The two most important training camp battles for the Broncos outside of the quarterback position will be on the defensive side of the ball, and two battles are important for very different reasons.

The cornerback battle is important because the Broncos are dripping with defensive back talent, and as a result, several different cornerbacks could start for the team or see a large amount of playing time. It’ll also be intriguing to see if Surtain can hang with the big dogs at cornerback from day one.

Meanwhile, the linebacker battle is important because of the lack of talent at the position, which has been a consistent problem for the past half-decade, but now Denver has potential solutions.

In this article, we’ll forecast the winners of both battles and breakdown why the competition is most likely to go that way.

Cornerback: Patrick Surtain II vs. Ronald Darby

Barring injury or a fairly surprising trade, Bryce Callahan and Kyle Fuller should be penciled into two of the three starting cornerback slots with the Broncos, considering their talent and contract situations.

However, that leaves one available spot for the immensely talented rookie, Patrick Surtain II, and one of Denver’s largest offseason acquisitions, Ronald Darby, competing for that final starting cornerback spot.

To many, Darby might seem like a shoo-in. He’s a proven veteran coming off the healthiest and best season of his career after all. However, don’t sleep on Surtain yet.

Surtain was widely viewed as one of the safest players in the draft because of how pro-ready he was and how refined his game is. Plus, he’s received three years of experience playing under Nick Saban, the greatest defensive backs coach of the past 20 years.

Remember, he entered Alabama’s loaded secondary and managed to earn a starting job as a true freshman.

It’s also clear Broncos defensive coordinator Ed Donatell thought Surtain was ready for action before they even drafted him, as we saw on Behind the Broncos.

“If we needed this guy to start day one, he could,” Donatell said while giving his seal of approval on the potential selection. Donatell isn’t the only one praising Surtain either, as other star defenders like Justin Simmons and Von Miller have also been heaping praise on the first-round pick too.

Although Surtain could start day one, that might not be the best course of action.

Cornerback is one of the positions where rookies struggle the most, as the transition game from the college game to the pro one is incredibly difficult for them. Jeff Okudah was viewed as a super pro-ready prospect for the Lions last year, but struggled mightily as a rookie.

With those typical rookie struggles in mind, it seems like a safe bet to expect Darby to win the Week 1 starting job by a hair. However, Surtain is sure to get on the field a ton through dime packages and if anyone gets injured, which is unfortunately likely to happen eventually in a 17-game season. Also, just because Surtain doesn’t steal the starting job before Week 1, doesn’t mean he couldn’t steal it once the bullets start flying.

Linebacker: Josey Jewell vs. Justin Strnad vs. Baron Browning

The other marquee competition on the defensive side of the ball will take place at Denver’s secondary inside linebacker position, between Josey Jewell, Justin Strnad and Baron Browning.

Jewell finds himself in a nearly identical position to where Todd Davis found himself last year. He’s the incumbent, and one that performed admirably last season while starting, but he will always be a limited player. His athletic limitations make him a defensive liability and probably the weakest point of this Broncos defense, so it would make sense to search for an upgrade.

Looking for a potential replacement also makes sense cause the Broncos stand to free up nearly $2.2 million in cap space by releasing Jewell. That’s not a game-changing amount of space, but every dollar will count if the Broncos truly are interested in bringing Aaron Rodgers on board.

Fortunately for Denver, they’ve already got two potential replacements waiting in the wings in Justin Strnad and Baron Browning.

Strnad had to sit out his rookie season due to a broken wrist he suffered in training camp, but don’t sleep on him yet. Strnad is a solid athlete who was a star for Wake Forest’s defense due to his sky-high football IQ and high-end coverage ability. He’s far from a freak athlete, but he will definitely be an upgrade from Jewell, especially from a pass defense perspective.

The big issues for Strnad will be defending the run and staying healthy. While he’s a very refined tackler, Strnad is on the lighter side, so he will struggle to drag down the Derrick Henry’s of the world. He’s also suffered season-ending injuries in each of the last two seasons, which is definitely a concern.

Meanwhile, Browning is nearly the inverse of Strnad. He’s an exceptionally-rare athlete (ranking in the 99.8th percentile of linebacker prospects from an athletic standpoint) who offers a ton of versatility, but he struggles to read a play and react as quickly as one would like.

Browning will start at linebacker for the Broncos eventually, whether that be on the inside or at edge, but he fell to the final pick of the third round because he was a fairly raw prospect.

Keeping that in mind, Strnad will shock Broncos Country and end up winning the starting job alongside Alexander Johnson, but don’t be surprised if Browning still sees a ton of snaps come his way.