With news that Keishawn Bierria will be added to the Broncos active roster again, it looks like the Broncos have decided upon the best 53 players for 2019.
So what do we know about the 2019 Broncos?
Special teams - 3/4
Brandon McManus, Colby Wadman, Casey Kreiter
Technically speaking, the reason Diontae Spencer is on the roster today and River Cracraft isn’t is because of special teams. Spencer will give the Broncos something they haven’t had since Isaiah McKenzie was cut at the end of the 2018 camp: an explosive return man.
The #Steelers got a good WR in Diontae Spencer. I am incredibly impressed by his CFL tape. Fast as hell, solid route runner, vertical threat, slot capabilities, fantastic returner, and even more importantly, contested catch ability. He could make a serious roster push. pic.twitter.com/G0fBUYUvKF— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) January 6, 2019
Secondary - 10
Chris Harris, Kareem Jackson, Bryce Callahan, Isaac Yiadom, Justin Simmons, Will Parks, Da’Vante Bausby, Duke Dawson, Davontae Harris, Trey Marshall
There is little question that the New Fly Zone looks like one of the strongest position groups on the 2019 roster. 2018 should have made it clear to everyone bleeding orange and blue that you need to stop the pass in order to consistently win in the NFL, and Fangio’s scheme combined with the addition of Jackson and retention of Harris should make it easier to do so.
Both Duke Dawson and Harris were brought in to provide depth and as potential developmental pieces for down the road. Both came into the league in 2018; Dawson as a second rounder to the New England Patriots and Harris in the fifth round to the Cincinatti Bengals. Both stand about 5’11 and weigh between 195 and 205 lbs. At a glance they also both look like they could play anywhere from the slot to safety going forward.
Stack Linebackers - 6
Todd Davis*, Josey Jewell, Alexander Johnson, Joseph Jones+, Corey Nelson, Keishawn Bierria
Probably the most concerning position group on the Broncos defense. More than a few in Broncos Country expected Elway to select Devin Bush in the 2019 NFL Draft. Instead he traded down to 20 with the Pittsburgh Steelers and entered camp with Davis and Jewell locked in as starters. They say God laughs when man plans, and he must have had a good chuckle at this.
Todd Davis’ and then Joseph Jones’ injuries at the beginning of the August gave the Broncos coaching staff an extensive look at the younger backers on the roster. No player made as much of the opportunity as Alexander Johnson, the 27-year old second year backer out of Tennessee looks like a baby Davis with strong play at the point of attack and an underrated all-around game.
Behind him things get interesting. Corey Nelson should sign tomorrow with the expectation that he’ll immediately help on special teams. He’s a familiar name who won’t be familiar with the Fangio defense, however, so there’s probably a hope it’s some time before he sees snaps on defense.
Keishawn Bierria wasn’t on the the initial 52-man roster yesterday, and looked to have lost a battle with CSU linebacker Josh Watson. Now he is. The 2018 7th round pick is a bit of a liability in pass coverage, but offers physical play at the point of attack. He played all of 18 defensive snaps in 2018, but almost 70% of the special teams. Look for more of the same once everyone else is healthy.
Which brings us to Todd Davis, easily the biggest X-Factor on the defense in the early part of the season. The 6th year pro says he’ll be ready to go week 1. How he looks after missing all of training camp and the preseason is anyone’s guess right now. Fangio was asked how difficult it would be to step back into the action immediately yesterday and had this to say:
“It would be but Todd’s a tough guy and a smart guy with a lot of experience so if anybody could do it, it would be him.”
Edge Backers - 4
Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Justin Hollins, Malik Reed
If the secondary isn’t the strength of the Broncos, the edge rotation certainly is. Von and Chubb look like Superman and Batman or Iron Man and Captain America. Behind them Hollins and Reed have been two of the most exciting players throughout the Broncos’ preseason. Both could use seasoning, strength, and time to hone their pass rush repertoire before extensive action, but make no mistake: this group will be the envy of most in the league.
Defensive Line - 6
Derek Wolfe, Shelby Harris, Adam Gotsis, DeMarcus Walker, Mike Purcell, Dre’Mont Jones
If the secondary and edge rush aren’t the strength of the Broncos defense, the line certainly is. You certainly know the big 3, but Walker has come on in Fangio’s system and looks like a standout interior rusher for sub-packages. Purcell had perhaps the best preseason of any Bronco and looks like a nose shade in the base who could play an Eddie Goldman type of role on passing downs. Dre’Mont Jones flashed some serious potential, but may need to get stronger.
Offensive Line - 8
Garett Bolles, Dalton Risner, Conner McGovern, Ronald Leary, Ja’Wuan James, Elijah Wilkinson, Austin Schlottman, Corey Levin
There are three big additions, two obvious and one subtle. Dalton Risner fell to the Broncos 2nd round pick and immediately won a starting job. James is a big ticket bookend on the right side. Wilkinson is your swing man, essentially OL6 across the line. He could potentially push Bolles if the former first round pick doesn’t elevate his game.
Behind him the Broncos have Schlottman who spent time at right guard and center this preseason, and Levin who came off waivers from the Tennessee Titans. My biggest concern with this group is depth, which is something you can say for most teams across the NFL.
Mike Munchak’s hiring makes this group a lot less scary. It should come as little surprise that the Broncos look poised to carry three linemen on the practice squad to develop for down the road.
LT tiers heading into WK1:— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) August 31, 2019
Tight Ends/Fullbacks - 5
Noah Fant, Jeff Heuerman, Troy Fumagalli, Andrew Beck, Andy Janovich
Fant is the big reason Devin Bush isn’t a Bronco. The uber athletic tight end gives Denver a freakish mismatch weapon if he can master the nuances of route running. Heuerman, and Fumagalli are steady outlet options.
Andrew Beck was added as depth and to provide some help in lieu of the Andy Janovich injury. The former Longhorn wasn’t drafted last spring and got a big signing bonus to compete in the Patriots camp. Now he’ll block for the good guys.
47 Days to Texas Football: Sam drops an absolute dime to Andrew Beck pic.twitter.com/h9UbhWSzZ8— David Allen (@Doc_Texas) July 15, 2019
Receivers - 6*
Emmanuel Sanders, Courtland Sutton, DaeSean Hamilton, Tim Patrick, Juwann Winfree, Diontae Spencer
Spencer is a return specialist. The rest of this group is as expected. Sanders looked close to full health against the San Francisco 49ers a couple weeks ago, but it’s the young receivers who will make or break the Broncos passing game in 2019.
Sutton, Hamilton, and Patrick all flashed promise over the course of the 2018 season, but every one of them needs to step up in a big way if Denver will make a real run at the postseason this year.
Juwann Winfree got a lot of excitement out of the early part of camp, but could be relegated to special teams and spot duty now that the regular season is here. He offers a lot of the same exciting traits Sutton does: he’s a physical mismatch who’s faster than his 6’2 216lb frame suggests.
That great special teams tackle Broncos rookie Juwann Winfree made on punt coverage vs. Rams last week? He got fined $28,075, per source. Absurd. There will be appeal. #9sports— Mike Klis (@MikeKlis) September 1, 2019
Running Backs - 3
Royce Freeman, Phillip Lindsay, Devontae Booker
The biggest question facing this group will be the carry distribution between Lindsay and Freeman. As exciting as Lindsay’s 2018 was, Freeman’s vision is one of the reasons I was so high on him out of Oregon last year. It’s also a key part of success in the Shanahan/Scangarello offense.
Booker sticks in part because his skillset is so useful on third downs. While some don’t like it as much as Muhammad’s speed, Booker is a far more reliable pass protector and route runner. Both of these traits are incredibly valuable with Janovich out to start the season.
Being an NFL rusher is about more than just running fast. These are the most important skills they need to be successful.
Quarterbacks - 2
Joe Flacco, Brandon Allen
Kevin Hogan was a bit of a surprise cut yesterday, but only if you weren’t paying attention to the things Vic Fangio said for the last two weeks of the preseason. The Stanford product failed time and again to clearly separate from an undrafted rookie passer, which didn’t bode well.
Enter Brandon Allen, who Elway claimed off waivers from the Los Angeles Rams. The move makes sense for a number of reasons. Sean McVay’s offense is a 2nd or 3rd cousin of Rich Scangarello’s as both systems come from the original Mike Shanahan tree. Allen is also young enough to potentially grow into a long term backup for the Broncos.
Leave no mistake about it though, the offense will live and die with Joe Flacco’s performance. Optimists will point to his career year under Gary Kubiak in 2014, pessimists will point to the production since.
We’re about to find out.