How the Broncos’ backfield could shake out this spring

Mar 2, 2018; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions running back Saquon Barkley goes through workout drills during the 2018 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The nightmare that the 2017 season revealed that the Denver Broncos aren’t only a quarterback away from competing in the AFC once again. The team has numerous holes on both sides of the ball, but the offense certainly has more.

While the Broncos will certainly pursue a quarterback in the offseason, keep an eye on the Broncos’ running back position, as well. The team revealed at the NFL Combine that they were “looking for a running back”¬†this offseason. If the Broncos are looking to help out whichever quarterback they acquire in the offseason with an improved running game, here are a handful of ways they just might do that over the course of the offseason:

Release C.J. Anderson, move forward with Booker/Henderson/draft pick

Anderson is set to make $4.4 million (with another $100,000 as a workout incentive) in 2018, but the Broncos can save all $4.5 million if they release Anderson altogether.

The Broncos have shown tremendous confidence in Devontae Booker, the former fourth-rounder from Utah. Booker’s playing time significantly increased over the latter part of the 2017 season, essentially relegating fellow running back Jamaal Charles to the bench while taking over as the team’s primary backup running back. If the team believes that much in Booker as a full-time starter, they could choose to move on from Anderson and replace him with Booker, while second-year back De’Angelo Henderson can act as a third down/receiving option behind Booker. This option makes sense for the Broncos financially, who would only be investing $630,000 in Booker, compared to $4.5 million for Anderson’s services. Coming off of a 1,000-yard season, Anderson’s absence would leave a significant hole for the younger backs to fill. According to a report by James Palmer of NFL Network, the Broncos are not expected to release Anderson “at this time,” but will also “entertain trade offers” for Anderson as the offseason draws on. If the Broncos truly see Booker as a full-time starter, it would make the most sense to move on from Anderson.

Keep Anderson, draft early/middle round running back

These next two options will likely come down to what happens during the free agency period. If the Broncos are unable to land the prize of the quarterback class in Kirk Cousins, or decide against signing an expensive or unproven free agents like Case Keenum or A.J. McCarron, the no. 5 overall pick will almost certainly be used on one of the high-profile quarterbacks in the draft. In that instance, the Broncos will need to address the running back position later in the draft. One of the running back prospects that would make sense in the early/mid rounds of the draft is USC running back Ronald Jones, who the Broncos met with over the Combine weekend. Keeping Anderson would make little sense in this case, as the Broncos would then have four running backs (Anderson, Booker, Henderson and their draft selection) vying for playing time. Nonetheless, Anderson would provide a veteran presence in the Broncos’ backfield that would be missing if the Broncos moved forward with just Booker/Henderson and their newly-acquired running back.

Draft Saquon Barkley, keep/release Anderson

Fresh off of his historical combine performance, there is no 2018 NFL Draft prospect that is more hyped than former Penn State running back Saquon Barkley. If Barkley isn’t at the top of your ‘Broncos Draft Wish List’, you need to re-watch how he performed at Indianapolis. A once sure-fire top-10 pick, Barkley is now squarely in play to be one of the first two players selected in the draft. Recently, there have been rumors of the Broncos moving up from their slot at No. 5 to the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. If the Broncos have their eye set on Barkley, trading up in the draft would be incredibly costly.

For example, last offseason, the Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers engaged in a trade that allowed the Bears to jump over the 49ers for the second pick in the draft. Just to trade positions at Nos. 2 and 3, the Bears, who ultimately shocked the NFL world by drafting North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky, were forced to give up their third and fourth round picks from 2017 and their third round pick for 2018. Barkley might just be the best running back prospect in over a decade, but at what cost does general manager John Elway deem it’s too much? Leaping from the fifth overall pick to the top pick in the draft will likely cost the Broncos a plethora of 2018 draft picks and likely 2019 picks as well.

Were it to happen, however, the Broncos would likely part ways with Anderson and move forward with much younger/cheaper options at running back, led by their star draft pick, who could be the best running back to wear a Broncos uniform since Clinton Portis.

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