Football is almost upon us, which means it’s time for the Broncos to cut their roster down from 80 players to 53. Here is what the final roster should look like once the dust has settled.
Starter: Drew Lock
Backup: Jeff Driskel
For the first time since 2015, there is very little intrigue at the quarterback position for the Broncos.
Drew Lock is the unquestioned starter, and how much he develops from his impressive five-game audition will likely determine the fate of the Broncos 2020 season. It would take a collapse of Mitch Trubisky-like proportions for him to lose his current grip of the starting job.
Meanwhile, Jeff Driskel has had a poor enough training camp to give some thought to the idea of replacing him with Brett Rypien, but doing so doesn’t make much financial sense and wouldn’t provide much of an upgrade if at all. Rypien should make the practice squad though.
Running back (3)
Starter: Phillip Lindsay
Backups: Melvin Gordon and Royce Freeman
The signing of Melvin Gordon made it initially seem like he would become the workhorse in the Broncos backfield, but training camp has shifted that mindset as Phillip Lindsay has been the better of the two backs.
Lindsay’s added muscle and improved ability as a receiver and pass protector should further cement him as Denver’s lead back, as those were the two aspects lacking most in his game.
As Lindsay continues to own the lead back role, expect Gordon to slide into a slightly inflated version of the role Royce Freeman possessed last year, while Freeman slides into a slightly inflated version of the role formerly controlled by Devontae Booker.
Tight end (4)
Starter: Noah Fant
Backups: Nick Vannett, Albert Okwuegbunam, Jake Butt
The first three spots on the Broncos tight end depth chart are pretty easy to project, but the fourth spot is one of the biggest toss-ups remaining on the offensive side of the ball prior to cut-downs.
Noah Fant will be Denver’s lead guy at tight end and should see 80 percent of the team’s snaps there, if not closer to 90. Meanwhile, Nick Vannett will be the team’s primary blocking tight end and Albert Okwuegbunam will be a scary threat in the red zone.
The Broncos’ fourth tight-end will be either Jake Butt or Andrew Beck and that decision will come down to what Denver wants out of the player occupying that roster spot. If they value versatility the most, Beck should be the guy as he can perform double-duty as a tight end and fullback. If the Broncos value talent and ability as a tight end the most, Butt should be the choice as he’s a better blocker and receiver from the tight end position than Beck.
Wide receiver (7)
Starters: Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick
Backups: DaeSean Hamilton, K.J. Hamler, Tyrie Cleveland, Diontae Spencer
Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy are locks to be starters, but the No. 3 wide receiver job is more hotly contested. Jeudy has been working out of the slot primarily during training camp, so Tim Patrick gets the starting nod as he’s better suited to be a boundary receiver than DaeSean Hamilton.
Hamilton should still make the roster as the primary rotational receiver, but he’s not a lock. K.J. Hamler will be incorporated into the offense slower than expected because of his hamstring injury, but his roster spot is still untouchable.
Tyrie Cleveland and Diontae Spencer are the biggest toss-ups in the receiver room, as their value would mostly be on special teams, but they might be too talented to pass up. Spencer was a Pro Bowl alternate as a returner last year and Cleveland has had a surprisingly fantastic camp
Offensive line (9)
Starters (left to right): Garett Bolles, Dalton Risner, Lloyd Cushenberry III, Graham Glasgow, Elijah Wilkinson
Backups (left to right): Jake Rodgers, Netane Muti, Austin Schlottman, Demar Dotson
Garett Bolles and Elijah Wilkinson were expected to compete for the starting left tackle job, but Ja’Wuan James‘ decision to opt-out guaranteed they’d start for Week 1 at least. Demar Dotson will serve as the insurance policy to Wilkinson as age will prevent him from starting, and although Calvin Anderson has been better in camp, Jake Rodgers makes more sense as a backup left tackle.
Dalton Risner and Graham Glasgow are locked in to their starting jobs on the interior and the Broncos will have some very capable backups for them in Netane Muti and Austin Schlottman. Muti would likely be the last one the team would turn to considering how raw he is, but the upside is unbelievable so the Broncos can’t let him go.
Schlottman forced Lloyd Cushenberry to compete to be the starting center, but Denver’s third-round pick earned that job in camp and should be the starter for Week 1.
Defensive line (6)
Starters: Jurrell Casey, Shelby Harris, Dre’Mont Jones, Mike Purcell
Backups: DeMarcus Walker, McTelvin Agim
The Broncos defensive line should really be getting more love than they are. Jurrell Casey and Shelby Harris are some of the best interior pass rushers in the league, and Dre’Mont Jones has looked so good at training camp, Casey compared Jones to a younger version of himself.
Jones will technically start Week 1 as a rotational player, but the starting lineup should rotate based on opponent. Playing the Chiefs? Then Jones is more valuable because he offers more pass rush. Playing the Titans? Then Purcell is more valuable because he can swallow up blocks and clog more running lanes.
McTelvin Agim will join Jones in that rotational role, where he’s also looked fantastic during camp. His burst off the line of scrimmage is truly special for an interior defensive lineman, and as he refines the rest of his game, he could become a star. Demarcus Walker vs. Christian Covington is the big toss-up here as the Broncos signed Covington this off-season but they wouldn’t lose much by cutting him and Walker has more upside.
Edge Rusher (4)
Starters: Von Miller, Bradley Chubb
Backups: Jeremiah Attaochu, Malik Reed
Edge rusher is one of the most loaded position groups on the roster, as Denver has six players on their 80-man roster that are talented enough to be worthy of a final roster spot at edge rusher.
The starting duo of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb requires no introduction, and the second wave behind them is pretty talented too. Jeremiah Attaochu had an excellent close to the year, recording 3.5 sacks in the final four weeks, and Malik Reed played very well in 2019 considering it was his rookie season after going undrafted from a non-Power Five school.
Justin Hollins was part of the third line behind Attaochu and Reed, but following Justin Strnad’s season-ending wrist injury, he moved over to inside linebacker. Derreck Tuszka was the other member of that third wave, and while he could still make the final roster, he’ll likely be a practice squad player in 2020.
Inside Linebacker (5)
Starters: Alexander Johnson, Todd Davis
Backups: Mark Barron, Justin Hollins, Joe Jones
Alexander Johnson and Todd Davis were always locks to make the final roster, and following his incredibly recent contract, Mark Barron is a lock as well. That leaves just one to two spots up for grabs with Josey Jewell, Joe Jones and Hollins competing.
Hollins is the most likely of those three to make the final roster because the coaching staff loves his upside and he has the ability to help the defense both as an edge rusher and as a more athletic inside linebacker than Davis in coverage.
The last spot should come down to a competition between Jones and Jewell. Jones was a special teams captain for the Broncos last year and he also has a higher potential ceiling in coverage. Meanwhile, Jewell is more experienced playing in Denver’s defense and could offer a better contrast as a heavy run-stuffer in a linebacking core that is fairly light and coverage-focused now.
Starters: A.J. Bouye, Bryce Callahan, De’Vante Bausby
Backups: Michael Ojemudia, Davontae Harris, Essang Bassey
As is the case at wide receiver, the top two spots on the depth chart at cornerback are locked up by A.J. Bouye and Bryce Callahan, as the camp competitions start at the No. 3 cornerback spot and go through the bottom of the depth chart.
De’Vante Bausby has looked like the best cornerback in training camp not named Bouye or Callahan, and he was the Broncos best rotational cornerback last season as well, so it makes sense that he would win that last starting cornerback job.
Michael Ojemudia should see more time than Davontae Harris once healthy, and now that Isaac Yiadom has been traded to New York, the Broncos find themselves with room for undrafted free agent Essang Bassey, who’s earned tons of praise from Fangio as a slot corner.
Starters: Justin Simmons, Kareem Jackson
Backups: Trey Marshall, P.J. Locke
Trey Marshall is a favorite of Fangio’s staff, and while he was a terrific run defender and tackler this season, he struggled a ton in coverage, allowing a perfect passer rating when targeted.
The backup safety spot next to Marshall is anyone’s guess, but as Alijah Holder has had to battle some soft tissue injuries, and P.J. Locke has played well as his replacement, the nod goes to Locke here.
Brandon McManus, Sam Martin, Jacob Bobenmoyer
The specialists are the easiest part of the roster to project because they’re each the only players at their positions on the team. Sam Martin was one of the most underrated signings of the off-season and should help the defense out by being a tremendous upgrade on Colby Wadman.