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Checking in on the Broncos’ bubble battles before first cuts

The Broncos will cut the roster down to 85 by Tuesday, August 17th

Who will join Drew Lock and Jerry Jeudy on the Broncos’ 53?
Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

With the first preseason game in the rearview mirror it’s time to take a look ahead to the first cutdown day of the 2021 season. By 2 PM MT on Tuesday the Broncos will need to cut five players off the 90 man roster to comply with this year’s cutdown rules.

Let’s take a look at where each position group seems to stand.

Cross checked the roster with and Ourlads.

Specialist - 3

LS Jacob Bobenmoyer, PK Brandon McManus, P Sam Martin

  • The Broncos aren’t going to make any cuts from this group as there’s no replacement on the current roster.

Defensive back - 19

Kyle Fuller, Ronald Darby, Patrick Surtain II, Bryce Callahan, Michael Ojemudia, Kareem Jackson, Justin Simmons, Kary Vincent, Caden Sterns, Jamar Johnson, Nate Hairston, Mac McCain III, Parnell Motley, Saivion Smith, Rojesterman Farris, P.J. Locke III, Trey Marshall, Duke Dawson (PUP), Essang Bassey (PUP)

  • Dawson and Bassey remain on the Physical Unable to Perform (PUP) list.
  • Fuller, Darby, Callahan, Simmons, and Jackson did not play against the Vikings, which suggests their spot on the Broncos’ roster isn’t in any doubt.
  • McCain missed the game because of a hamstring issue.
  • Marshall got hurt early in the preseason game.
  • Locke and Sterns played a ton and looked like they belong on the active roster.
  • The Broncos gave Ojemudia 52 snaps yesterday, enough for him to get called on what I thought was a pretty iffy DPI given the view from the broadcast angle as well as a pretty nice pass breakup in the endzone. He’s should be safe through first cuts.
  • Farris, Motley, and Hairston all played between 20 and 25 snaps, which seems fair when you consider they’re competing with one another. Motley had a really rough camp up to the joint practices with the Vikings. Farris had an iffy play in the preseason game, but has also done a nice job per reports out of camp.
  • Vincent logged 21 snaps after he missed an early stretch of camp because of the Covid-19 list. Given his draft pedigree and athletic gifts, I assume he’s safe on Tuesday. I could be wrong.
  • Johnson played all of 14 snaps, which seems more indicative of the fact he’s still behind the eight ball after missing the beginning of camp on the Covid-19 list.
  • Smith only played 11 snaps after being a late addition to the roster. He had some really rough moments against the Vikings based off what I saw of the joint practices and is probably sweating the axe.

Linebacker - 8

Alexander Johnson, Josey Jewell, Justin Strnad, Baron Browning (PUP), Josh Watson, Curtis Robinson, Peter Kalambayi, Barrington Wade

  • Browning remains on the PUP list due to a lower body injury he suffered in OTAs. Given the lack of information about the issue as well as how much time he’s missed, it seems fair to assume he won’t contribute much (if at all) during his rookie season.
  • Johnson and Jewell did not play against the Vikings. Jewell missed the game due to a groin injury suffered at the end of July while Johnson was a healthy scratch.
  • Strnad and Watson began the Minnesota game at linebacker and both played about 25 snaps. Both missed some tackles, Watson more than Strnad. The 2020 fifth round pick displayed a better trigger and probably offers more in coverage. Both should be safe this week, though Watson’s status going forward bears monitoring. He was a practice squad player the Broncos pulled up multiple times last season to help out on special teams.
  • When the Broncos signed Kalambayi I assumed he was competing for a role as an edge backer and special teamer. He played a little off ball late in the first game and that versatility could be an unsung strength that helps him in the bubble battle.
  • I’ve heard good things about Robinson from a few places throughout camp, but he had a pretty quiet first game.
  • Wade’s in a tough spot. A late pickup off the Ravens waivers, he played 10 defensive snaps against the Vikings late in the contest.

Edge - 7

Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Malik Reed, Derrek Tuszka, Pita Taumoepenu, Andre Mintze, Jonathan Cooper

  • Miller and Chubb missed the game and are obvious locks for the active roster.
  • Taumoepenu missed the game after getting dinged up in the joint practices with the Vikings.
  • Reed played 24 snaps early in the first preseason game. He did a nice job jamming a tight end release and was a factor on a couple games. He’s obviously safe.
  • There was a rotation throughout the game at the other edge spot. Cooper started the game continued to rotate in during the second half. He finished with 33 snaps, less than Mintze (40) and Tuszka (35).

Defensive Line - 11

Shelby Harris, Dre’Mont Jones, Mike Purcell, McTelvin Agim, DeShawn Williams, Shamar Stephen, Marquiss Spencer, Jonathan Harris, Isaiah Mack, Deyon Sizer, Lorenzo Neal Jr.

  • Harris, Jones, Purcell, and Agim didn’t play against the Vikings. They’re all safe based on everything we’ve heard out of camp, though Purcell and Agim’s health could have an influence on the roster composition going forward.
  • Spencer and Sizer missed the game in Minnesota because of injuries.
  • Williams and Stephen began the game and played 19 and 20 snaps, respectively. We know from Ed Donatell the coaching staff loves Williams, and Stephen was about as disruptive as you could hope for against the Vikings.
  • All the missing players created a sizeable opportunity or Mack and Harris. They played 41 and 44 snaps respectively, and the former Bear could be a sneaky contender for a spot. I look forward to seeing more of both against Seattle.
  • Neal Jr. only just joined the roster last week so he’s definitely fighting an uphill battle. He did show a couple nice glimpses of a solid burst across his 33 snaps, and he’s slippery off blocks for a 320 lb. man.

Wide Receivers - 12

Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler, Tim Patrick, Tyrie Cleveland, Kendall Hinton, Diontae Spencer, Trinity Benson, DeVontres Dukes, Branden Mack, De’Mornay Pierson-El, Seth Williams

  • Sutton was a healthy scratch from the Vikings game. He’s a roster lock.
  • Spencer missed the game due to a knee issue. I suspect he’s safe for now.
  • Dukes also missed the game and I assume it’s precautionary after he got dinged up during the week in Minnesota. He’s had a good enough camp thus far he’s probably safe, however.
  • Patrick also missed the game. While it could be as benign as the fact his status is secured, it’s worth mentioning that KOA’s Benjamin Allbright reported Denver has received a call from the Baltimore Ravens about the veteran receiver.
  • Hamler logged 13 offensive snaps and made them count.
  • Cleveland played 22 snaps on offense and saw some time with both Lock and Bridgewater under center. Shurmur lined him up in a nasty split early in the game to help as a run blocker, and Bridgewater looked his way on a miss in the second quarter. He’s one to watch as he’s a factor on special teams, but had a pretty shaky start to camp.
  • Benson made the most of his 20 snaps, catching all four targets he received from Lock and Bridgewater. The third year pro also received an opportunity to field kicks. He looks like he belongs on the active roster.
  • The highlight of Seth Williams 18 snaps came when he held on through a pretty viscous shot late in the game.
  • Mack played 17 snaps and was targeted twice. His status probably depends on Sutton, Patrick, and Dukes.
  • Hinton only played 13 snaps, which doesn’t bode well for his odds at the roster.
  • Pierson-El only played nine snaps and I would have believed you if you told me he was a healthy scratch.

Offensive Line - 14

Garett Bolles, Dalton Risner, Lloyd Cushenberry, Graham Glasgow, Bobby Massie, Cameron Fleming, Quinn Meinerz, Netane Muti, Calvin Anderson, Brett Jones, Nolan Laufenberg, Austin Schlottmann, Quinn Bailey, Drew Himmelman

  • Bolles and Risner didn’t play a snap. Both are locks for the final roster.
  • Cushenberry played 30 snaps, snapping to both Lock and Bridgewater. The Vikings didn’t present much of an issue for him.
  • Glasgow and Massie logged 20 snaps and came out of the game when Lock did.
  • Anderson began the game at left tackle and played 30 snaps. His footwork and athleticism showed up on multiple occasions. I still have some questions about his play strength, hands, and what he can do at the point of attack, but he’s the favorite for swing duties if he doesn’t beat Massie out for a starting job.
  • Muti played 37 snaps across Lock and Bridgewater’s playing time. Barring a meltdown over the remainder of the preseason, he’s the top reserve behind Risner and Glasgow.
  • Meinerz came in during the second quarter played 25 snaps. He split his time between guard and center. He had some really rough moments last week in the joint practices with the Vikings. There was a snap Bridgewater had to adjust to, but the rookies strength and anchor caught my eye.
  • Schlottmann’s in an interesting spot because Meinerz and Muti create a numbers game that hurt his odds at the roster regardless of his play. He logged 30 snaps against the Vikings and didn’t embarrass himself, so he’s safe for now.
  • Jones is in a tough spot because he’s on the roster as veteran insurance against Meinerz and Cushenberry. He came in during the second half and played 23 snaps.
  • If there was ever any doubt, the Vikings game made it clear both Laufenberg and Himmelman are playing to make the practice squad.
  • Fleming played 25 snaps and looked worse than I expected. His status going forward is going to be interesting because it’d cost the Broncos $1 million to cut him.
  • The next time you consider anything a coach says as gospel, remember how before camp opened Vic Fangio said Bailey was a factor in the right tackle competition. Nothing about his 30 snaps in the second half suggest he’s a factor for anything more than the practice squad.

Tight Ends / Fullbacks - 7

Noah Fant, Albert Okwuegbunam, Andrew Beck, Shaun Beyer, Eric Saubert, Austin Fort, Adam Prentice (FB)

  • Okwuegbunam didn’t log a snap and Fant came out early.
  • Saubert looks secure as the third tight end and his ability as a blocker could help him carve out a role in certain personnel packages.
  • Beck played 19 offensive snaps and saw some time at both fullback and tight end. While his versatility and how he factors into special teams should help his odds at the roster, he didn’t impress me as a tight end.
  • Prentice saw a lot more time than I expected. With Fant and Okwuegbunam playing a combined eight snaps between them and a concentrated effort to play more sets with heavy personnel, he saw time with Lock, Bridgewater, and Rypien at quarterback. If Shurmur’s going to emphasize 21 more than he has over the last three years, it would surely help Prentice’s odds at the practice squad.
  • Fort played 22 snaps late. He and Beyer are probably chasing a spot on the practice squad.

Running backs - 6

Melvin Gordon, Javonte Williams, Mike Boone, Royce Freeman, LeVante Bellamy, Damarea Crockett

  • Gordon didn’t play against the Vikings. He’s making the 53.
  • Boone suffered a quad injury in practice with the Vikings that could limit his availability early in the regular season.
  • Williams played sparingly and looked like it’s only a matter of time before he’s pushing Gordon for playing time.
  • Freeman played 13 offensive snaps and looked as he has the last couple of years. Multiple reports suggest the Broncos want to trade him to another team if anyone dangles a pick for him.
  • Bellamy and Crockett split duties down the stretch on Saturday and looked fine. Boone’s injury and Freeman’s status means they’re probably fighting for a practice squad spot that could lead to bouncing up for games when necessary.

Quarterbacks - 3

Drew Lock, Teddy Bridgewater, Brett Rypien

  • Lock and Bridgewater continue to battle for QB1.
  • Rypien looks secure as the QB3, the big question remains: do the Broncos roster three quarterbacks?