Later today, the Denver Broncos will play their preseason finale against the Arizona Cardinals. A vast majority of the Broncos starters and veterans will sit out this game, but for the players on the roster bubble, this will be their last chance to prove the belong on an NFL roster.
It is safe to assume that the Broncos have already decided who they’re going to keep and who they’re going to cut. However, this game will be an deciding factor for a handful of players and will also give the players some extra tape and hopefully land them a job somewhere else.
Now with that all said, I give my final Denver Broncos 53-man roster projection.
Starter: Case Keenum
Backup: Chad Kelly
We start off with a big move right away. Former first-round pick, Paxton Lynch will not be making this team. I believe he will either be cut or traded by the end of the weekend. His time in Denver has come to an end and he needs a change of scenery.
A big reason why Lynch is leaving is the emergence of Chad Kelly. Former Mr. Irrelevant entered Training Camp as a bit of an x-factor and did start off slow. However, he really turned it on once the preseason started and quickly passed Lynch as the Broncos number two quarterback after just one preseason game. Once he took it he never looked back.
The only potential obstacle he faces is an addition of a veteran quarterback. I think Kelly has done enough to be that guy, but they have left that door open and I believe General Manager John Elway will explore the market. In the end, I think they stick with these two quarterbacks.
As for Keenum, he is obviously the starter and hopefully repeats his 2017 season here with the Broncos in 2018.
Running backs/Fullback (6):
Starters: Devontae Booker and Royce Freeman
Backups: Phillip Lindsay
Fullback: Andy Janovich
There was a bit of outrage in Broncos Country when it was implied that Devontae Booker has indeed won the Broncos running back competition. Head Coach Vance shot that down a bit by saying the “starter” will depend on how they start the game.
In the end, it will go like this. Booker will be your third-down back who will spell the main ball carrier. That main ball carrier will be rookie Royce Freeman who will get the majority of the carries. That is how the Broncos likely have it mapped out between those two
After those two, you will have the scat/space back, in undrafted rookie Phillip Lindsay. Look for them to get him in space as much as they can so he utilizes his shifty and explosiveness.
As for fullback, Janovich showed off his usefulness to the team during the game against Washington. He’s a helluva blocker and a key special teamer. His roster spot is secure.
Wide receivers (12):
Starters: Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, and Courtland Sutton
Backups: DaeSean Hamilton, Isaiah McKenzie, and Tim Patrick
The top four have been etched into stone for a few months now. DT and Sanders are your starters. Impressive rookie Courtland Sutton will come in on three-receiver sets while Sanders shifts to the slot. Rookie DaeSean Hamilton will likely see reps on the slot and outside as well. Expect all four receivers to be impactful players for the Broncos in 2018.
After those four is where things got interesting. Big Tim Patrick made a name for himself during Camp and continued that through the preseason. He has embraced the special team’s aspect of the game and seems like he earned himself a roster spot.
That final spot figures to go to a returner and second-year return man Isaiah McKenzie has earned that job. He showed off his playmaking ability with an impressive punt return for a touchdown. He also did not suffer any fumbles in the return game, so I don’t see why he shouldn’t make the team.
His leash figures to be short though.
Tight ends (15):
Starter: Jeff Heuerman
Backups: Jake Butt and Austin Traylor
I thought Heuerman was in danger of being cut, but finally got his knee healthy and has performed well during the preseason. He won’t blow you away by any means but does provide the Broncos with a receiving threat at tight end. His long injury history does make you wonder how long he can stay healthy for.
Behind Heuerman you have Jake Butt. Look for the Broncos to split him out wide and use him specifically in the red zone. Butt has starter potential but likely will be a role player for the early portion of the 2018 season at least.
Finally, you have Austin Traylor who will serve as the blocking specialist. He can also make some plays as a receiver, but his role will mostly be as a blocker.
Starters: Garett Bolles and Jared Veldheer
Backup: Cyrus Kouandjio
Bolles and Veldheer are your starters and have shown well throughout the preseason. Quarterback Case Keenum has had plenty of time to survey the field and hasn’t taken many quarterback hits which is a big improvement from previous seasons.
The AFC West is stacked with edge rushing talent so we will need both of these guys to have a solid season.
I have Cyrus Kouandjio being the main backup to these guys. He has some history at left and right tackle throughout his career so he makes a fine swing tackle option for the Broncos. He has also had a good preseason so I like the fit.
Starters: Ronald Leary and Connor McGovern
Backups: Billy Turner and Max Garcia
Not too much drama here. Veteran Ron Leary moves back to his more natural position at left guard and should benefit greatly from that. His addition there should also help Garett Bolles take a step forward as well.
Connor McGovern was given the right guard job early in the spring and he ran away with it. He is strong as they come and I am anxious to see how he develops as a player going forward. I believe he can become a solid starter for the Broncos.
As for the backups, I have them keeping the experienced Max Garcia and the versatile Billy Turner. Garcia has many years of starting experience under his belt and can step right in and do his job. As for Turner, he can be all over the line. That versatility will be useful and also gives the Broncos another option at tackle.
Starter: Matt Paradis
Backup: Sam Jones
This one is pretty simple. Starter Matt Paradis hasn’t missed a snap in something like three years? The dude is tough as nails and barring a serious injury, figures to be out there every single snap.
Behind him will be the intriguing rookie, Sam Jones. He has some center/guard versatility but figures to be the backup center to Matt Paradis. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Broncos try to develop him into his eventual replacement.
Starters: Derek Wolfe and Adam Gotsis
Backups: Shelby Harris, DeMarcus Walker, and Clinton McDonald
Defensive end might be the Broncos deepest position on the team.
You have two big run stuffers in Derek Wolfe and Adam Gotsis. They will likely be your early down/short yardage run stuffers who will see some reps in certain sub-packages.
Behind those two you have three solid rotational players. Shelby Harris likely starts on most NFL defenses and will rotate in and fill different roles on the defense. He’s a key member to the Broncos defense.
After him you have to two pass rushers in DeMarcus Walker and Clinton McDonald. These two will be tasked to provide the interior pressure on the quarterback. Walker specifically has the potential to fill the “Malik Jackson role” for the Broncos.
This is a deep and solid unit for the Broncos.
Nose tackles (31):
Starter: Domata Peko
Backup: Zach Kerr
There isn’t much to say here. Peko is your starter at nose tackle and will once again be asked to take on multiple blockers and allow others to roam freely. The veteran is coming off a solid year and figures to do the same again in 2018.
Behind him you have big Zach Kerr. He is versatile and can play inside at nose or outside and defensive end which makes him another valuable piece.
Edge rushers (36):
Starters: Von Miller and Bradley Chubb
Backups: Shaquil Barrett, Shane Ray, and Jeff Holland
All-Pro Von Miller will once again challenge for Defensive Player of the Year and should top 15+ sacks for the Broncos. Opposite of him will be the fifth overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, edge rusher, Bradley Chubb. The rookie is full of talent and potential and could push for 10+ sacks his rookie year.
Behind these two will be reserve linebackers Shaq Barrett and Shane Ray, These two have been solid reserve players for them in the past and will do the same again in 2018. The Broncos will likely unveil their NASCAR package which will likely include all four of these players.
Rounding out this group is the undrafted rookie, Jeff Holland. He somehow went undrafted after many expected him to be a 3rd or 4th round pick in April’s NFL Draft so he was a bit of a steal for them. With Ray and Barrett entering the final year of their contracts, I expect the Broncos to keep Holland around.
Inside linebackers (40):
Starters: Brandon Marshall and Todd Davis
Backups: Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson
Marshall and Davis will once again enter the year as the starters at inside linebacker for the Broncos.
Marshall has lost weight in hopes to improve his range and cover ability while Davis continues to be a solid run stuffing linebacker for the Broncos defense. Both of these guys have struggled in coverage in the past and might just be two down players at this point in their career.
Behind them is the exciting rookie, Josey Jewell. He was a tackling machine with top-notch instincts to help him make up for his physical limitations in coverage. I think he will push for playing time throughout the year and eventually become a starter down the road.
Finally, we have what may be the most interesting player on the roster. Alexander Johnson hasn’t played football in three-years before being signed by the Broncos. The Broncos outbid multiple teams for his services and signed him to a three-year deal. So I like his odds of making the squad. His role will be on special teams where the big man will be known for his crushing hits.
Starters: Chris Harris Jr. and Bradley Roby
Backups: Adam Jones, Tramaine Brock, and Isaac Yiadom
The Broncos cornerbacks used to be the teams strength, but now its a group filled with question marks.
Harris and Roby are your starters and should continue the “No Fly Zone” tradition in 2018. However, after those two it becomes murky. You have two veterans in Tramaine Brock and the recently signed Adam Jones. Those two should battle it out for third corner duties, but I expect Jones to get that nod.
Behind the veterans you have a rookie in Isaac Yiadom, with Brendan Langley being cut. Both are development corners and aren’t ready for considerable playing time just yet and it makes sense to only keep one of those on the active roster.
Starters: Justin Simmons and Darian Stewart
Backups: Will Parks, Su’a Cravens, and Dymonte Thomas
This is another strong unit for the Broncos.
Safety Justin Simmons is another key member to the Broncos defense. He can play all over the field. Deep center, in the box, and in the slot and be effective in all three spots. He has All-Pro/Pro Bowl like potential and I think he can reach that potential in 2018.
Doing some digging on the Broncos "dress rehearsal" game last week. Justin Simmons was used exactly how he should be used - everywhere.— Jeffrey Essary (@JeffreyEssary) August 30, 2018
Out of 33 snaps he lined up:
In the box - 12 snaps
Single high - 11
Slot - 5
Two high - 5 (mainly prevent at the end of the half)
The veteran Darian Stewart will play alongside Simmons and give the Broncos two talented safeties in the back end of their defense.
After those two you have two potential dime backers for the Broncos defense. Former second-round pick Su’a Cravens will play safety/linebacker in sub-packages and be tasked to cover the tight end. This is an area of weakness for the Broncos and they hope Cravens can fix that issue.
Will Parks will also see time in this role. He’s a versatile safety who is coming off a strong summer. You could see both players out in certain sub-packages as well with Davis and Marshall’s issues in coverage.
Rounding out the group is the athletic Dymonte Thomas. He had a breakout game of sorts against Washington and may have earned himself a roster spot. He displayed coverage ability and good tackling. He’ll be regulated to special teams work but also provides solid depth.
Kicker: Brandon McManus
Punter: Marquette King
Long snapper: Casey Kreiter