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Who is and isn’t safe for the Broncos 53?

A different kind of roster prediction.

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As is the case throughout the preseason, the final score isn’t nearly as important as the individual performances within each game.

The Seattle Seahawks may be the next opponent on the Broncos’ schedule, but players are preparing to put on tape what will help determine who makes the final roster. NFL decision makers will need to trim the roster from 85 to 80 players by 4 p.m. EST Aug. 24 before making final cuts to the final 53 on Aug. 31.

With the deadlines looming, I thought it time to take a look at who has work left to do if they want to make the Broncos.

What follows are thoughts, observations, and ultimately a prediction based on the reports out of training camp, conversations with reporters, the Vikings’ game, and what I know about the coaching staff’s tendencies as far as roster construction.

Don’t confuse what you find below for a rooting interest so much as what I believe given the information at hand.

Specialist - 3

The guys: Brandon McManus, Sam Martin, Jacob Bobenmoyer

  • There’s no competition. These are the guys.

Defensive back - 10

Should be safe: Kyle Fuller, Ronald Darby, Patrick Surtain II, Kareem Jackson, Justin Simmons, Caden Sterns

Seem safe: Bryce Callahan, Michael Ojemudia

Fighting in the bubble battle: P.J. Locke, Jamar Johnson, Kary Vincent, Nate Hairston, Parnell Motley, Mac McCain III, Saivion Smith, Trey Marshall

PUP: Duke Dawson, Essang Bassey

  • Dawson and Bassey remain on the Physical Unable to Perform (PUP) list and it’s starting to look like they won’t be considered as the coaching staff decides on the DB room.
  • Marshall was in line to start before he hurt his ankle on the opening kickoff last Saturday. His absence opened the door for Locke and Sterns to play significant snaps and show out, which makes the safety battle something to watch down the home stretch. Fangio said Marshall is expected to miss one or two weeks.
  • Locke was a big-time special teams contributor last year, if he can maintain what he showed against the Vikings there’s no way he makes it through waivers.
  • With Jackson receiving a vet day on Thursday, I’ve been told Johnson and Sterns rotated into his spot with the first team defense. I’ve had little doubt Sterns will make it since I saw him play against Minnesota, but the news seems to bode well for Johnson’s odds at the roster. The rookie fifth rounder missed significant time to start camp because he spent 10 days on the Covid-19 list, and he only played 23 snaps against the Vikings, nine did come on special teams.
  • It’s easy to overlook him because he hasn’t made a ton of splash plays, but based on what I saw in the Vikings’ game Hairston could be a sneaky factor in the cornerback competition. He played 22 snaps on defense and logged an additional six on special teams.
  • It may seem like a surprise Motley survived the first round of cuts to 85 when Rojesterman Farris didn’t, especially after a rough start to camp where Motley seemed to get roasted every day. Special teams could be a factor, as he outplayed Farris there last Saturday.
  • Like Motley, Smith’s special teams play probably gave him a leg up on Farris. His length makes him a potential asset on punt returns where he can jam and redirect gunners.
  • McCain missed the Vikings game because of a hamstring issue and made it back to practice this week.

Prediction: Fuller, Darby, Surtain II, Callahan, Jackson, Simmons, Sterns, Locke, Ojemudia and Hairston make the cut. The Broncos try to slip Johnson and Vincent onto the practice squad.

This is going to be a tough cutdown for this group because there’s enough promise that guys could be poached from waivers. George Paton has already mentioned the Broncos received calls about the DBs, so there remains a possibility Callahan is moved to the New Orleans Saints or elsewhere. Johnson’s slow start and Marshall’s injury could be a huge opportunity for Locke to stick around. If Vincent plays well over the next couple of weeks, he could make it hard to keep Hairston because he won’t make it through waivers.

Linebacker - 4

Should be safe: Alexander Johnson, Josey Jewell, Justin Strnad, Baron Browning

Fighting in the bubble battle: Josh Watson, Curtis Robinson, Barrington Wade

  • Browning only just returned from the PUP list this week, so how he performs over these final two games could be a huge wildcard in the roster composition.
  • Jewell returned to practice this week after hurting his groin on July 28th. He was reinserted into the starting lineup, and there’s no indication he’s at risk of being cut just yet.
  • Between reports and the Vikings game, I believe Strnad is the LB3 and a role player on passing downs. He looked better than every other backer last Saturday, which says as much about them as it does him.
  • If the Broncos carry a fifth linebacker, it looks like it will be Watson. He spent last year bouncing between the practice squad and active roster to help on special teams, and has to improve his trigger and tackling to help his chances.
  • I’ve heard good things about Robinson, and I know there are CFL teams interested if he falls through waivers. The Vikings game suggested he may be able to compete with Watson.
  • Wade could be a sleeper to keep an eye on. He was a very late addition from the Baltimore Ravens and logged six special teams snaps last weekend.

Prediction: Johnson, Jewell, Strnad, and Browning make it. Watson or Robinson make the practice squad. Maybe both.

If Jewell can get back up to speed and Browning doesn’t look like a complete disaster, I think the Broncos moving to more dime personnel keeps them from carrying an extra backer on the final roster.

Edge - 4

Should be safe: Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Malik Reed

Fighting in the bubble battle: Jonathan Cooper, Andre Mintze, Derrek Tuszka, Pita Taumoepenu

  • Miller has missed a good bit of camp because of vet days, the birth of his son, and a trip to Canton to attend the Hall of Fame inductions. He’s still a lock for the roster and eventually, the Broncos’ Ring of Fame.
  • Chubb has been on a bit of a ramp-up plan after ankle surgery in May, which has given the coaching staff extra opportunities to evaluate the younger rushers.
  • Reed played against the Vikings and should be safe. His quickness and fluidity in space are assets to the defense, even if I hope he does a better job as a force player going forward.
  • The Vikings’ game suggests the ED4 battle will come down to rookies Cooper and Mintze, so Mintze landing in concussion protocol may be a big deal.
  • It’s worth noting Tuszka notched a sack on Garett Bolles in camp this week, so the coaching staff may lean toward him more than I do at the moment.
  • Taumoepenu missed the game after getting dinged up in the joint practices with the Vikings. To date the most memorable thing he’s done in orange and blue is take a Teddy Bridgewater pass to the groin.

Prediction: Miller, Chubb, Reed, and Cooper make the final 53. Mintze makes the practice squad.

This one could still go any which way between Cooper, Mintze, Tuszka, and maybe even Taumopenu.

Defensive Line - 6

Should be safe: Shelby Harris, Dre’Mont Jones, Mike Purcell, McTelvin Agim

Seem safe: DeShawn Williams, Shamar Stephen

Fighting in the bubble battle: Marquiss Spencer, Jonathan Harris, Isaiah Mack

  • This may be the least compelling bubble battle on the roster. Fangio typically carries six interior defensive linemen on his roster. It’d be shocking if Harris, Jones, Purcell, or Agim were moved. Ed Donatell said Williams “has a role on this team” last week, and Stephen’s play and pay suggest he’s safe.
  • Spencer returned to practice this week after missing the Vikings game. Before he hurt his ankle reports suggested he was having a good camp.
  • Mack and Harris both played north of 40 snaps against Minnesota. Harris had some pretty nice snaps against overmatched Vikings, so he’s one to keep an eye on.

Prediction: Harris, Jones, Purcell, Agim, Williams, and Stephen make the 53. Spencer lands on the practice squad.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Harris and Mack find their way to another team after cuts as both look like decent depth.

Wide Receivers - 6

Should be safe: Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler

Seems safe: Tim Patrick, Trinity Benson

Fighting in the bubble battle: Tyrie Cleveland, Diontae Spencer, Kendall Hinton, Branden Mack, Seth Williams De’Mornay Pierson-El

  • Sutton, Jeudy and Hamler aren’t going anywhere.
  • Patrick returned to practice this week after missing time with a groin injury.
  • Spencer returned to practice this week after missing time with a knee injury. His stature limits his value to the offense and so his status probably depends on Tom McMahon.
  • If Benson doesn’t make the Broncos’ final roster he’ll probably get poached from waivers. He looked very good against the Vikings and has had some really nice moments in camp.
  • Cleveland played 26 snaps total against the Vikings and Shurmur tried to make the most of his physicality in a nasty split to get him in position to block for the running game. I suspect he needs to prove more as a pass catcher to stick.
  • Seth Williams had a gutsy catch through contact against the Vikings and made a couple nice blocks. He also logged five special teams snaps. I suspect he needs to create more separation in the next two games to gain any separation in the bubble battle.
  • After reviewing the Vikings game, I wonder if Mack is hanging onto a spot by the skin of his teeth. His size is only so valuable if he can’t create separation on second and third string DBs.
  • Hinton’s willingness to do the dirty work surely endears him to coaches. To make the roster, he’ll need to show more as a pass catcher. It doesn’t help that he got flagged for holding on a kick return.
  • We’ve heard close to nothing about Pierson-El out of camp and he only played 10 total snaps against the Vikings. I’m surprised he made it this far.

Prediction: Sutton, Jeudy, Hamler, Patrick, Benson, Spencer make the active roster. Williams and either Hinton or Mack make the practice squad.

This is going to be a group to keep an eye on down the home stretch because there’s been reports the Ravens called about Patrick. With a glut of unproven talent, Paton could elect to trade away the veteran if he has faith Sutton is close to 100%.

Offensive Line - 9

Should be safe: Garett Bolles, Dalton Risner, Lloyd Cushenberry, Graham Glasgow, Bobby Massie, Calvin Anderson, Quinn Meinerz, Netane Muti

Fighting in the bubble battle: Cameron Fleming, Brett Jones, Nolan Laufenberg, Austin Schlottmann, Quinn Bailey, Drew Himmelman

  • The Broncos’ first team offensive line appears to be Bolles, Risner, Cushenberry, Glasgow and Massie.
  • When asked about it this week, Fangio said the RT1 job remains a competition.
  • Anderson has received a ton of work in relief of Bolles and looks set to make the roster as the swing tackle if he can’t beat out Massie.
  • Muti looks like the primary swing guard while Meinerz is Cushenberry’s backup.
  • Fleming could be an expensive cut if he doesn’t improve over the rest of the preseason. The Seattle game could be quite telling for him.
  • While Jones may be a better center than Meinerz is today, backup iOL generally need to offer positional flexibility and his lack of athleticism hurts him on pulls and limits his viability as a guard.
  • Schlottmann took snaps as a center late in the Vikings game, and has played guard for Munchak in the past. He looked like he needs to do a better job sustaining blocks.
  • Laufenberg’s athleticism is evident on pulls. He may be a year away.
  • I suspect Bailey is fighting a losing battle with Himmelman for a practice squad spot.

Prediction: Bolles, Risner, Cushenberry, Glasgow, Massie, Anderson, Muti, Meinerz, and Fleming make the final roster. Himmelman and Schlottmann make the practice squad.

While Fleming’s tape against the Vikings is disappointing, his potential versatility as a utility lineman along with the cost to cut him help him survive final cuts. I’m confident Himmelman is a practice squad stash with an eye toward 2022 at the very least.

Tight End / Fullback - 4

Should be safe: Noah Fant, Albert Okwuegbunam

Seems safe: Eric Saubert, Andrew Beck

Fighting in the bubble battle: Adam Prentice, Shaun Beyer, Austin Fort

  • We know Fant and Okwuegbunam will make the roster.
  • Saubert played 20 snaps on offense and an addition seven snaps on special teams against the Vikings. He looks safe because of his ability as a blocker.
  • Beck is in an interesting spot because his versatility is valuable as the fourth tight end, even if Prentice offers more as a fullback. I plan to keep an eye on how they’re used as well as the special team snaps over the remainder of the preseason.
  • Fort and Beyer are fighting an uphill battle for the final 53.

Prediction: Fant, Okwuegbunam, Saubert, and Beck make the final roster while Prentice and Beyer receive consideration for the practice squad.

Beyer’s blocking makes him a developmental candidate to potentially take over for Saubert down the road, while Prentice showed enough against the Vikings I simply believe he’ll be tough to part with. His status depends on what he can offer to the special teams and what Shurmur has planned for the offensive personnel this season.

Running back - 4

Should be safe: Melvin Gordon, Javonte Williams, Mike Boone

Fighting in the bubble battle: Royce Freeman, Damarea Crockett, Adrian Killins Jr.

  • Gordon, Williams, and Boone are safe.
  • Boone’s quad injury looks like it will create a need for a third back for the beginning of the season.
  • The Broncos signed Killins this week and gave him 17, which suggests to me he’s more receiver than running back. His skillset and limitations suggest he may serve as depth behind Hamler and potentially Spencer as a gadget guy and return weapon.
  • Boone’s injury directly helps Freeman’s odds at the final roster. He had a couple of nice plays against the Vikings, and offers reliable hands for passing downs.
  • Multiple reports have suggested Paton wants to trade Freeman before final cuts, which would open the door for Crockett.

Prediction: Gordon, Williams, Boone, Freeman

Freeman’s spot goes to another position when Boone is healthy enough to play.

Quarterback - 3

Should be safe: Drew Lock, Teddy Bridgewater

Seem safe: Brett Rypien

  • This is the QB battle that never ends. It just goes on and on my friends...
  • Shurmur’s history suggests the Broncos won’t try to slip Rypien through waivers to the practice squad. Paton could surprise, however.

Prediction: Lock, Bridgewater, Rypien

I’m not here to guess at the starting quarterback.

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