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Early Look at the Broncos 2020 Roster

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Everything’s in flux, but the future looks bright for the Denver Broncos in 2020 and beyond.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Denver Broncos
Von will have his option picked up.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the fact that the end of the season’s been rushing at us for weeks now, it still feels like a bit of a shock. I don’t know about you, but 4-1 has me ready for more Broncos football today. Unfortunately, that can’t be the case. Instead, we’ve reached the review and roster building.

I’ve already been asked a number of times if X will return or what the Broncos’ biggest needs are. I’ve written a little bit about those back during the season (you can find them here and here), and so I thought this would be a little different.

What follows is my attempt to take stock of the Broncos roster in its entirety. This includes players facing expiring contracts, practice squad players, potential cap casualties, and more. To the best of my knowledge, this is every player, but if I missed one, please let me know and I’ll address the omission.

My hope is that this serves as a bit of a jumping off point. It should help if you’re an armchair GM playing around with potential free agents, or running mock drafts. I apologize if we don’t agree on a certain player, but the commentary is simply what I believe based on what’s happened this season and since the win over Oakland.

Let’s get started.

The Defense and Special Teams

Long Snapper

Casey Kreiter made the Pro Bowl in 2018 but is up for a new deal, so it is noteworthy that the Broncos signed West Farnsworth to a futures deal today.

Punter

Colby Wadman may just be the least popular member of the Broncos. He’s certainly among the top three. There was some excitement earlier this month when punters worked out for the team, and now Trevor Daniel has signed a futures deal.

Kicker

Brandon McManus should return, which is a good thing. I personally subscribe to the belief that you don’t want to overpay kickers, but the 28-year-old ranked 16th in average per year in 2019, more than fair for one of the more reliable kickers in the league. If you don’t believe me, just ask Colts or Falcons fans if they’d take him on.

Safety

Kareem Jackson returns. He’ll turn 32 right before the draft and count for $14 million against the 2020 cap, but was having one of the best years of his career under Fangio until a suspension for driving under the influence ended his season.

Behind him, there are a number of questions. The biggest one is the status of Justin Simmons. Have no fear, Broncos Country, all reports suggest his return is imminent. At the season-ending presser, Fangio spoke about how he’s an ascending player and “everything we want in a football player.” Elway was even more clear:

“We want him back. You know the options there. Before we came down, I talked to Justin and said, ‘You know what, we want you back.’ He’s a great football player, but he’s a better man. What he does outside of this building and what’s done in Denver has been tremendous. Just the type of guys he is. These are the type of guys that we want on this football team. Obviously, we have the franchise option there, but we’d like to get something done with Justin for the long term.”

Depth is a bigger issue, even if it isn’t going to garner any headlines. The first part of the year, Will Parks was woefully inconsistent and admitted that he had trouble picking up the scheme early on. He looked far better in the Nickel, enough so that Jackson’s suspension wasn’t enough to move him. Parks is also an unrestricted free agent.

Trey Marshall was the man who stepped in for Jackson. He looked better than I dared hope. It’ll be interesting to see if his development is enough to stave off any significant investment into the position.

The rest of the Broncos safeties are mostly unproven at the NFL level. Kahani Smith came into the league out of Texas El Paso and was just signed this week. P.J. Locke is a former Steeler who was on the practice squad. The lone “veteran” is Tyvis Powell who has worn nine different NFL uniforms. He started a game for the San Francisco 49ers back in 2018, but was cut less than two weeks later.

Cornerback

De’Vante Bausby will probably return. Chris Harris Jr. probably won’t. He revealed that the Broncos offered a 3-year deal for $36 million on Monday. The average per year is interesting, but Mike Klis revealed on Monday that the deal was actually a very team-friendly two-year addition onto Harris’ 2019 salary.

Outside of him, the Broncos have a really green group. Isaac Yiadom will be the projected starter across from Bausby with Davontae Harris, Alijah Holder, and Shakial Taylor behind them.

Expect Elway and Fangio to scour the market for some help here, especially if the Broncos’ future Ring of Famer departs.

Nickel

This group is essentially its own position in the Broncos’ defense, and Fangio has said as much when he describes the responsibilities as closer to that of a linebackers. Because of this, it asks for a different type of player.

There’s a possibility Will Parks returns to offer depth at safety and compete for this spot, something I’d probably welcome with Bryce Callahan’s durability issues. That said, if he’s healed from the foot injury that derailed his 2019, the former Bear is probably an upgrade in coverage. He was outstanding in 2018.

Duke Dawson and Horace Richardson round out this group at the moment. Dawson is a former 2nd round pick of the Patriots who started some games at the nickel in the middle of this year before Parks beat him out for the spot. Richardson flashed some promise in the preseason before an injury sent him to Injured Reserve.

Linebacker

The stack or inside linebackers look set on the surface, but could undergo an overhaul this off-season as Fangio starts to remake the entire defense to better fit his scheme.

I’d be surprised if Alexander Johnson doesn’t return after the debut campaign he just had. However, it wouldn’t shock me if Todd Davis departs. The 27-year-old has an option in his contract coming up and the Broncos can save a decent chunk of cap space on by declining it. During the Vance Joseph era, many in Broncos Country soured on Davis for the issues with covering tight ends, but while his athletic limitations were problematic in spots, this season Denver finished 6th in the league against tight ends by DVOA.

All to say, I’m not actively rooting for Davis’ departure, but with former Bears like Danny Trevathan and Isaiah Kwiatkoski expected to hit the free agent market and some promising draft prospects, it could make sense.

Behind the starters, Denver’s linebacker corps has mostly depth pieces. Josey Jewell was a rookie starter in 2018 but was clearly the third member of the group in the new system. Joe Jones was unofficially 3rd on the depth chart way back in OTAs last spring and took over a starting job when Todd Davis left for the birth of his child, but got lost in the shuffle after an injury in training camp.

Further down, Corey Nelson got a bit of the raw end of the stick. He was thrown into the starting lineup in week 1 after less than a week on the team and hit I.R. due to a torn bicep in week 8. Josh Watson had a couple of promising moments in the preseason and made a few plays on special teams this season.

Tre’ Crawford was recently signed to a futures contract after creating some buzz in the Falcons’ camp last spring. He’s an intriguing athlete from UAB, but hasn’t put it all together just yet.

Edge

Bradley Chubb returns, which brings me to one of the most fun useless facts I’ve been keeping on the back burner for three months. If you’ll remember, the Broncos weren’t getting sacks or turnovers in the early part of the season. The 2018 fifth overall pick made his mark on the season when he notched one before bowing out with a torn ACL after week 4.

What’s kind of wild is how he also finished the season with nine individual pass pressures in those four games, according to Sports Info Solutions. Nine doesn’t seem like much, but it’s more than Dee Ford finished with over the entire 2019 season. That said, Chubb’s return should do wonders for Von Miller, who had the 7th most pressures in the entire league according to Sports Info Solutions.

Behind the starters are Malik Reed and Justin Hollins, who both got extensive reps in Chubb’s absence. The former saw his snaps dry up after the second Los Angeles game, while the latter was earning snaps at both edge and off-ball linebacker back in training camp.

Jeremiah Attaochu may also return after some really impressive moments. It remains to be seen if he tries to find a larger opportunity elsewhere, but I’d bet he fits the Fangio system better than anyone dared hope for.

Malik Carney was a member of the practice squad who NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein compared to Shaquil Barrett.

Here’s to many more of these in the 2020’s.

Defensive Line

This is another group that could look a lot different in training camp than it does right now. Broncos Country has known all year that Adam Gotsis, Shelby Harris, and Derek Wolfe were playing out the last season of their contracts in 2019. Right now, Wolfe is the only one I’d bet on to return, and even that is based more upon what he’s said since getting injured than anything else.

A few weeks ago there were reports that suggested Harris and Fangio didn’t see eye to eye, which he disputed on Twitter a couple of weeks ago. Regardless of the relationship between the two, the former 7th rounders’ play may have priced him out of Elway’s budget. He logged a career high in snaps, sacks, and tipped passes.

Gotsis is almost surely gone after ending up benched for Mike Purcell way back in week 5. He found his way back into the rotation due to injuries ahead of him, but wound up on I.R. before Christmas with a knee injury.

Two players who directly benefited form the injuries were Dre’Mont Jones and DeMarcus Walker. Both profile as sub package interior pass rushers, so it was no surprise that the Broncos’ run defense dipped a bit when Wolfe’s injury gave way to more snaps for both. Even still, they had bright moments mixed in, such as when Jones earned Defensive Player of the Week honors for his 2.5 sack performance against the Detroit Lions.

Jonathan Harris also earned snaps because of others’ misfortunes. He logged a season high 37 snaps in the loss in Kansas City. The former Bear has intriguing size and length. Deyon Kizer and Billy Winn should also factor in.

On Monday, the Broncos also put in a claim for Joel Heath. After going undrafted back in 2016, the Texans offered him $11,000 to sign with them over four other teams. In four seasons, Heath has appeared in 32 career games and started in 16 of them.

Nose tackle

Mike Purcell was a revelation after Elway signed the former Salt Lake Stallion right before the 2019 Draft. A restricted free agent, it would be surprising if he wasn’t brought back for 2020. Behind him is Kyle Peko, who Elway’s cut eight different times.

Jay-Tee Tiuli is a 6’3”, 340 lb practice squad prospect out of Eastern Washington who signed a futures contract. He’s officially the heaviest Bronco on the roster.

The Offense

Right Tackle

Ja’Wuan James earned $126,984.13 a snap he played in 2019, an injury-marred campaign that never got going after he suffered a knee injury in the opening week loss to the Raiders. It remains a curiosity that the Broncos never placed him on Injured Reserve, as he wound up trying to play through a variety of issues directly tied to that initial injury, including instability in his knee.

The hope has to be that he can return to health in 2020. In the event of the worst case scenario, the Broncos can move on from him in the 2021 off-season at the cost of a $6 million dead cap penalty.

Minus James for the lions’ share of the season, Mike Munchak and the Broncos had to resort to playing Elijah Wilkinson on the edge. An undrafted player who made the roster in 2017 and played guard in 2018, he mostly struggled on the perimeter. He had some good moments mixed in, however, and I’d expect him to return to compete for a backup job or slide inside to play right guard.

Ka’John Armstrong spent time with the Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars prior to signing a futures contract this week.

Right Guard

This time last year, Ronald Leary looked like he’d be a cap casualty, but ultimately wasn’t. This year, the Broncos will have to make a decision by March 10th to exercise his team option on 2020. If they exercise it, $1.5 million of his base salary will become fully guaranteed, a strong indication that Leary will remain a Bronco in 2020. If they decline it, they would no longer be liable for a total of $8.5 million in cash yet to be paid, and Leary would become an unrestricted free agent at the start of the 2020 league year. In addition, Leary will be eligible to become a compensatory free agent that could reward the Broncos with a compensatory draft pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

I doubt Leary is back at his current cap number, as he hasn’t played an entire season since coming over from the Dallas Cowboys. To date, he’s played one 16-game season in his NFL career.

His departure would leave a hole in the expected starting lineup unless Munchak believes Wilkinson can slide inside or Austin Schlottmann can improve upon his 2019. The latter wound up starting four games after a concussion knocked Leary out for the year. While there were some decent moments mixed in, I personally wouldn’t count on him as plan A.

Center

It’s kind of remarkable how little respect Conner McGovern received for one of the better seasons by any offensive starters. He started every game, played every single snap, and his ability to get out and block on the second level as well as his ability to hold up and anchor really helped stabilize the middle of the line. Unfortunately for the Broncos, his contract has expired and Jason Fitzgerald of Over The Cap expects him to be one of the premier interior linemen on the market.

Technically both Patrick Morris and Nico Falah profile as centers and could wind up getting a chance to fill the spot if McGovern departs. The former played some left guard in the second half of the Lions game and held up far better than expected, while the latter tore his ACL way back in May of last year.

Left Guard

Dalton Risner will start at left guard next season. I’m going to refer you back to this post every time someone asks me if he’s going to move to center or tackle. Feel free to own me or it if I’m wrong.

Left Tackle

This is what John Elway said about Garett Bolles at the season-ending presser on Monday:

“I think Vic hit it on the nose. One thing about Garett, he was available. He was there every play. I don’t think he missed a play this year. We talked about availability—he was there. He got off to a slow start, but I think that he continued to get better and better and better as the year went on. We did a better job helping him, too.

I think [G Dalton] Risner did a nice job at left guard helping him and working together. That cohesion there was good. Vic and I were talking about the call that he got yesterday. You can say that happens all the time and that doesn’t get called. The hard thing is that Garett is under the microscope. He’s under the microscope and any time they say ‘72,’ it brings down the whole stadium. That happens. He got himself in that position, so we’ll continue working at it.

Now, we had a lot of injuries at tackle. Ja’Wuan didn’t play and then [T] Elijah [Wilkinson] went down. Again, nobody is in this thing for sure. It’s always open competition going into training camp and we’ll evaluate where Garett is and talk to [Offensive Line Coach] Mike [Munchak] and [Offensive Line Assistant Coach] Chris [Kuper] and see what they think where we’re going with the offensive line, but Garett continued to get better. He got better and he was available, and that’s important.”

Count me among those who don’t believe the Broncos are looking to spend their first round pick on a left tackle. Maybe they go that way if Tristan Wirfs or Andrew Thomas fall to them at 15, but I wouldn’t count on it. What looks more likely is that Munchak and the front office find a prospect on Day 2 who can be groomed to push for the position if Bolles does not make the progress he needs to be to improve from a below average starter.

Jake Rodgers was essentially the Broncos’ swing tackle in 2019 and started the season finale against the Raiders because of the injury to Wilkinson. He has worn nine different uniforms and made his first start of his career in week 17. He struggled badly.

Calvin Anderson is unproven but came into the league with decent feet and a need to get stronger. This may be the skeptic in me, but the fact that he didn’t see any snaps on offense with all of the injuries in front of him speaks volumes about how Munchak viewed him this past year. Maybe he improves.

Receiver

Based on what Elway said at the presser, I would expect the Broncos to prioritize this group in the spring.

“You look at [WR] Tim Patrick and then [WR] DaeSean [Hamilton] really the last two or three weeks really came on. We feel good about that, but obviously we’re looking at every position. We’re going to evaluate every position to see what we have available and what’s available. We’re going to try to upgrade every position. Wide receiver, we feel like the guys stepped up when we traded Emmanuel [Sanders]. They stepped up and did a nice job, but we’re always trying to upgrade. We’re trying to upgrade every position, and that would be one that we would look at too.”

Receiver as a position group can be broken down further into a three distinct positions, with blurry lines between them. A big reason for this is because in modern NFL offenses, coordinators will move players around to get mismatches and advantages. Which is one reason why Courtland Sutton is both the clear cut number one receiver, a prototypical X-receiver, but will still line up in the slot and off the line and motion across the formation.

Beyond Sutton, things get even more murky. Tim Patrick profiles as another X type. He’s tall, strong, and will go up to get a ball. The 26-year-old isn’t the quickest receiver, and so he’s not as great an option for end arounds or some of the routes Emmanuel Sanders used to run. Still, his size does make him a viable player to line up close to the formation and both block for the run and sneak out for mismatches on linebackers.

DaeSean Hamilton looks like he fits best as a third receiver who plays primarily in the slot. His lack of top end speed seemed to limit how effective he was on out on the perimeter and he’ll need to bounce back after a woefully inconsistent 2019 of catching the ball. He did show some promising chemistry with Lock, so it’s probably too soon to give up on him just yet.

Diontae Spencer was used on 68 offensive snaps in 2019, which is probably 68 too many in an ideal world. He is dynamic with the ball in his hands and there’s a reason he’s a Pro Bowl alternate as a returner, but at 5’9 and 160 lbs, he is limited as a receiver. One of the big reasons he saw snaps down the stretch was how his speed had to be accounted for when he went into motion, which helped to create space for both the running game and other receivers to operate.

A couple people have asked me throughout the course of the season, “Why didn’t Juwann Winfree earn any reps?” That is tough to answer clearly because he only saw 15 offensive snaps and was inactive after Week 9. The easiest answer is that the coaching staff saw him in practice and found Fred Brown offered more to special teams, which is critical for a depth receiver.

Winfree will get a chance to earn more looks in training camp and he does profile as the kind of size/speed prospect that has a chance to really emerge out of nowhere in year two or three. I would think he’ll compete for time with Brown, Trinity Benson, Kelvin McKnight, and any young players the front office adds to the position group.

Tight End

Noah Fant will return and hopefully continue the kind of growth he showed through the course of his rookie season. During the early stretch, there was a lot of “bust” talk going around despite the fact that tight end is a notoriously difficult position to learn outside of quarterback. He wound up flashing some really explosive plays and got better as the year went along, which is what you hope to see.

Jeff Heuerman is the steady veteran who had a better season than his receiving numbers suggest. He wasn’t ever a real focal point in the passing game, but provided a solid option as a run blocker and served as a reliable outlet receiver when called upon. It will be interesting to see what the front office does with him going forward, as cutting him would free up $3.5 million and carry just a $500,000 cap hit.

Behind them are a host of names who will compete for one or maybe two spots out of the preseason next year. Troy Fumagalli scored his first touchdown this year, but will need to improve in order to stick to a more healthy roster. Austin Fort was the hot rookie until an ACL injury derailed his campaign, while Bug Howard wound up on I.R, was waived, and then signed back to the practice squad at the end of the season.

Jake Butt is a bit of an enigma after his knee refused to cooperate with him in the preseason. If healthy, I’d expect him back as he tries to play out the last year of his rookie contract.

Fullback

Last August, it looked like George “Juggerneck” Aston would push to serve as a potential Andy Janovich replacement in 2020. That all came to a halt at the end of the preseason when Aston was cut and wound up out of football, even as Jano started the season injured. He came back at the end of September, signed an extension in October, and dislocated his elbow in the November loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

The nature of fullback and its importance to the Scangarello offense made depth important, so it was encouraging to see how Andrew Beck improved in the role over the course of the 2019 season. An undrafted free agent who earned the biggest bonus among the New England Patriots signees last April, he could eventually find himself competing for time at tight end if Janovich returns healthy for camp.

Jeremy Cox recently signed a futures contract. He was a part of the Los Angeles Chargers camp last year after going undrafted out of Old Dominion. It remains to be seen what the Broncos have planned for him. He was listed as a fullback on Klis’ initial tweet, but had 442 carries for 2,175 rushing yards and caught 75 passes for 532 yards in his collegiate career. He found the end zone 23 times.

Running back

This is a position that could be really boring or get wild. Both Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman will return, and there has been some movement on the idea that the Broncos will approach the undrafted star about reworking his deal.

The rest of the depth chart is completely unknown right now. Devontae Booker is almost certainly going to depart. He fell to third on the depth chart in 2018 and wound up with less than 30 offensive snaps this past season.

Theo Riddick chose to sign with the Broncos over the Saints after the Lions cut him in July, but made it through all of one preseason game before he landed on I.R. There was speculation that he’d have been one of the two players designated to return if Denver hadn’t brought back Lock and Patrick. He turns 29 in May and does bring a skill set that looks like an ideal fit for the offense.

The Broncos carried Khalfani Muhammad on the practice squad throughout the 2019 season. He stands 5’7 and weighs under 180 lbs, but brings 4.34 speed to the position and had some really exciting moments in the preseason.

There’s a very real possibility the front office looks to add another back to the rotation. The big question is what kind of investment they’ll make. Scangarello likes to move backs out into space to force mismatches in coverage, and Freeman had a disappointing sophomore season. Elway could look for a 1B type, a true bell cow to push the whole depth chart down one notch, or a passing down specialist.

Quarterback

Welcome to the first full off-season of the Drew Lock era Broncos Country. Let’s hope he puts in the work to make it the start of many. His five starts after coming off injured reserve showed a lot more promise than I dared hope, but there remains a ton of work to be done if he’ll seriously fight with Patrick Mahomes for the AFC West.

The good news is he’s saying all the kind of things you hope to hear:

“There’s probably going to be some quarterbacks that used to play here for the Denver Broncos that I might give a call and ask what their plan was going ahead, what did you do with your receivers, when did you get them together, when did he feel it was a good enough time to let everyone have a little break and then bring everyone back and focus. I’m going to make a couple phone calls and talk to some guys who were pretty good at this position and hopefully by the time I have those phone conversations in the next couple weeks, we’ll be able to have an intact plan. You have to talk to [President of Football Operations/GM] John Elway and Peyton Manning. One’s in our building and one’s been talking to me and leading me through these five games, and I appreciate him doing that for me.”

What Elway does outside of Lock will be fascinating. Brandon Allen is a restricted free agent who probably won’t get too much interest on the market after completing 46.4% of his passes. I thought he played better than that number suggests, but believe a better long-term number two would make sense.

Joe Flacco mentioned after the season how he’d be willing to serve as a backup if that’s what it takes to continue playing in the NFL. I doubt he’d have any other choice, in all honesty. I’d also be shocked if the Broncos bring him back after his little tirade after the Colts game. They will cut him this off-season.

Brett Rypien should return after a year on the practice squad. If you were around last off-season, you’ll know I was sky-high on him coming out of Boise State. This camp will be crucial for him to deliver on some of that promise.

Poll

What is the Broncos’ biggest roster need?

This poll is closed

  • 55%
    Offensive Line.
    (1044 votes)
  • 6%
    Receiver.
    (124 votes)
  • 30%
    Cornerback.
    (563 votes)
  • 0%
    Safety.
    (9 votes)
  • 0%
    Quarterback.
    (8 votes)
  • 0%
    Running back.
    (4 votes)
  • 0%
    Fullback.
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    Tight End.
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    Edge.
    (1 vote)
  • 1%
    Linebacker.
    (24 votes)
  • 3%
    Defensive Line.
    (72 votes)
  • 0%
    Kicker.
    (1 vote)
  • 1%
    Punter.
    (20 votes)
  • 0%
    Long snapper.
    (2 votes)
1874 votes total Vote Now

Your Broncos Links

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NFL Draft Links

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NFL Links

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