Three games in, the Broncos and their fans have a pretty solid idea of which players are roster locks, and which are on the chopping block.
Here are four of those players that find themselves in danger. These are young Broncos that have yet to live up to their draft status, and could be staring down the barrel of their last two weeks with the franchise.
Devontae Booker was on the hot seat entering training camp, with Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman and Andy Janovich already penciled in for roster spots in the backfield, while Devontae Jackson and Khalfani Muhammad nipped at his heels.
Things only got worse for the former Utah Ute, when the Broncos agreed to terms with Theo Riddick, a pass-catching specialist and third-down back, which was Booker’s role a season ago. Stellar performances by Muhammad and Jackson in the first two exhibition games also raised the heat on Booker’s seat.
Though, following Monday night’s matchup with the 49ers, Booker should feel much better about how he stands with the team. He was given a good deal of work with the first team, led all Broncos in touches with five, gained 23 yards, and had the most yards per carry of any Denver back.
Whether or not Booker makes the roster will depend on how he, Devontae Jackson and Khalfani Muhammad perform in Saturday’s game against the Rams.
Jake Butt would’ve likely been a casualty of the roster cutdown if not for Austin Fort’s torn ACL in Seattle.
Butt has been able to practice very little, and his involvment with the team has been limited throughout training camp. While he was unable to take the field in practice, 2018’s fifth-round pick Troy Fumagalli, and undrafted free agent Austin Fort were two of the better practice players for the Broncos.
NFL teams carry three or four tight ends on their roster, meaning Butt would’ve had to beat out at least one of the young hopefuls. Now, with Fort on the injured reserve, Butt just has to hope the Broncos keep four tight ends to avoid the chopping block, which they should.
That being said, it’s very possible the Broncos feel set with Fumagalli, Noah Fant and Jeff Heuerman, and opt to use that extra roster spot elsewhere, rather than carry a tight end coming off his third torn ACL that doesn’t offer anything different to the final roster.
Coming out of college, Walker was a tweener who the Broncos chose to move inside for interior pressure in pass-rushing situations. Injuries at edge, though, forced Walker to move back outside and cut too much weight.
Under Fangio, Walker is back at his natural position and playing up to his draft status. In Denver’s first preseason game, he wrapped up Kurt Benkert for a sack, and against the 49ers he had second-most tackles on the team.
The only thing that could land Walker on the chopping block is another young preseason standout, Dre’Mont Jones. The Broncos drafted Jones this year to fill the same role they envisioned Walker filling back in 2017. While Walker’s been lights-out this preseason, Jones has been just as good, and the new coaching staff is much more invested in the rookie’s success.
If it comes down to either keeping Demarcus Walker or Dre’Mont Jones, the Broncos will keep Jones without a moment of hesitation, but the door is open for the Broncos keeping both. Just imagine a third-and-long package with Shelby Harris in the middle, Jones and Walker at end, and Von Miller and Bradley Chubb coming off the edge. Yikes.
The third and final member of the 2017 draft class to make this list, Brendan Langley, is skating on the thinnest ice of anyone listed here.
He flamed out at cornerback for the Broncos, as he was a massive liability in coverage. The Broncos took him in the third round despite how raw Langley was, taking a swing on his high-end athleticism in hopes that he could develop into an elite cornerback, but he was never even able to develop into a backup.
Langley made the move to wide receiver this offseason, a position he found to be more natural, but his best chance to make the roster is as Denver’s kick returner, and he hasn’t done himself any favors there. In the Broncos’ first exhibition game, Langley muffed one of his first returns, and hasn’t made a kick or punt return in the two games since. Even in the passing game, Langley has seen limited work since his muff, targeted four times but only coming away with one reception for six yards.
Barring an immaculate turnaround, he will have to hope for a job with one of the other 31 teams, or a spot on the practice squad.
Denver is in LA to face the Rams at 8 p.m. MT on Saturday.