If you read last week’s “7 things” prior to the Broncos game with the Falcons, you’ll know that some questions remain. If you checked out the Mile High Report roundtable, you’ll know that Drew Lock and the quarterbacks are front and center.
But what about everything else?
Obviously there’s still a lot to be determined. Coach Fangio has said that outside of 40 or so locked in guys the other roster spots are up for grabs. Tonight’s game could go a long way towards helping someone lock down a job in 2019. On the MHR Radio Podcast (ApplePodcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher), Adam Malnati and Ian St. Clair previewed the game with what and who to watch for.
1. Can Reed, Jones and Walker keep it up?
If you read my observations after watching the Hall of Fame game, you’ll know I’m sky high on Malik Reed. He jumped out time and again against the Falcons and as I said Tuesday: he looks like a soft lock for the roster.
DeMarcus Walker also had himself a game and currently looks like he’s in line to make the final cut to 53. Last year, Fangio’s Bears used sub packages almost 80 percent of the time, so Walker’s pass rushing acumen could be an asset inside after two years floundering under Vance Joseph. However, it’s worth noting that the Broncos’ head coach sounded like he needed to see more when asked about Walker’s performance.
“I think he exaggerated a little bit. It wasn’t bad, but he had me thinking he was getting nominated for Canton. It was good, but not great.”
The Broncos look likely to carry four or five edge rushers, and six or seven defensive linemen. Things could still change over the next month. Jeff Holland, Justin Hollins and Aaron Wallace all showed up along the edge. If Fangio prefers a sturdier sixth man on the line, Mike Purcell showed out as a nose tackle type and has previous experience with the coaching staff.
While Dre’Mont Jones is certainly making the Broncos roster, the more he flashes, the harder it’s going to be to keep him on the bench.
2. What linebackers will be left standing?
More and more this position battle is looking like a war of attrition. Josey Jewell, Todd Davis, and Joseph Jones will all miss the Seahawks game with different ailments. While this could prove troubling in a month’s time, right now it presents a huge opportunity for the guys suiting up.
Alexander Johnson currently looks like the closest thing to a lock among the remaining linebackers. He had a coverage gaff in the middle of the Hall of Fame game, but looked head and shoulder ahead of the younger players. Josh Watson also had some promising play and brings the kind of range neither Joe Dineen or Keishawn Bierria offer.
Of course, anyone who’s watched linebackers for long will explain to you how a players anticipation and angles can make up for physical limitations. So don’t count anyone out just yet.
Probably a much digger deal than Courtland Sutton and Emmanuel Sanders fighting. https://t.co/CML9IwzlAR— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) August 5, 2019
3. Where will Justin Hollins line up?
It’s impossible to ignore Hollins as I think about the the other front 7 positions. He played a bit of both last week, and the coaching staff has expressed their desire to get him up to speed for both roles. I’m excited to see what he can do, and advise you to keep an eye out for 52.
4. Does Booker play?
When Elway and the Broncos’ coaching staff brought in Theo Riddick, it became clear maybe one of the running backs logging the majority of snaps this preseason will make the active roster. Devontae Booker is the most experienced in that group after serving as the third down back in 2018. Rumors persist that he could be trade bait, so it will be interesting if and how he performs.
5. What about RB4?
Even if he does, the battle between Khalfani Muhammad and Devontae Jackson will be one to watch. Both are diminutive speedsters who will need to stand out on special teams as well as offense to stick to the active roster. Chances are good one makes the practice squad, but who will it be?
6. What about the pass catchers?
Relative to early camp expectations, no player had a more disappointing Hall of Fame game than Austin Fort. It’s hardly his own fault, as he’s an undrafted rookie just trying to keep his NFL dream alive. Rather, the hype coming out of camp had ballooned what I thought we’d see.
Instead, he showed off impressive body control and a still developing frame. At present, he looks like an undrafted version of what the Broncos have in Noah Fant. That’s perfectly okay, and if the coaching staff keeps four tight ends he’s definitely still in the mix. Especially if the coaching staff gives up on Jake Butt and his knee issues.
He’d do a lot to convince them if he can have a better game tonight. To do so he’ll need to continue looking like a reliable option in the passing game but show some strides as a blocker. He’s not going to get stronger overnight, but if he can show better footwork and body positioning it’d go a long way, flashing special teams value would also help.
It continues to look like the Broncos will carry six or more receivers. Juwann Winfree is certainly a soft lock after a standout camp and a promising touchdown catch to cap off the Falcons game. Behind him it’s a free for all, and someone could go a long way toward securing a spot if they show out as a returner.
7. Will any of the young linemen impress?
Back during the first week of camp Vic Fangio mentioned that the team could carry eight, nine or 10 offensive linemen. Assuming the starting group is Bolles-Risner-McGovern-Leary-James, that could leave as few as three remaining spots for 11 players. I currently expect Elijah Wilkinson and Don Barclay to make the final 53 as they’ve played a decent bit in place of Leary and James.
You start to see how the math isn’t doing any of the young guys favors.
Jake Brendel is one to watch as he’s also spent time rotating in for Leary. Sam Jones is a local favorite and brings versatility to the interior positions, which could help him. Chaz Green served as Bolles backup last game, though I have serious questions about his pass set.
It starts to get questionable really quick. This isn’t altogether surprising as most NFL teams have trouble digging up eight serviceable lineman, but with the health an ever present question for Leary it’d be nice for the Broncos and Mike Munchak to have some developmental talent.
8. What about the DBs?
It certainly looks like Horace Richardson is running away with that fifth corner spot. If the Broncos see Kareem Jackson as versatile enough to steer away from carrying a sixth corner, every other guy may be playing to unseat Richardson or make the practice squad.
At safety it currently looks like a competition between Su’a Cravens, Dymonte Thomas and Shamarko Thomas. Cravens had a couple of nice plays around the line of scrimmage, but still made a gaffe in pass pro that left me wanting. Dymonte looks like the closest thing to a free safety among this group, while Shamarko brings the most special teams value. I wouldn’t sleep on him.
Lastly, I’ve mentioned this a few times but the secondary is going to be an open question until it isn’t. A big reason for this is because I’m stuck watching broadcast cam, so 70+ percent of their play is off camera. Blame NFL Gamepass.
9. How far off is Drew Lock?
This is the question everyone wants to answer.
Really really good stuff from @danorlovsky7. Continues to hammer home why "arm talent" or physical abilities are only a small piece of the puzzle of playing NFL QB.— Jeffrey Essary (@JeffreyEssary) August 5, 2019
Check it out #BroncosCountry https://t.co/BtmVfZrAYF
Most in the media are going to frame the entire game around the Drew Lock-Paxton Lynch “battle.”
Seriously, don’t be shocked if you’re drowning in QB coverage after the game.