookie season.
Also, this time last year we were writing about how the Broncos wanted Royce Freeman to take the bulk of the carries, only for Lindsay to inevitably win the starting job as the more talented back.
One problem: Melvin Gordon is not Royce Freeman.
Receiver No. 3: DaeSean Hamilton vs. Tim Patrick vs. K.J. Hamler.
The Broncos added more talent to their receiving core this offseason than just about any other team in the league, drafting Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler in the first and second rounds respectively.
Jeudy is already set to start, either in the slot or opposite of Sutton on the perimeter, but Hamler’s path to starting is more difficult. He’ll have to beat out both former Penn State teammate DaeSean Hamilton and Tim Patrick in a truncated offseason that should favor the veterans on the roster.
Patrick shouldn’t be too difficult for Hamler to pass on the depth chart. Even last season, when the Broncos’ receiving core was dangerously shallow, Patrick caught only 16 passes for 218 yards. He should still find his way into the rotation, especially down in the redzone, but it’s hard to see him beating out either Hamilton or Hamler.
The real challenge for Hamler will be passing Hamilton on the depth chart. Hamilton is a more natural slot receiver and has momentum heading into the 2020 season after he ended the 2019 season by catching 17 passes for 191 yards and a score over the final six games.
Hamler’s advantage in that battle is his game-wrecking speed, which the defense has to account for even when the ball isn’t in his hands. It forces the defenders to spread out, creating bigger windows for the quarterback. Just ask Patrick Mahomes.
Backup Tight End: Jake Butt vs. Jeff Heuerman vs. Andrew Beck vs. Austin Fort vs. Troy Fumagalli:
Considering the Broncos spent a fourth-round draft pick on Albert Okwuegbunam and signed Nick Vannett this off-season, those two players will make the final roster. This also applies to Noah Fant who is the starter at the position.
Behind those three though, it is a complete free-for-all to see who will get that final roster spot at tight end.
Jake Butt and Jeff Heuerman are the most talented of the remaining options, but Butt has never been able to stay healthy, and they’re also the two priciest tight ends Denver could part ways with. They’d save nearly $4 million against the cap by cutting Heuerman, and $800,000 against the cap by cutting Butt.
Andrew Beck, Austin Fort and Troy Fumagalli each have shown a good bit of upside as a blocking tight end, though Beck should have a slight advantage over the other two considering his work at the position last season.