CFAs with the best early odds to make the Broncos 53-man roster

The 2017 NFL Draft may be over, but the Broncos are still hard at work building a roster for training camp. The Broncos unofficially have 15 college free agents slated to join them and compete for roster spots this fall.

For eleven consecutive years, ending in 2015, the Broncos had at least one college (aka undrafted) free agent make the roster. Kyle Peko made the 53-man roster in 2016, and Kalif Raymond made the roster off the practice squad in December.

Following the draft, head coach Vance Joseph and general manager John Elway made it clear that there will be competition for every roster spot. They were speaking specifically about drafted players, but their comments certainly apply to the crop of incoming college free agents as well.

“Every job is always open. Between OTAs and training camp, it’s a competition. Everyone is fighting for their jobs. It’s the NFL,” Joseph said.

Elway echoed that sentiment.

“There’s always competition there. There’s always somebody trying to take your job. That’s what makes the NFL the NFL. That’s why we want great competitors. Because if we get great competitors, we’ll get the best out of them,” he said.

Denver has depth needs at several positions, which weighs heavily into our initial evaluation and obviously there’s an entire spring and summer of minicamp, OTAs and training camp to evaluate players, but here’s an early look at the players from this year’s crop of CFAs with the best chance to find themselves on the Broncos roster after the final day of cuts:

1: Josh Banderas, ILB, Nebraska

Banderas may be the Broncos’ most-talented college free agent. He lead the Cornhuskers in tackles his senior season in the competitive Big Ten conference and also added seven tackles for loss in a conference known for their big uglies in the trenches. Being 6’3, 240 pounds, he’s also one of the few that has the size to play the same position in the NFL as he did in college.

He also plays a position at which the Broncos lack depth. The Broncos currently have only four players listed at inside linebacker: Brandon Marshall, Todd Davis, Zaire Anderson and Corey Nelson. Last year they carried four on the active roster. God forbid the Broncos suffer a serious injury at the position, they will be extremely thin. These reasons alone give him a shot to make the team next season.

2: Erik Austell, OT, Charleston Southern

Austell has a good chance to make the Broncos roster for three reasons: First, the Broncos only have five tackles on the roster in Garett Bolles, Donald Stephenson, Menelik Watson, Ty Sambrailo, Michael Schofield and Justin Murray.  If he competes well in camp and in the regular season, he can convince Broncos brass to take a chance on him rather than take chances on players that have already had chances in the NFL and underperformed, a la Schofield and Stephenson.

Second, his competition isn’t that intimidating. Watson and Bolles are pretty much locks to make the team, but Sambrailo, Schofield, Stephenson and Murray are vulnerable. Last year Denver carried three tackles, so Austell really just needs to outperform that bunch to earn a spot.

Finally, Austell was a good player in college, albeit against FCS competition. In his senior season he was named to the All-Big South first team and the AP FCS All-American second team. He was also an integral member of an offensive line that was sixth in rushing in the FCS.

3: Cameron Hunt, OL, Oregon

Sensing a trend here? The Broncos are looking for all the help they can get along the line. Hunt played mostly guard in college, but he did get a couple of starts at tackle. It’ll be an open competition since there are no solidified starters at the tackle positions, so it’s up to the players to prove their worth. If the 6-foot-4, 300-pound Hunt can outperform players like Schofield, Sambrailo and Murray, he has a shot at making the team as a tackle.

He also has a solid chance to make the team as a backup guard. The starters at the guard positions are pretty solidified with Ron Leary and Max Garcia, but backing them up are Connor McGovern and Billy Turner.

The major thing to point out is that the Broncos tend to simply keep their best offensive linemen, regardless of position. So, just like Austell, if Hunt can play better than two guys, he’ll give himself a great chance to make the cut. It seems like John Elway is losing faith in Schofield, and all signs point to this camp being Sambrailo’s last opportunity to prove himself. Because of this, the offensive line positions are up for grabs.

Other candidates

Other college free agents of note are Michigan safety Dymonte Thomas, Duke wide receiver Anthony Nash and Kansas State safety Dante Barnett. While these players are talented, the Broncos have less need at the safety positions, and they also selected two wider receivers in the draft.