Last weekend, the NFL Draft occurred. This event is significant in a number of ways because it gave the Broncos another opportunity to add talent and depth to the team, but it also signified the final opportunity for the Broncos to add players to the roster. Now that the free agency period is pretty much over and the NFL Draft/Undrafted Free Agent signings are complete, the Broncos seem to have their roster set heading into Training Camp. Now the process begins to determine which players will be a part of the final 53 man roster. Unless you have a magic crystal ball, it is impossible to predict who will make the roster. However, it does not take a psychic to see which battles will be the most entertaining in training camp. Every year, players battle it out for a roster spot. Oftentimes, there are a lot of surprises. So here is my list of position battles to watch for this summer.Running Back Battle
Last season the Broncos kept 4 RB's (McGahee, Moreno, Hillman, Ball).
For me, the only guarantee I have is that Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman will be on the opening day roster. Other then that, it is anybody's guess as to what happens to Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno. There is no doubt that McGahee is more durable and a more proven runner then Moreno, but Moreno is younger, cheaper and a better receiver then the over-the-hill McGahee. I wouldn't be surprised if both make the final roster, but I also wouldn't be surprised if one of them were cut. If Moreno stays healthy through training camp and the pre season, I think we could see McGahee leave. But don't rule out the Broncos dealing Moreno for a draft pick if he impresses in the pre-season. I think the Broncos keep 4 RB's like they did last year and that competition for 4th RB will be between....
Somehow, Lance Ball is still on the team's roster. He's not big, fast, powerful, or exceptional in any way. He's a decent blocker and a ST player and a coach favorite. Will he once again be the 4th RB? Is it possible that this is the year Jeremiah Johnson makes the 53 man roster now that his practice squad eligibility is used up? It all depends on how many carries these guys get in the pre-season. If Jeremiah Johnson can catch the coach's eye, it's possible he can make the team. Mario Fannin came to Denver as UDFA and had a lot of promise, but two back to back season ending injuries have killed his momentum. He has an outside shot.
Nick's Guess: McGahee, Ball, Hillman, Johnson on roster.
Last season, the Broncos kept 6 WR's (Thomas, Decker, Stokley, Willis, Holliday, Caldwell)
The locks to make this roster are Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker and Tavarres King. The first three are no-brainers and I don't see Elway or Fox cutting a guy they just spent a 5th round pick on. That would leave 2 roster spots open assuming they keep 6 WR like they did last year. 1 of those roster spots will go to one of these 5 guys. Caldwell was brought in last year as a free agent and saw the field for approximately 5 plays. He was a bust as a free agent and while he has talent, he is not guaranteed a roster spot in the slightest. The guys to watch here are Greg Orton and Gerell Robinson. Both are bigger receivers who are young and hungry. Orton is an accomplished Arena League player and has some ability. Robinson is a favorite of backup QB, Brock Osweiler. He's a big target who showed some play-making ability in college.
This is a sleeper battle that Bronco fans might want to watch. Trindon Holliday is an explosive returner who gave the Broncos a number of big plays last year. He also made a couple of big mistakes. It seems Holliday always makes a great play or a terrible one. Coaches like consistency which is why the Broncos used Jim Leonhard as a returner at times instead of Holliday. Look out for Quincy McDuffie. McDuffie comes from Central Florida and while he doesn't have much punt return ability, he is an accomplished kick returner obtaining 6 career kick returns for touchdowns, including 3 as a senior. If McDuffie can show he can make smart plays as a punt returner, don't be surprised if the Broncos opt to keep the rookie. Neither of these players will likely make any impact on offense.
Nick's Guess: Thomas, Decker, Welker, King, Orton, Holliday on roster.
Last year, the Broncos kept 4 TE (Tamme, Dreessen, Green, Thomas)
I was talking with Jeremy Bolander while we were doing our mock draft a couple weeks ago and we were in agreement that the tight end position might be a position that could be shook up come training camp. We both agreed that Tamme would make the roster, but the rest is less certain. Is it likely that Dreessen makes the final 53? I would say yes, but is it possible he doesn't? Again, I would say yes. Last year the Broncos kept 4 TE, but I wouldn't be surprised if they kept 3 this year and kept a guy like Lucas Reed on the Practice Squad for emergencies. I think Virgil Green is almost a near lock to make the team. He has proven to be the Broncos best blocking TE and his potential to contribute in the passing game is there. This whole thing comes down to Juilus Thomas. Thomas has all the potential in the world, but this is his make-or-break 3rd year. After 2 years of nothing, it's time to put up or shut up. He made shock waves in his first training camp due to his incredible catches. He got hurt and had trouble recovering. If Thomas can regain some of his former buzz, it is possible that he changes the whole TE picture. If the Broncos are pressed for an extra roster spot, I can imagine a scenario where Jacob Tamme is the starting TE, Virgil Green is the primary blocking TE, Julius Thomas is a red-zone TE and Dreessen is somewhere else. All of this comes back to Thomas who is probably the guy I'm most interested in watching this summer.
Nick's Guess: Tamme, Dreessen, Green, Thomas on rosterLinebacker Battle
Last season the Broncos kept 7 linebackers (Brooking, Irving, Johnson, Miller, Trevathan, Williams and Woodyard).
Johnson vs Bradley vs Joe Mays vs Douglas Rippy
Nate Irving, Von Miller, Shawn Phillips, Wesley Woodyard and Danny Trevathan are locks to make the team in my eyes. Nate will be the starting MLB, Von and Shawn (that rhymes!) will be the Sam LBers while Woodyard and Trevathan are the Will LBers. That leaves two spots open for battle.
Let me start off by saying I don't see how Joe Mays makes this team on his salary. Now, it would be easy to say Steven Johnson and Stewart Bradley would take the remaining 2 spots, but I'm not so sure. I think Johnson will make the team because he is a very good special teamer and the Broncos have a need for a backup middle linebacker. He will have to fend off Stewart Bradley. If he does that, it leaves one spot for battle which will get very interesting. Could Stewart Bradley be the next Drayton Florence? I would not be at all surprised. Bradley is versatile and that helps his bid to make the team, but look out for Douglas Rippy. Rippy has an injury history that hurt him in the draft, but when healthy he is an athletic linebacker who can play multiple positions. If he can show his usefulness on special teams, he could pull the upset and steal a spot from Bradley similar to what Steven Johnson did last year.
Nick's Guess: Miller, Phillips, Irving, Johnson, Woodyard, Trevathan, RippyDefensive Back Battle
Last year, the Broncos kept 9 DB's. 5 CB's (Bailey, Bolden, Carter, Harris, Porter) and 4 Safeties (Moore, Leonhard, Adams, Bruton).
That would leave 1 spot open in this department and that makes things very interesting. Is it possible that the Broncos put 10 DB's on the roster? Yes, but I don't see that happening. It's possible the Broncos only keep 6 linebackers instead of 7 and save the roster spot for a DB, but I don't think that's what is going to happen. Here is my reasoning, the Broncos had Champ Bailey, Chris Harris and Tony Carter as the starting CB's last year after Tracy Porter had his weird illness. The Broncos added Dominique-Rogers Cromartie in free agency and it didn't surprise me at all. He would take the role that Tracy Porter was supposed to have as the CB2 opposite of Champ. This would put Harris in the slot, Carter in the dime and Bolden as a special teamer. Then the Broncos threw me for a loop and drafted Kayvon Webster in the 3rd round. There is no way they are going to cut him after spending a 3rd on him so where does he fit? Champ Bailey, DRC and Chris Harris are untouchable as the CB1, CB2 and slot corner. Omar Bolden was a 4th round draft pick from last year. He's a key special teamer so I don't see the Broncos getting rid of him. That means the Broncos are going to get rid of Tony Carter. Carter stepped up last year and was a very pleasant surprise. He played well before falling off a bit towards the end of last year, but apparently the Broncos weren't optimistic on Carter as a long term player for the Broncos. That became obvious when they selected Webster. I hope the Broncos try to flip Carter for a low draft pick because he is certainly worthy of being on a roster. The pick of Kayvon Webster continues to be a mystery to me.
Nick's Guess: Bailey, DRC, Harris, Bolden, Webster, Carter, Moore, Adams, Bruton
Finally, let me give you a bit on a few UDFA's who I think are prime Practice Squad Candidates.
C.J. Anderson, RB, Cal
Anderson is a powerful back from Cal. At 5 ft 8, 225 lbs, Anderson split time with another RB at Cal and doesn't have much production. He will never be a starting RB or a dynamic play-maker, but he has a specific skill set to offer. He can be the short yardage, powerful goal line back that Lance Ball never was. If he is willing to learn the trade of a special teamer, there can be a spot for Anderson in the coming years. He is a prime Practice Squad candidate.
Manase Foketi, G/T, West Texas A&M
Foketi comes to the Broncos with untapped potential. He was a JUCO transfer from Kansas State where he started as a junior left tackle in 2010. He started 2 games in 2011 before he suffered a season ending injury. After the season, he requested a transfer and Kansas State denied his application forcing him to transfer to a Division 2 school. Foketi comes in at 6 ft 5, 318 lbs and has long 34.25 inch arms. The best aspect of his game is run blocking where his physicality is on display. He is a prime Practice Squad candidate to groom to be a backup.
Aaron Hester, CB, UCLA
The Broncos have a wealth of talent in the defensive backfield. It is virtually impossible for an undrafted free agent to snag a roster spot this year. However, there could be quite a few openings in the near future (Champ, DRC, Tony Carter, Mike Adams) which is why it makes sense for the Broncos to groom a DB on the practice squad. The perfect candidate is Aaron Hester. Hester passes the eye ball test. He is a big corner (6 ft 2, 198 lbs) with long arms and good strength. His strength is in man coverage where he has shown ability to shut down receivers. He is weaker in zone coverage. He is a very good run defender and a good wrap up tackler. When I see Hester, I wonder if there is a potential position change to safety in the future. With his size, man coverage and run defending abilities, he could make for an interesting safety prospect. I would like to see him developed on Denver's Practice Squad.
Lerentee McCray, LB, Florida
I previously mentioned Douglas Rippy from Colorado as a prospect I think can make the 53 man roster and/or the Practice Squad. McCray is another who has the potential. He is a gifted athlete with a good frame (6 ft 2, 250 lbs). McCray is a speed rusher who gave Luke Jockel, the #2 overall draft pick this year, all he could handle. He is gifted at rushing the passer and hustles all over the field. He could be the perfect backup to Von, but his biggest issue always has been his ability to stay healthy. If he can stay on the field, Denver will have themselves a big steal.
Lucas Reed, TE, New Mexico
If Julius Thomas doesn't step up, the Broncos will go looking for another athletic tight end for their QB. They may not have to look far with Lucas Reed now on the roster. Reed had the misfortune of going to New Mexico which happens to be perhaps the worst passing offense in the country. Reed only snagged 5 passes in 2012, but he had 70 receptions in the 3 years prior. At his pro day, Reed caught the attention of scouts by running a 40 yard dash in the 4.65-4.72 range. At 6 ft 5, 247 lbs and with 35 1/4 inch arms, Reed had 25 bench reps and had a 37 inch vertical jump. He is an explosive athlete who could shine with proper development.
That's all I have for you this time. As Training Camp gets closer, the excitement and anticipation will only get greater. I can't wait to see how everything unfolds. Will the Broncos have an UDFA on the roster for a 9th consecutive year? We will see. Until next time, MHR.