The Denver Broncos’ preseason finale Thursday night gives a handful of players one final chance to prove they belong on the 53-man roster when the Broncos open the season Sept. 9.
Though some of their fates will be determined by positional need, Thursday night’s contest could go a long way in showing the coaching staff they can contribute in some facet of the game. Here are three players who can lock up a roster spot with a solid performance against the Arizona Cardinals.
Su’a Cravens, safety
Having played only 11 games in his NFL career and none for the Broncos this preseason, Cravens’ performance will arguably be the most intriguing of the finale. When he was acquired from Washington in the offseason, Cravens seemed guaranteed to have not just a roster spot, but a particularly important role on the defense.
His time playing dime linebacker for Washington made it easy to envision Cravens fitting into a role that Denver has seen little production from since T.J. Ward’s departure. A knee injury suffered early in training camp has hampered those expectations, though, as Cravens now must prove he belongs on the roster at all.
Vance Joseph said that he needed to see more from Cravens before assuring his spot on the team, and Thursday night is his last opportunity to prove it. If he shows the same instincts and versatility that he did in Washington, expect Cravens to stick around.
Tim Patrick, wide receiver
After suffering a compound fracture in his leg at Utah, Patrick’s football career seemed in doubt. But after playing on Denver’s practice squad last year and impressing throughout the preseason, the big-bodied receiver has a real chance to make the 53-man roster.
The 6-foot-5, 210-pound receiver is likely competing for the fifth receiver spot with River Cracraft and Isaiah McKenzie, two players much smaller than Patrick. Patrick showed his potential on 27-yard catch against the Chicago Bears, high-pointing and coming back to an underthrown ball to make the reception.
Adding Patrick to an already big receiving core that includes Demaryius Thomas and Courtland Sutton could wreak havoc on smaller defensive backs. He’s already impressed coaches with his play and talk this preseason, and one more solid performance could solidify a spot on the roster.
De’Angelo Henderson, running back
Henderson figures to be the odd man out in a backfield that has four spots locked up in Royce Freeman, Devontae Booker, Phillip Lindsay and Andy Janovich. With one more solid performance, though, Henderson could force the Broncos to roster five backfield options rather than the usual four.
During his last game against Washington, Henderson carried the ball seven times for 32 yards and caught three passes for 31 yards. As a rookie last preseason, Henderson amassed 129 rushing yards on 28 carries and added three receptions for 21 yards.
For comparison, Booker – who entered camp as the presumptive starter – has 33 rushing yards this preseason and just one reception. It’s unlikely that the Broncos will move on from Booker, making Henderson’s chance at a roster spot will only come if they keep five backs. A solid performance in the preseason finale may force the Broncos’ hand into ensuring that they keep the change-of-pace back around.