Caught in the middle of OTAs with the dog days of the dead season quickly approaching, it doesn’t seem too soon to start projecting who will make the Broncos’ roster. As Jeff Essary and I started preliminary work on position battles on this week’s Cover 2 Broncos, I couldn’t help but notice how settled most of the spots look right now. This should be a good thing come the regular season, but it’ll make some of the upcoming storylines in camp ring a bit hollow.
You see, everyone loves a good story. The undrafted quarterback from somewhere state who worked six jobs delivering food out of his pickup truck is going to be some pub if he has a nice day in camp. Same thing with a corner turned receiver, remember Brendan Langley? There’s nothing wrong with rooting for these guys to make the most of their chance at the NFL, but it sure looks like this year won’t be offer a ton of opportunities for the “story guy” to stick on the Broncos. There’s simply too few spots he could fit.
Below is my very conservative estimate as to the Broncos’ roster locks, assuming that a league-altering trade for Aaron Rodgers or Deshaun Watson isn’t going to occur. If I had any doubt about a player due to performance or cap considerations, I did not include him. Sorry Bryce Callahan.
K Brandon McManus
LS Jacob Bobenmoyer
There is one kicker and long snapper on the roster, and it makes no sense to move McManus and Bobenmoyer is on a cheap rookie deal. The fact the Broncos brought in rookie punter Max Duffy to compete with Sam Martin should highlight the fact that moving the veteran could free up a little over $1.8 million in cap space.
Kentucky’s Max Duffy was named top specialist on the American squad in a vote by teammates at practice player-of-the-week awards ceremony tonight at 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl. #TheDraftStartsInMobile pic.twitter.com/PrkO47vd4U— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) January 30, 2021
Kyle Fuller, Ronald Darby, Patrick Surtain II
If the past couple of seasons are any sort hint, the Broncos will carry five or six corners on the final roster, though it’d make sense to reserve another roster spot if Fangio is looking to incorporate more dime personnel.
Fuller, Darby, and Surtain are the only true locks as it would cost significantly more to part ways than stick with them. It’s probably safe to assume Michael Ojemudia gets every opportunity to make it in his second season.
Moving Callahan is a quick way to free up a little more than $7 million in cap, but if winning in 2021 is a priority he’ll be too good to part with and Fangio sounds like he knows it.
“In this day and age in the NFL, you’re playing a lot of nickel with five and six DBs. If that was all he did, that would get him 70-80 percent of the snaps. We know he’s very capable of playing corner. I have a lot of confidence in him to play corner. He’ll be out there somehow, someway.”
Justin Simmons, Kareem Jackson, Caden Sterns, Jamar Johnson
Simmons and Jackson are one of the best safety duos in the league. If Paton did decide Jackson was expendable moving him would have to come via trade, as it would cost $4.75 in dead money to cut the 33-year old.
The numbers’ game behind the starters is really fascinating. If Trey Marshall, P.J. Locke, or Chris Cooper impress or the coaching staff doesn’t trust the rookies on defense out of the gates, the Broncos will probably need to carry an extra safety because it’s unlikely Sterns and/or Johnson make it through waivers.
#Indiana safety Jamar Johnson is an interesting study.— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) February 19, 2021
Fluid movements. Plus range and ball skills. Needs to improve his discipline and tackling skills but he has interchangeable FS/nickel tools. pic.twitter.com/nM4kMHwSDX
Recent history suggests Fangio will have four linebackers on the final roster, though there is a remote possibility it’s as few as three if the defense moves towards a dime base.
I do expect both Johnson and Jewell to stick on the Broncos’ final roster, but neither veteran has a contract that protects them if Justin Strnad, Josh Watson, or Curtis Robinson impress. Paton could create would create $3.384 million in cap space dumping Johnson and $2.183 million dumping Jewell.
Have a hard time believing that many are going to out work LB Justin Strnad.— Joey Richards (@JRDrafts) July 3, 2020
Made so may high effort/motor plays at Wake Forest pic.twitter.com/k3yvL9PkW3
Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Malik Reed
While Miller and Reed both have contracts that could be moved, they look too valuable to part with. The Broncos probably carry four edge rusher into the regular season and I’d be shocked if Miller, Chubb, and Reed aren’t on the Broncos’ final roster.
It feels too easy to overlook that the Broncos get Von Miller and Courtland Sutton back in 2021. pic.twitter.com/c5MggRYP6S— Joe (R-E-L-A-X) Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) April 1, 2021
Shelby Harris, Dre’Mont Jones, Mike Purcell, McTelvin Agim
Fangio’s Broncos tend to carry six defensive linemen, and it’s hard to imagine Harris or Jones go anywhere.
Purcell’s restructured contract gives him some protection and Agim’s probably safe barring a really disappointing preseason. Odds are we’re looking at a brawl for the two last spots. I assume Shamar Stephen has an advantage as he’s a Paton guy, but moving him does create $1.2 million in cap space.
Dre'Mont Jones on the quarterback battle:— George Stoia III (@GeorgeStoia) June 2, 2021
"I don't give a shit" who wins.
Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler
With Pat Shurmur’s affinity for 11 personnel, it’d be surprising if the Broncos don’t carry at least six receivers. Who makes it could be one of the more fascinating camp battles this preseason, as there’s a really diverse set of skillsets in the room.
Sutton is a prototypical X-receiver, Jeudy a Z, and Hamler is ideally suited for the slot. Tim Patrick is probably safe as he’s fits as a backup to Sutton as well as a very capable secondary option if both are healthy, but it’s worth noting how moving him creates $3.384 million in cap space.
Diontae Spencer could be left in the cold if the coaching staff elects to prioritize a returner who can do more to contribute on offense or defense. I plan to keep an eye on if K.J. Hamler receives legitimate reps as a returner, as that’d be a telltale sign Spencer’s days are numbered.
Jerry Jeudy had 26 incomplete targets that were the QB's fault last season— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) June 1, 2021
Most in the NFL pic.twitter.com/0fG48Svqre
Garett Bolles, Dalton Risner, Graham Glasgow, Quinn Meinerz
I expect the Broncos to carry between eight and 10 offensive linemen through cuts, and at least three of them will play tackle. Risner isn’t going anywhere, while Bolles and Glasgow are too good and too expensive to move on from. Meinerz’ status as a rookie protects him this season. It’d be surprising if Cushenberry doesn’t make the final cutdown, but his contract is movable.
Tight Ends / Fullback
The only personnel group Shurmur loves more than 12 is 11, which leads me to believe Denver will carry four tight ends as they did in 2020. Per Sports Info Solutions’ charting, Shurmur utilized two tight end sets on 21% of the Broncos’ plays last year.
I expect the position battle here to boil down to Fort vs. Beyer vs. Rice, and it’ll come down to what Shurmur wants from that backup spot. Given the potential he showed in very limited action last season, it’d be extremely disappointing if Paton cut Albert Okwuegbunam. Andrew Beck’s ability to play tight end or fullback makes it tough to move on when he’s on such an affordable contract, even if he has no guarantees on his deal.
I wonder if the Broncos would be willing to try this with Albert O or Noah Fant in for Vannett. pic.twitter.com/XLh6C9FsLE— Joe (R-E-L-A-X) Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) May 25, 2021
Melvin Gordon, Javonte Williams, Mike Boone
There will be at least three running backs on the Broncos’ final roster. Barring discipline from the NFL, Gordon is certainly going to be one of them. As a second round pick the Broncos’ traded up for, Williams’ promise and pedigree protects him this season. Boone is a Paton guy who can contribute to offense as well as special teams, and if Paton cut him the Broncos would eat $1.8 million in dead money. He almost certainly makes it.
Odds are LaVante Bellamy, Royce Freeman, and Damarea Crockett will need to show enough to force the Broncos to carry a fourth running back into the regular season. Tight competitions elsewhere makes five unlikely.
Drew Lock, Teddy Bridgewater
The Broncos will almost certainly carry three quarterbacks into the regular season, which currently bodes well for Brett Rypien. There’s only three signal callers on the current roster so he has a leg up for that last spot by default. His contract has no guarantees, however.
If Drew Lock is the best option at QB, I hope the Broncos start him.— Joe (R-E-L-A-X) Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) May 28, 2021
If Teddy Bridgewater is the best option at QB, I hope the Broncos start him.
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That one play paved the way for the Broncos to finally bring a Lombardi Trophy to Denver.
“I knew the situation I was going into, regardless of if they drafted somebody or they didn’t. I was on a one-year deal, and I was going to be the starter.”
The Packers quarterback and Falcons wide receiver have provided some fun fodder with their offseason exploits, but they’re unlikely to force their teams to grant their wishes