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GIF Horse: Projecting the Broncos’ 53-man roster

Time’s ticking for the bubble guys. Who will survive and make the Denver Broncos final 53-man roster?

NFL: Preseason-San Francisco 49ers at Denver Broncos
Drew Lock’s injury throws the cutdown into a bit of chaos.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Four down, one to go. With the Broncos’ preseason finale and Saturday’s cut down creeping up like the light of a train at the end of the tunnel, it’s time to take one final stab at predicting how Fangio and the new coaching staff will shape the 2019 roster.

Specialists - 3

Brandon McManus, Colby Wadman, Casey Kreiter

Only Wadman has any reason to sweat. There remains a chance Elway brings in competition after the other 31 teams cut talent loose.


Edge backer - 4

Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Justin Hollins, Malik Reed

Bubble- Ahmad Gooden, Dadi Nicolas

Cutting Dekoda Watson was a surprise, as he’s had a solid preseason. If there was a little more flexibility on the roster (such as a healthy quarterback, fullback, tight end, linebacker, or running back group), I suspect he makes it.

One wildcard is Gooden, who could make the active roster as a developmental guy. He’s quietly had a really promising month, and it won’t surprise me if Fangio and Elway try to sneak him onto the practice squad.

Nicolas is the other wildcard. He just got here and looked decent in very limited snaps against the Rams. If he shows something Thursday, he may be able make the cut.

Justin Hollins rushes the pass and Nicolas bats it down.

Defensive linemen - 6

Shelby Harris, Derek Wolfe, Adam Gotsis, Dre’Mont Jones, DeMarcus Walker, Mike Purcell

Bubble- DeShawn Williams

The first four are stone-cold locks. Meanwhile, DeMarcus Walker has done everything he possibly can to make the roster as a sub package interior rusher. Mike Purcell fits as a nose tackle/Eddie Goldman type. He’s not going to blow your socks off with his sack total, but he’s balled out this preseason and should make the team.

It will be interesting to watch what happens to the recently released Zach Kerr. He offers a little inside/outside versatility as a poor man’s Adam Gotsis, and also has the size to man a Nose shade if asked. In the end, he simply didn’t look as good as Walker or Purcell. His release also comes in part to create cap space, which hints that Elway and the coaching staff are looking for veteran help somewhere.

DeShawn Williams is the wildcard I can’t forget after Vic Fangio mentioned him yesterday, saying he had done well for himself in camp and preseason.

Purcell and Walker have jumped off the screen all month long.

Stack Linebacker - 4 or 5

Todd Davis, Josey Jewell, Alexander Johnson

Bubble- Joseph Jones, Josh Watson, Keishawn Bierria

The Davis and Jones injuries complicate this. I suspect in a perfect world, Vic Fangio carries the first four guys and tries to stash Josh Watson on the practice squad. Keishawn Bierria just had his best game of the preseason against the Rams and works as a stabilizing force on special teams, which could give him the nod over the former CSU star.

Gun to my head, I think Watson makes it. KB depends on Jones.

There’s been some hype over a real long shot wildcard in Jamal Carter. Perhaps I’m missing something, but he looks borderline unplayable on defense at both linebacker and safety. Maybe what he presents as a reliable contributor to the coverage units makes up for it.

In game action, Carter has been a liability against the run.

Cornerback - 4 or 5

Chris Harris Jr., Bryce Callahan, Isaac Yiadom, De’Vante Bausby,

Bubble- Linden Stephens, Alijah Holder

As I mentioned in the immediate aftermath of the L.A. game, Stephens looks like the clear option as CB5, and only Alijah Holder comes close. Unless Elway sifts through the waiver wire for an upgrade, I think Stephens makes the final cut and the Broncos slip Holder onto the practice squad.

In addition to his time at corner, Holder enjoyed a few plays at safety late in the Rams game.

Safety - 4 or 5

Justin Simmons, Kareem Jackson, Will Parks,

Bubble- Su’a Cravens, Shamarko Thomas, Dymonte Thomas

If you’re looking for a reason to tune in on Thursday, this battle looks like it will come down to the wire. I suspect the coaching staff wants to go with Cravens based on his upside to the defense. Unfortunately, he continues to be inconsistent in coverage. Shamarko Thomas regressed a bit after a really strong game against the 49ers, but still looked like the most reliable safety of the three in L.A.

Mental lapses like this leave Cravens’ status up in the iar.


Offensive Line - 8

Garett Bolles, Ja’Wuan James, Dalton Risner, Connor McGovern, Ronald Leary, Elijah Wilkinson

Bubble- Sam Jones, John Leglue, Jake Rodgers, Austin Schlottmann & Jake Brendel

This quote by Fangio on Saturday night continues to hang over this group:

Two or three of those guys have to be able to play more than one position. So, he’s going to have to back up the tackle, and be a guard. Somebody’s going to have to be able to be a backup center in there, out of those seven.

Jones was a 2018 draft pick, and after some early struggles, has come on in the last two games. Jake Rodgers has spent two different training camps with Mike Munchak, and the coaching staff played him at left tackle against the Rams after significant reps on the right side previously.

Brendel was filling in for Ronald Leary alongside veteran Don Barclay early in camp, while Schlottmann started with the first team offense against San Francisco. Both offer center versatility, as well. Lastly, this tweet by 9News’ Mike Klis can’t be ignored:

Wide Receiver - 6

Courtland Sutton, Emmanuel Sanders, DaeSean Hamilton, Tim Patrick, Juwann Winfree,

Bubble- River Cracraft, Kelvin McKnight, Fred Brown

I would bet money on the first five.

I’ve heard River Cracraft and Nick Williams had the inside track a little over a week ago, so when Williams asked for his release yesterday it seemed to suggest the writing is on the wall. He isn’t sexy, but Cracraft has clearly offered the most reliability as a returner.

The wildcard here is Kelvin McKnight, who’s looked better on offense but mixed some so-so returns. I expect him to get a chance to prove himself this week, and if he doesn’t make the cut, Elway will try to stash him on the practice squad.

Tight end - 3 or 4

Noah Fant, Jeff Heuerman, Troy Fumagalli

Fullback - 1

Andy Janovich

Bubble- Orson Charles, Jake Butt

When news broke of Andy Janovich’s injury, it looked like a prime opportunity for George Aston to steal his job. Since then, he’s been exposed as a rookie making the jump, with the Broncos going as far as bringing in Orson Charles to compete with him. At present, I’d fully expect the “Juggerneck” to land on the practice squad for a year with Jano’s contract expiring in 2020.

In the meantime, Fangio and the offense have to figure out how to move forward without a fullback to start the season. Troy Fumagalli has gotten a few reps there, and if Rich Scangarello feels comfortable, they’ll move forward with either three tight ends, or Butt as the fourth.

If they don’t, Orson Charles or another H-back added after cuts will head to Oakland.

If he’s healthy enough to play, Jake Butt will be tough to cut.

Running back - 4

Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman, Theo Riddick, Devontae Booker

The only wildcard here is Elway. If he deems Devontae Booker’s salary too problematic, he could dangle the 4th year veteran in order to possibly net a late Day 3 draft pick. Barring that, the former Ute is clearly the best back on the roster after the big three. He offers size, pass protection, and strong route running.

Considering the comments Rich Scangarello made early in camp about getting backs matched up on linebackers, the other potential option looks like Khalfani Muhammad. He’s the most intimidating gamble - he offers the Broncos a viable returner who may free them from someone like Cracraft, but he’s still got a long way to go to provide consistently positive impact anywhere else on the field.

Devontae Jackson is a long shot wildcard. When running the ball, he clearly has superior vision to Muhammad, but he offers less in the passing game and has the same size restrictions.

I suspect the man who ran in 40 Yards of Gold makes the practice squad.

Quarterback - 3

Joe Flacco, Drew Lock, Kevin Hogan*

Lock’s injuries threw the final roster into chaos. Had he stayed healthy, the Broncos would have carried two quarterbacks. As it is, Elway and the coaching staff are in a bind. Flacco’s clearly the starter, but any veteran addition will need to get up to speed on the playbook in case of disaster.

Chances are, it’s Hogan on the sidelines for the opener.

One thing to keep an eye on is that Fangio mentioned how he’d like to see more from the remaining quarterbacks, so this one may come down to the wire and turn into a surprise.

“I’d like to see some separation from them. We’ve got one more game to do that. That remains to be seen. I’ve seen some good play. I’ve seen some not so good, so I don’t know the answer to that just yet.”

Final thoughts

If you’ve been doing the math of it, the top end of the numbers above leave the Broncos’ roster one over the 53-man limit. Something’s going to have to give, especially when you consider the rumors that Elway is looking to take on an outside addition or two.

There remains a possibility someone like Butt or Jones could get stashed on Injured Reserve. With two days until the Broncos last preseason game, it’s going to be tight.

Is it Saturday yet?

My final 2019 roster prediction.

Your Broncos Links

Denver Broncos’ position-by-position breakdown of 90-man roster - Mile High Report

Here are the Denver Broncos roster locks and where their toughest 53-man roster decisions may lie later this week.

Denver Broncos free up cap space after releasing two veterans - Mile High Report

The Denver Broncos have released veteran defensive lineman Zach Kerr and linebacker Dekoda Watson on Monday.

‘Sh*t just got real’ - players know cuts are coming and time is running out - Mile High Report

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When the secondary and pass rush complement each other, it is a scary thing for offenses. The Denver Broncos defense has that so far in the preseason.

Pat Bowlen’s championship legacy began with his father’s influence - Mile High Report

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9 things I noticed in the Denver Broncos Preseason loss to the Rams - Mile High Report

Here’s what we learned about the Denver Broncos from their 6-10 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday night.

Uncertainty on Todd Davis’ return has Broncos looking for linebacker help |

The team is expected to continue to look at bringing in a veteran inside linebacker this week as all 32 NFL teams must trim their rosters from 90 players to 53 by 2 p.m. Saturday.

NFL Links

I understand why Andrew Luck retired, because I’ve been in his shoes -

Retired NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz describes just how awful it feels to go through the rigors of constant rehab.

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Andrew Luck‘s teammates angry about leaked retirement news, more NFL notes |

Andrew Luck’s teammates agree that the release of his retirement news did not go as planned, which angered them. Also, Dwayne Haskins on sitting behind starter Case Keenum, Kaleb McGary on the way back for the Falcons, Bill Belichick’s reaction to Luck and more.

Preseason grades, Week 3: Daniel Jones rolls, Kyler Murray solid -

Bucky Brooks hands out grades to one notable rookie from each game in Week 3 of preseason action. Should Daniel Jones’ critics be eating crow? Did Kyler Murray bounce back from a rough outing?

Gruden feels ‘strongly’ Redskins won’t trade Williams -

Trent Williams doesn’t appear any closer to returning to the Redskins. According to coach Jay Gruden, the left tackle isn’t any closer to being dealt either.

NFL Preseason Week 3 winners/losers: Daniel Jones balls (again) -

Oakland Raiders’ youth movement: Cutting running back Doug Martin in favor of fourth-year pro DeAndre Washington is the type of move Jon Gruden may not have made without general manager Mike Mayock in the building. Consider that progress.

NFL Draft Links

Trevor Sikkema’s 2020 NFL Draft Big Board/Positional Rankings | The Draft Network

Ladies and gentlemen, it is officially draft season.

Kyle Crabbs’ 2020 NFL Draft Big Board/Position Rankings | The Draft Network

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Benjamin Solak’s 2020 NFL Draft Big Board/Positional Rankings | The Draft Network

Welcome to the inaugural big board and positional rankings of the 2020 NFL Draft. Expect absolutely nothing to change over the next eight months.

Joe Marino’s 2020 NFL Draft Big Board/Positional Rankings | The Draft Network

After a summer spent scouting the nation, this initial Big Board serves as the starting point for the way I stack up the best draft-eligible talent

The NFL should go “all in” on Oregon senior LB Troy Dye | The Draft Network

You would be hard pressed to find many 6’4 linebackers with his blend of speed, range, cover skills, and finishing power. He fits the mold perfectly of what the NFL looks for in a linebacker prospect, from a traits perspective.