With the Broncos in the thick of a coaching search and a tumultuous offseason upon the team, I thought it would be a good time to take a look at Denver’s roster and evaluate what players mean the most to the team. Obviously some of these players could move up and down based on who Elway hires to take over, as schematic changes would impact performance dramatically. That means this is as much art as science, but to be as transparent as possible I wanted to lay out how I made my list. There are 3 main aspects I considered.
1. Their value to this year’s team and past performance.
2. Positional value
3. Salary compared to both past & expected future performance.
All three factors are important, but obviously this isn’t an exact science, so I look forward to seeing how Broncos Country disagrees with me.
45. Casey Kreiter - Long Snapper
He has been a steady force in the role he serves since winning the position battle returning from a 2016 injury. An RFA this spring, chances are good he will return to Denver next season. This ranking is nowhere near an indictment of his play, but as important as the snap is to special teams, the position is one that serves a very specialized role and offers little else to the active game day roster.
44. Sam Jones - Offensive Lineman
Aquaman is a lineman to keep an eye on if Gary Kubiak becomes the Broncos Offensive Coordinator. Jones best fits a zone blocking scheme. As a prospect, his biggest strength coming out of Arizona was his ability to block in space, but he needed to develop more size/strength. He did have a decent preseason in the Bill Musgrave offense last year.
Nice pickup by Sam Jones here. Not an easy block to make. pic.twitter.com/MOQeo194oU— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) August 14, 2018
Going forward he’ll probably serve as interior depth behind the guards and center, but a brighter future isn’t out of the question. It wouldn’t be the first time a former 6th rounder went on to start for the Broncos line.
43. River Cracraft - Wide Receiver/Returner
I’ll admit that I was surprised last Sunday when I found out that Cracraft’s 44 yard reception against the Los Angeles Chargers was his first. He’s had the kind of career thus far that a practice squad receiver needs to have in order to hang around in the league: he’s versatile enough to fill in as a return man, willing to run down kicks, and capable of running routes. His Broncos career is reaching an early fork in the road, due to no fault of his own. Emmanuel Sanders injury is one that will impact the entire receiving corps. If Elway keeps the veteran, he’s likely to be recovering from his torn Achilles during mini-camps, which would give the former Washington State receiver plenty of opportunities to make an impression on the next offensive coaching staff. That is, unless the front office goes out and drafts or signs another receiver. If that happens River could find himself squeezed by the numbers, as he was this past year.
42. Colby Wadman - Punter
Following a really rough two kicks to start his pro career, Wadman settled in as a serviceable punter. That’s about all you can really expect from a guy the Broncos signed in late September to take over for an injured Marquette King. Broncos Country probably remembers him best for one of the key plays to the most exciting game of the year.
So why is Wadman only #41? Unless a punter is a weapon like former Bronco Brett Kern, they’re mostly fungible. Even with the infamous mile high air, Wadman averaged 44.7 yards per punt. Respectable, but there were 20 odd players who did better. Still, he had moments for a player that only costs the Broncos half a million a year.
41. Dymonte Thomas - Safety
Thomas has been a player that has floated around the Broncos for a couple of seasons now. He’s played in a total of 15 games and has had some pretty special moments in the preseason, but the most memorable game of his pro career to date came when news broke that Su’a Cravens would sit against the Browns. That thrust Thomas into a significant role and he didn’t disappoint.
Dymonte Thomas playing tonight over Su'a Cravens. I questioned it, but he was in the right place at the right time to save the #Broncos from entering the half down 3 to the #Browns #CLEvsDEN pic.twitter.com/VKWk6rsd40— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 16, 2018
Going forward, he’s probably in a fight to make the roster as depth in the secondary next year. Thomas brings flexibility with his athleticism and collegiate experience at slot corner, but will probably play the majority of his snaps on special teams.
40. Joe Jones - Linebacker
Jones is another player that will make the team so long as his special teams play is valued. I was surprised he made the 2018 squad over prospects like Jeff Holland; the initial depth chart included a whopping 6 off ball linebackers, but he quickly proved himself.
The 2-year veteran is an exclusive rights free agent this spring after coming to Denver from Dallas, so he should be in the mix again next year. As is the case with all of the players near this end of the list, scheme fits with the incoming coaching staff will make a huge impact on his Broncos career.
39. Keishawn Bierria - Linebacker
I went back and forth with Bierria and Jones a few times, in part because Jones has athletic tools that Bierra can only dream about. But where Jones is a raw prospect learning to play football on the fly, Keishawn’s game is all about his instincts. Mile High Report’s Christopher Hart had this to say last year:
“When I evaluated a few of his games, one of the things that stuck out to me most was how he seemed to be in on every snap — just like his 2018 draft classmate Josey Jewell. Both of them may not possess ideal athleticism teams covet at the position, but they each have incredible instincts.”
As a rookie Bierria played most of his snaps in the special teams unit, but he could provide long term insurance at inside linebacker. This is a bit of an upside ranking, but with linebackers essentially serving as the running backs of the defense due to the physical nature of their position, depth is important.
38. Brandon McManus - Kicker
I said it a couple of weeks ago on Twitter, but here’s hoping the next coaching staff stops giving McManus 55+ yard tries. While it’s true that he hit a 57 yarder in his second season, the last two years he’s 5 of 13 from 50+. Additionally, his kickoff average is among the lower third of the league, despite kicking in altitude for half of his games.
WTF just happened??? pic.twitter.com/AQ4EMi4aMb— Doctor of Words (and tights and positive thinking) (@docllv) November 5, 2018
To be perfectly fair, I’m a bit biased. I continue to question Elway’s decision to have a kicker take up nearly 2% of the teams cap space, something he’s done routinely as GM. While you could feasibly argue that it made sense when Matt Prater was suiting up in orange and blue, it’s indefensible with McManus.
37. Matt LaCosse - Tight End
River Cracraft isn’t the only pass catcher to snag his first pass this season. After a couple of years bouncing around the league, the Broncos signed LaCosse off of the Giants practice squad in 2017 and he played in five games, but logged zero catches. Last summer I remember an interview where he talked about his willingness to sub in at fullback, as it showed off his versatility. It worked, as LaCosse opened the 2018 season as the Broncos third tight end. He caught his first NFL pass against the Kansas City Chiefs and eventually became a starter once Jeff Heuerman and Jake Butt went down to injuries. In week 12 he caught his first NFL touchdown in the upset over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Going forward, LaCosse could find himself in another fight to make the roster if Elway addresses the tight end position this spring. Heuerman is an unrestricted free agent, but could return. Additionally the 2019 draft is considered very deep at the tight end position.
36. Jamar Taylor - Cornerback
Taylor was a really weird player to rank, as he signed with the Broncos a month ago but immediately stepped in as an upgrade over Brendan Langley. That isn’t to say he played well. According to Sports Info Solutions Taylor allowed 13.2 yards on passes where he was in coverage over 14 games last year. How bad is that? Only 5 players who faced 10+ targets fared worse. What’s even more damning? His Broncos career highlight is an ejection from the Cleveland game that eventually saw Denver down to one cornerback. It wouldn’t be altogether shocking if the team decides to find another body to fill Taylor’s 39 jersey this offseason.
So then, why is he ranked so highly? Well, there’s reason to believe Taylor will rebound next season. He allowed a respectable 9.4 yards per pass in 2017 with the Browns. In case you missed it, the Cardinals were really bad last year and there’s a reason most teams don’t play a guy who signed with them the same week. If the Broncos don’t retain Bradley Roby and rely on rookies to step in from day one, Taylor could eventually find himself with a sizable role on the defense in 2019. That brings inherent value.
35. Jeff Holland - EDGE
Holland is a player I was very high on coming into the season. He was one of the players I looked at extensively when I first started writing GIF Horse last year. I had this to say about the undrafted rookie free agent.
“He’s a gamer. If Ware and the Broncos staff can work on him outside of the lines to get him into better shape and equipped with another move or two to beat blockers? Elway may not need to worry so much about Shaq or Ray’s contract demands in 2019.”
It took the Broncos completely falling out of contention for him to get his chance, but I saw flashes of that potential in his first game against the Browns.
Holland is a lot like Shaq Barrett was coming out. Neither are top flight athletes, which could limit the former Auburn Tiger’s upside, but he still found a way to finish his last collegiate year among the SEC leaders in sacks and forced fumbles. He needs to continue developing a pass rush repertoire if he’s going to produce over the entirety of 2019, but he has instincts that aren’t teachable.