With about a month until the Broncos’ open training camp ahead of the 2021 season, it’s a great time to really begin to chew on who is fighting for jobs in the preseason. My plan in the leadup to camp on the 27th of July is to go position by position and break down the players we’ll get to watch this preseason.
For the first time, the NFL will have a unified start to training camp, with 29 teams set to report Tuesday, July 27 -- 47 days before the Sunday of Week 1, as allowed by the CBA -- and plans for league-wide practices and fan events Saturday, July 31.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) May 25, 2021
Midsummer Madness, anyone?
Things will change as my preliminary notes transform into breakdowns over the next couple of weeks, but I thought it a good time to share my own views on the roster. Since the draft, I’ve tried to take a more objective view with an attempt to see things through the eyes of the people who would make the decisions. That’s what I had in mind when I wrote my first roster prediction and it’s something I tried to do as I looked at who I consider the true locks for the Broncos’ roster.
This look is a bit different. I wanted to share which groups I’m most excited for, who intrigues me, and my hopes ahead of a little tape grind. I completely understand that you won’t all feel the same, and look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Is Von Miller back?
I’ve moved edge around a few times. There are position battles and groups I’m more excited about for in the preseason, but nothing interests me as much as the future Hall of Famer. We’ve only gotten a chance to see Bradley Chubb and Miller play together four times in the Fangio defense, and it came before the secondary caught up to the complex if/then principles of the system. I’m dying to see Chubb and Von terrorize the league.
How Malik Reed fits into the rotation also intrigues me. While he led the team in sacks a season ago with eight and finished the year with 35 pressures per Sports Info Solutions’ charting, he isn’t the kind of mismatch threat Chubb (7.5 and 58) or a 2019-esque Miller (8 and 63) are. If Von returns to form, there’s little doubt Reed is third on the depth chart, but he’s a good player who can help the defense. Fangio used Chubb in a Joker role at times last season and may do so again as a way to get all three edge rushers on the field.
Who emerges as ED4 will also be interesting, but I suspect special teams plays a huge role. If health isn’t a factor, the starting trio will log most of the defensive snaps.
Who is the Broncos’ QB1?
We know it isn’t Justin Fields, who George Paton didn’t draft in April. There was fervent hope Aaron Rodgers was landing in Denver as it happened, so the decision didn’t sting as much. It currently looks like the decision could blow up in ugly fashion if Rodgers elects to retire or play for the Packers in 2021.
While I truly believe Aaron Rodgers finds his way to the Mile High City before the end of training camp, it currently looks like Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater will fight for the right to start in week one. The two had very similar 2020’s, which makes the competition very intriguing.
In the background of all that, I’m also jazzed to see if Brett Rypien improved off his week four performance against the Jets.
QB performance in clean pocket vs under pressure, NFL 2020: pic.twitter.com/uyjZb2m45z— Zach Drapkin (@ZachDrapkin) June 25, 2021
How much is Courtland Sutton going to play in the preseason? All reports claim he’s headed towards a full recovery from the ACL tear that ruined his third season, but until we see it I’ll be anxious about it. If he can return to what we saw in 2019, it changes the dynamic for the whole receiving corps.
I didn’t worry about Jerry Jeudy last year and it doesn’t surprise me he received rave reviews from the Broncos’ OTAs. I expect him to blossom into one of the best receivers in football this year. Outside injury concerns, I’m not at all worried about Tim Patrick either. He’s a very good tertiary option as a boundary receiver with the straight line speed, hands, and frame to win downfield.
I’m more concerned about K.J. Hamler, who may be miscast if Lock’s starting but didn’t improve enough to open up horizontal leading routes. The Broncos’ 2020 second round pick isn’t built to win contested catches, he could be a YAC monster and needs to attack the middle of the field to make the most of his speed. On top of that, he continues to have hamstring issues.
The position battles here definitely intrigue me and receiver is one of my favorite positions to study, but the fact we won’t have access to All-22 tape in the preseason dampens my interest. Outside of when they catch the ball, I won’t have a chance to really dig into Tyrie Cleveland or Seth Williams’ route running. Broadcast cam also limits what you can glean of some special teams snaps.
Really excited to watch a healthy Courtland Sutton this year.— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) June 25, 2021
Outstanding physical traits who showed flashes of improvement in his route running in 2019. pic.twitter.com/EzsAutljNl
The preseason may provide the first hints as to how the three headed monster backfield is going to split carries. On this side of it, I expect Javonte Williams to receive a ton of carries on gap concepts while Mike Boone rips some nice runs off outside zone. I’ll be surprised if Melvin Gordon doesn’t see the majority of third down snaps once we approach the regular season, but I hope to see promise from both his backups there in case of injury.
Further down the depth chart, I’m curious about the plan for Royce Freeman. If the Broncos carry four backs as I expect them to, LaVante Bellamy presents a threat to his spot on the roster. The first carry Damarea Crockett takes in a Broncos uniform would be his first NFL carry and he came into the league in 2019, so I’m definitely hoping we get a good look at him in the preseason.
If you’re the type of person who gets stuck on how little the preseason matters because of the score and still want to tune in, take your eyes off the ball. The battles along both sides of the line of scrimmage are going to play a huge role in the makeup of the roster and there’s a ton going on.
Can Garett Bolles build off of his first All Pro season? After a disappointing 2020, can the interior offensive line grow into the kind of trio the backs need to run over the NFL? Who will win the right tackle job? Will the starting five get enough work together to prevent communications miscues in the regular season? How does the pass pro work?
Beyond all that are some of my favorite youngsters on the roster. Netane Muti’s Carolina tape is simply fun, and Quinn Meinerz punches trees in his spare time. I’m also rooting for Calvin Anderson to make a jump off his 2020 tape.
I straight up love watching Shelby Harris play football. I’m also extremely optimistic about Dre’Mont Jones future and it’s exciting to think about what the two can do with both Miller and Chubb along the edges.
While news about Mike Purcell is positive, I’m eager to see how he looks this preseason, as the Broncos’ base personnel is about as stout as they come when he’s clogging up the middle. He’s quicker than he gets credit for, which gives him time to win position with heavy hands.
The depth battles here also intrigue. Hopefully McTelvin Agim makes a jump in his second season. if he does, Fangio probably has one of the deepest defensive lines in football.
Baron Browning’s injury during OTAs hurts my interest here. Barring injury, the starters look secure. While Justin Strnad could find a way to carve out meaningful snaps, he’s essentially an old rookie who lost two years to season-ending injuries. How Fangio plays his backers in the preseason will be interesting, but the four who make the final roster already look etched in pencil.
Like the wide receivers, a lack of access to All-22 tape in the preseason really disappoints in these position battles compared to some other groups. Without being able to see downfield on every play, it’s going to be a guessing game made up of reports and speculation in the preseason.
However, don’t confuse my loathing for preseason tape with a lack of enthusiasm for this group. I can’t wait to see Patrick Surtain II in action. It’s also going to be a blast to see how Fangio maximizes the secondary come week one.
Surtain knew the QB would throw at him before he did. Then he holds onto the ball through contact for an easy 6. pic.twitter.com/uVVa83wyZn— Joe (R-E-L-A-X) Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) May 15, 2021
Tight End / Fullback
If you didn’t know this, I’ve long been fascinated by the way coaches use tight ends. They diversify your offense. The fact Pat Shurmur moves Noah Fant and others around in 12 personnel was something that kept me coming back through the 2020 horror show. That Fant is also becoming one of the best young tight ends in football also helps.
Albert Okwuegbunam is a soft lock barring a total collapse off the promise he showed last season. I’ll spend the preseason debating the merits of bubble wrap until week one for him, because losing him in week nine after his New England and Kansas City games was painful.
The battles here will be equal parts interesting and painful to speculate on. Special teams is going to play a big part in who makes the final roster, and I have a hard time believing Andrew Beck is in any sort of real trouble with his versatility. There may be all of one open spot for the rest of the hopefuls to fight over.
3 year 3 Broncos I'm excited for in 2021— Joe (R-E-L-A-X) Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) March 2, 2021
Noah Fant pic.twitter.com/KN4cdggdLA
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Press Conference Roundup: One notable quote from each NFL team’s OTA and mandatory minicamp media sessions | NFL News, Rankings and Statistics | PFF
NOTABLE OTA QUOTE — G Lloyd Cushenberry III: “Every year you got to get stronger, you got to get faster. You got to just tweak certain things. Going into the offseason, I went straight to work, knowing how I played last year and how unacceptable that was. I had to change a lot of things.” ANALYSIS: Denver’s offensive line comes in at 21st in PFF’s offensive line rankings ahead of the 2021 season, with Cushenberry certainly being a reason why. No center graded out worse than him in 2020, and only four others allowed more pressure on the quarterback. He recognizes his struggles, but with the Broncos spending a third-round pick on Wisconsin-Whitewater’s Quinn Meinerz, a guard-center hybrid, Cushenberry will face immediate competition for the starting spot.
This includes, most notably, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. By next Friday, July 2, he can pull the plug on the 2021 season. It would be a permanent and irrevocable decision, but he can do it. The benefit to doing so comes from the fact that he would not forfeit $11.5 million in unearned signing bonus money for 2021 if he opts out. Also, he presumably would still receive the payments on the $6.8 million roster bonus that he earned in March, and that is due to be paid out in weekly installments during the season. That’s $18.3 million that he’ll keep by opting out. If he doesn’t opt out but holds out, he loses that $18.3 million — and would be fined roughly $2 million on top of it for skipping training camp.
Right tackle Morgan Moses has agreed to terms on a one-year deal with the Jets, Sam Fortier of The Washington Post reports. The deal has a $3.6 million base salary, and Moses can get a maximum of $5.3 million with 80 percent or more of playing time incentives, Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports.
Goodwin failed to qualify for the finals in the long jump at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon on Friday. Goodwin finished 19th among 24 participants in the qualifying round and only the top 12 jumpers move on to Sunday’s final.
“Why not put yourself in the best position possible to win a championship?” Peterson said. Peterson noted that unvaccinated players will have to go through all the COVID-19 safety protocols that players went through last year, while fully vaccinated players will have far more freedom. “If you’re not vaccinated you’re just living in a different world,” Peterson said. “Why put yourself at risk of going through that again?” Peterson said he had no side effects from the vaccine. “I am vaccinated,” Peterson said. “I was perfectly fine.”
With Kyler Murray in the final non-negotiable season of his rookie deal, the Cardinals will have to give him a major payday, as soon as next year. During the relatively inexpensive seasons of Murray’s career, the franchise has failed to make the playoffs. If they go 0-3 with Murray under Kingsbury, it’s not crazy to think Kingsbury will be gone.
In many ways, of course, Dungy has his fingerprints over two separate Super Bowl-winning franchises, even if he only has the ring from one. When Dungy took over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1996, they were in a run of 14 consecutive losing seasons; we just ranked them as one of the worst runs in NFL history. Dungy was brought in specifically to help clean up the defense. He was Minnesota’s defensive coordinator for four seasons before taking the Tampa Bay job, and his Vikings defenses ranked in the top five in each of those years, while Tampa Bay never finished higher than 20th. And clean it up he did, implementing the Tampa-2 defense that swept the league in the mid-1990s and early 2000s. While technically nothing new in and of itself—Dungy always said that his defensive philosophy came right out of the Steel Curtain Steelers playbook in Pittsburgh, where Dungy had spent a couple of years as a safety before becoming one of Chuck Noll’s top assistants—Dungy was the one who really turned it into a regular thing. Scooping up speedy, undersized defenders and letting them swarm to the ball, the Buccaneers became a very tough out into the late 2000s.
2021 NFL Season Preview Guide: All of PFF’s offseason preview content in one place | NFL News, Rankings and Statistics | PFF
To help count down the days until the 2021 NFL season, we at PFF have pulled together all of our position rankings, betting projections, single team analysis articles and more, making this your go-to resource for 2021 NFL content.