The training camp and preseason period are winding down and the regular season is almost upon us, but there are still a few remaining position battles that have to get sorted out.
Of course, we now know that Teddy Bridgewater will be the Broncos’ starting quarterback, but there are other important battles all throughout the roster that will help shape Denver’s 2021 campaign.
Which battles are most important and who will win them? Let’s take a look.
Tyrie Cleveland vs. Seth Williams vs. Dionte Spencer vs. Kendall Hinton
One of the most wide-open position battles remaining on the Broncos roster is the battle at the back-end of the wide receiver room.
Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler are all guaranteed roster spots, and the same goes for Tim Patrick if he isn’t traded before the start of the season. Trinity Benson is just a step below those guys but is a near-lock in his own right.
That leaves one, maybe two if they’re lucky, roster spots open for the talented quartet of Tyrie Cleveland, Seth Williams, Dionte Spencer and Kendall Hinton.
Of that group, you have two boundary receivers — Cleveland and Williams — and two slot receivers — Spencer and Hinton — to choose from. If the Broncos do decide to keep two, one would think they would keep one of each play-style, but that isn’t set in stone.
Hinton seems to be the biggest longshot. He started off training camp hot, but has cooled down recently and hasn’t made a big impact in the games. Compare that to his stylistic counterpart, Spencer — who would be asked to fill a similar role and is currently experiencing an entirely opposite trajectory.
After a slow start to camp, he’s started to heat up, and flashed the potential to be a fixture on more than just special teams against Seattle. That’s something he must do to make the roster, but ultimately, his skillset might be too redundant alongside Hamler, Benson, and to a lesser extent, Jeudy.
Cleveland seems to be a relative longshot in his own right as he has struggled mightily in camp and hasn’t been a factor in the preseason games. He’s got the athletic build of someone with excellent special teams potential, but it hasn’t come together yet and his strong performance last season might not be enough to save him a roster spot with how crowded the room is.
That leaves us with Williams, who right now should be considered a slight favorite. He’s a boundary receiver, which Denver might need with Sutton returning from an ACL injury and Patrick on the trade block, and he’s only gotten better as camp and preseason have worn on.
At the end of the day, this battle seems likely to come down to Cleveland and Williams, and Williams has been performing better lately and is the only one who the current GM has invested in.
Prediction: Seth Williams
Bobby Massie vs. Calvin Anderson
This battle has been pretty even all throughout camp, so a few miscues against the Seahawks could prove to be the determining factor.
Calvin Anderson struggled in Seattle, making multiple unforced mental errors that put his quarterback in a bad position. Meanwhile, Bobby Massie remained the steady — though ultimately unexciting — veteran and has been consistently better in pass protection, which should be most important to Denver.
Anderson is also a better fit for the Broncos as their swing tackle and first man-off-the-bench, as he has the versatility to play on either the left or right side — something that can’t be said for Massie.
Prediction: Bobby Massie
Justin Strnad vs. Josey Jewell
When Josey Jewell suffered an injury early in camp and missed a little over a week in practice, it opened the door for second-year linebacker Justin Strnad to challenge for the starting spot.
Strnad took over first-team reps on defense and played very well, impressing fans and media members alike with his play. He’s an incredibly intelligent player, which shows up in his ability to cover running backs and tight ends, something Denver has been desperately searching for.
That coverage prowess is Strnad’s greatest strength in the competition, as Jewell’s skill-set is fairly redundant alongside Johnson’s. Don’t count out Jewell yet though, as he quickly returned to his starting role, and is coming off a strong 2020 season.
Prediction: Justin Strnad
P.J. Locke vs. Jamar Johnson
The last battle that’s truly up-for-grabs is at the back of the safety room, where P.J. Locke and Jamar Johnson are likely to compete for the final spot.
Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson will certainly be rostered and with how good Caden Sterns has looked, he isn’t too far behind.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, it seems likely that Trey Marshall’s unfortunately-timed ankle injury prevents him from making the final roster.
That leaves us with Locke and Johnson.
The argument for Johnson is that the Broncos invested a pick in him this season and he has terrific upside. Many expected him to be an early mid-round selection before he surprisingly fell, and it would hurt to give up on that upside. Even if Sterns is the long-term replacement for Jackson, Johnson could fill the role vacated by Will Parks, and improve on what Parks managed to do in the role.
The argument for Locke is that he’s better suited to be the team’s No. 4 safety, which is bound to come with special teams obligations — a point of emphasis from the coaching staff this season. He’s also more familiar with the team’s defensive scheme and has been the better performer throughout the summer.
Prediction: P.J. Locke