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Who could the Broncos add to the roster in 2022?

A look at players and prospects worth keeping an eye on as the Broncos’ 2021 campaign comes to a close.

As this 7-9 campaign draws to a close, there’s a ton of uncertainty looming over the Broncos. Who will be the owner? Will George Paton elect to retain Vic Fangio? Who could he hire to replace him?

It may be a small comfort to know these questions will have answers in the coming days. In the meantime, I think the best way to pass the hours and days is to stay busy. After recently taking a look at the position groups on the Broncos that will need attention this offseason, I began to compile a list of veteran players and prospects that could draw Paton’s interest.

Please keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list and that things could change pretty drastically if the coaching staff is overhauled. This is not necessarily a “who is the best player at ___” list so much as guys that intrigue me as potential fits for each need. I do hope that after taking a gander at my thoughts on each position that you’re comfortable suggesting anyone I may have overlooked in the comments below.

With all that said and out of the way, let’s dive in.

Safety

Under contract: Justin Simmons, Caden Sterns, Jamar Johnson

The Broncos may try to add a starting level safety or merely throw some darts at potential depth, as Kareem Jackson does not look like he’ll return. The Broncos played hard ball with Jackson’s cap number this offseason, declining his option before bringing him back for less. The 34-year-old was a solid defender this season, but landed on Injured Reserve to close the year. P.J. Locke is an exclusive rights free agent and should be back for training camp after a promising preseason. George Paton’s faith in Caden Sterns and Jamar Johnson will probably dictate the attention this group receives.

Veterans that could intrigue

Prospects

  • Kyle Hamilton - Notre Dame
  • Jaquon Brisker - Penn State
  • Daxton Hill - Michigan
  • Jordan Battle - Alabama
  • Lewis Cine - Georgia
  • Verone McKinley III - Oregon
  • Tykee Smith - Georgia
  • Bubba Bolden - Miami
  • Christopher Smith - Georgia
  • Josh Proctor - Ohio State

Cornerback

Patrick Surtain II, Ronald Darby, Michael Ojemudia

Jokes about franchise corners aside, this is a position group that looks like it will have some significant turnover in 2022. Kyle Fuller, Bryce Callahan, Michael Ford, and Nate Hairston are all unrestricted free agents. Fuller and Callahan are both older defensive players while Ford and Hairston’s primary contributions in 2021 came on special teams. During Paton’s time with the Minnesota Vikings, they used more picks in rounds 1-3 on cornerback than any other position group.

All three of the Broncos’ corners who remain under contract are at their best playing on the boundary, so it’d behoove Paton to consider veteran nickels if he does not bring back Fuller, Callahan, and/or Hairston. Darby’s age, injury history, and 2023 guarantees suggest it’d make sense to consider a developmental starter in the draft.

Veterans that could intrigue

  • Chris Harris Jr. - Los Angeles Chargers
  • Darious Williams - Los Angeles Rams
  • K’Wuan Williams - San Francisco 49ers
  • Mackensie Alexander - Minnesota Vikings
  • Javelin Guidry Jr. - New York Jets

Prospects

  • Derek Stingley - LSU
  • Sauce Gardner - Cincinnati
  • Roger McCreary - Auburn
  • Coby Bryant - Cincinnati
  • Kyler Gordon - Washington
  • Andrew Booth Jr. - Clemson
  • Kaiir Elam - Florida
  • Trent McDuffie - Washington
  • Martin Emerson - Mississippi State
  • Alontae Taylor - Tennessee
  • Jermaine Waller - Virginia Tech
  • Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson - TCU
  • Storm Duck - North Carolina

Off Ball Linebacker

Under contract: Baron Browning, Justin Strnad

It only makes sense that there will be a lot of churn here after eight different players have logged snaps on the Fangio’s defense in 2021. Alexander Johnson, Josey Jewell, and Kenny Young are all set to become unrestricted free agents, Micah Kiser is a restricted free agent, and Jonas Griffith is an exclusive rights free agent. If Paton’s history with the Minnesota Vikings provides any hint towards his approach to the position, the Broncos will look to the draft for help at the position: From 2007 to 2020, Minny used 12 day three draft picks on true off ball linebackers.

Veterans that could intrigue

Prospects

  • Nakobe Dean - Georgia
  • Quay Walker - Georgia
  • Devin Lloyd - Utah
  • Chad Muma - Wyoming
  • Josh Ross - Michigan
  • Owen Pappoe - Auburn
  • Henry To’o To’o - Alabama
  • Christian Harris - Alabama
  • Damone Clark - LSU
  • Mike Jones - LSU
  • Jack Sanborn - Wisconsin
  • Leo Chenal - Wisconsin
  • Brian Asomoah - Minnesota
  • Brandon Smith - Penn State
  • Darrian Beavers - Cincinnati

Edge Rusher

Under contract: Jonathon Cooper, Bradley Chubb, Andre Mintze, Aaron Patrick

The Broncos tried to trade back into the first round of the 2021 draft to acquire Miami’s Jaelen Phillips and have since traded Von Miller, which suggests Paton could see this as a first round type of need. Chubb has missed 24 games since his rookie season with a variety of lower body ailments and looks like he’ll play 2022 on a fifth year option. Stephen Weatherly is an unrestricted free agent while Malik Reed is a restricted free agent.

Over Paton’s time with the Vikings, they landed Jared Allen in a blockbuster trade, but mostly stuck with a draft-and-develop philosophy at edge. The upcoming draft looks like it will have one of the deepest edge classes in recent memory, so it could pay for the Broncos to take advantage.

Veterans that could intrigue

  • Randy Gregory - Dallas Cowboys
  • Justin Houston - Indianapolis Colts
  • Arden Key - San Francisco 49ers
  • Chandler Jones - Arizona Cardinals
  • Jadeveon Clowney - Cleveland Browns
  • Haason Reddick - Carolina Panthers
  • Melvin Ingram - Kansas City Chiefs
  • Ryan Kerrigan - Philadelphia Eagles
  • Derek Barnett - Philadelphia Eagles
  • Lorenzo Carter - New York Giants
  • Kyler Fackrell - New York Giants
  • Charles Harris - Detroit Lions
  • Danielle Hunter - Minnesota Vikings*
  • Von Miller** - Los Angeles Rams

Prospects

  • Aidan Hutchinson - Michigan
  • David Ojabo - Michigan
  • Kayvon Thibodeaux - Oregon
  • George Karlaftis - Purdue
  • Travon Walker - Georgia
  • Arnold Ebiketie - Penn State
  • Myjai Sanders - Cincinnati
  • Nolan Smith - Georgia
  • Drake Jackson - USC
  • Zach Harrison - Ohio State
  • Isaiah Foskey - Notre Dame
  • Jermaine Johnson - Florida State
  • Kingsley Enagbare - South Carolina
  • Nick Bonitto - Oklahoma
  • Sam Williams - Ole Miss
  • Cameron Thomas - San Diego State
  • Josh Paschal - Kentucky
  • Boye Mafe - Minnesota
  • Amare Barno - Virginia Tech

*Hunter is due $18 million on the fifth day of the 2022 league year and the Vikings look like they’ll be $7.3 million over the expected 2022 cap by Over the Cap projections. He could become trade bait or hit free agency.

** This isn’t going to happen, but I still plan to watch Miller’s run with the Rams at my earliest convenience. Sorry, not sorry.

Defensive Line

Under contract: Dre’Mont Jones, Shelby Harris, Mike Purcell, McTelvin Agim

There’s an underrated need for an infusion of talent along the interior, and what happens with Fangio and the coaching staff could dramatically alter Paton’s approach. Since Bill Kollar became the defensive line coach in 2015 Elway and Paton have never spent more than a second round pick to bolster the group, and neither Adam Gotsis or DeMarcus Walker lived up to their draft pedigree.

Shamar Stephen and DeShawn Williams will be free agents after the game Saturday and both Harris and Purcell had down years impacted by injury. While Jones was Denver’s best pass rusher in 2021, Agim’s lack of playing time despite the issues ahead of him suggests the Broncos won’t count on his improvement in year three.

Veterans that could intrigue

  • Calais Campbell - Baltimore Ravens
  • Akiem Hicks - Chicago Bears
  • Sheldon Richardson - Minnesota Vikings
  • Quinton Jefferson - Las Vegas Raiders
  • Taven Bryan - Jacksonville Jaguars
  • Vernon Butler - Buffalo Bills
  • Ndamukong Suh - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • Linval Joseph - Los Angeles Chargers
  • Larry Ogunjobi - Cleveland Browns
  • Malik Jackson - Cleveland Browns
  • Jarran Reed - Kansas City Chiefs
  • Maliek Collins - Houston Texans
  • B.J. Hill - Cincinnati Bengals

Prospects

  • Jordan Davis - Georgia
  • Devonte Wyatt - Georgia
  • Logan Hall - Houston
  • DeMarvin Leal - Texas A&M
  • Phidarian Mathis - Alabama
  • Travis Jones - Connecticut
  • Perrion Winfrey - Oklahoma

Offensive Line

Under contract: Garett Bolles, Dalton Risner, Lloyd Cushenberry, Graham Glasgow, Quinn Meinerz, Netane Muti, Austin Schlottmann

Three huge questions loom over this group:

  1. Is Mike Munchak going to be retained? On this side of Black Monday, it’s hard to say with complete certainty. He was the finalist for head coach in 2019 and elected to join the Broncos as an assistant to move closer to family. He made the Hall of Fame as a player and is widely respected around the league as one of the best line coaches in the league.
  2. Will Glasgow get moved? The Broncos would be on the hook for six million in dead cap if they move Glasgow before June first, but only three if after. Shortly after the Broncos drafted Meinerz in the third round of the 2021 draft, Paton and Fangio said the plan was for him to play center, but there’s no question he’s looked promising at guard. If the room is left untouched, we could see a wide open competition for every interior starting job in camp.
  3. What is the plan for right tackle? If Paton elects to chase a rookie, NFL history suggests it could lead to some notable growing pains early, which is why I’ve argued the Broncos should have taken one during the 2021 draft. Since that didn’t happen, it’d make a ton of sense to retain one of the two veteran free agents and consider prospects for the long-term need. The 32-year-old Bobby Massie has looked like the Broncos’ best right tackle since Billy Turner after he was signed to replaced the injured (and cut) Ja’Wuan James, and Cam Fleming’s been a serviceable backup. Calvin Anderson’s an RFA and probably returns.

Veterans that could intrigue

  • Morgan Moses - New York Jets
  • Nate Solder - New York Giants
  • Riley Reiff - Cincinnati Bengals

Tackle Prospects

  • Evan Neal - Alabama
  • Ikem Ekwonu - NC State
  • Trevor Penning - Northern Iowa
  • Daniel Faalele - Minnesota
  • Bernhard Raimann - Central Michigan
  • Nicholas Petit-Frere - Ohio State
  • Darian Kinnard - Kentucky
  • Charles Cross - Mississippi State
  • Jaxson Kirkland - Washington
  • Max Mitchell - Louisianna
  • Kellen Diesch - Arizona State

Wide Receiver

Under contract: Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, Kendall Hinton, K.J. Hamler

2021 production aside, the Broncos’ receiving corps. is one of the more promising units in the league and the Broncos look like they have faith in Seth Williams’ development. If left unaltered, there is little reason for Paton to do more than chase depth at the position this offseason. With that said, teams asked about Jeudy in trade talks last year and both of Sutton and Patrick’s new contracts are quite moveable via trade. An Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson type of move could cost a receiver, which would open up room on the depth chart.

3 veterans that could intrigue if Sutton/Jeudy/Patrick is traded

  • Davante Adams - Green Bay Packers
  • Allen Robinson - Chicago Bears
  • Chris Godwin - Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Prospects that make sense if the big three remain

  • Skyy Moore - Western Michigan
  • Wan’Dale Robinson - Kentucky
  • Khalil Shakir - Boise State
  • Kyle Philips - UCLA
  • Calvin Austin III - Memphis

Tight end

Under contract: Noah Fant, Albert Okwuegbunam

The Broncos’ need for help at the tight end boils down to what happens with the offense in 2022 and who is brought back. The core two will remain for another year, though Paton will need to decide on Fant’s 2023 fifth year option this offseason. Eric Saubert and Andrew Beck are unrestricted free agents. Shaun Beyer was one of Paton’s priority free agents after the 2021 draft and spent a large chunk of his first year on the practice squad protected from rival teams. He should be in camp next year.

Veterans that could intrigue

  • O.J. Howard - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • Hayden Hurst - Atlanta Falcons
  • David Njoku - Cleveland Browns
  • Mike Gesicki - Miami Dolphins
  • Jesse James - Chicago Bears
  • Blake Bell - Kansas City Chiefs

Prospects

  • Trey McBride - Colorado State
  • Jalen Wydermyer - Texas A&M
  • Jahleel Billingsley - Alabama
  • Jeremy Ruckert - Ohio State
  • Cade Otton - Washington
  • Will Mallory - Miami
  • Sam LaPorta - Iowa
  • Jake Ferguson - Wisconsin
  • Charlie Kolar - Iowa State

Running Back

Under contract: Javonte “Pookie” Williams, Mike Boone

Paton could elect to re-sign Melvin Gordon or he could let the former Charger depart in free agency. Damarea Crockett looks like he’ll be signed to a future contract to compete in camp after spending parts of 2021 on the active roster. There’s also a distinct possibility outside help is added via free agency or the draft. The Broncos really have every option in front of them with their running back room.

Veterans that could intrigue

  • Sony Michel - Los Angeles Rams
  • Jeff Wilson - San Francisco 49ers
  • James Conner - Arizona Cardinals
  • Darrel Williams - Kansas City Chiefs
  • Justin Jackson - Los Angeles Chargers

Prospects

  • Kenneth Walker III - Michigan State
  • Kyren Williams - Notre Dame
  • Isaiah Spiller - Texas A&M
  • Hassan Haskins - Michigan
  • James Cook - Georgia
  • Tyler Allgeier - BYU

Quarterback

Under contract: Drew Lock

At this point there’s probably nothing Lock can do to prevent Paton from chasing quarterbacks in 2022. It remains to be seen how aggressively the second year general manager will pursue an answer under center.

Last year there were conflicting reports that linked the Broncos with Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson, Matthew Stafford, Sam Darnold, and Andy Dalton last offseason. There were reports before the draft that Paton would select Trey Lance if he was available, and I received word from a reliable source prior to the draft that Justin Fields wasn’t a consideration.

What Paton does at QB will impact every other position group. If the Broncos land a future Hall of Famer like Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson, they will be in win-now mode with less draft capital for rookie players. If instead they elect to draft a rookie passer, “win from now on” is the priority. A capable veteran spot starter makes sense in either situation, which is why there is a distinct possibility Bridgewater is re-signed if the cost makes sense. Lock could also potentially fill this role if he isn’t traded. Brett Rypien’s a restricted free agent who may be brought back to serve as QB3.

Veterans that could intrigue

  • Aaron Rodgers - Green Bay Packers*
  • Russell Wilson - Seattle Seahawks*
  • Deshaun Watson - Houston Texans *
  • Baker Mayfield - Cleveland Browns*
  • Jimmy Garappolo - San Francisco 49ers*
  • Kirk Cousins - Minnesota Vikings**
  • Matt Ryan - Atlanta Falcons**
  • Derek Carr - Las Vegas Raiders**
  • Jalen Hurts - Philadelphia Eagles**
  • Gardner Minshew - Philadelphia Eagles**
  • Tyler Huntley - Baltimore Ravens**
  • Tua Tagovailoa - Miami Dolphins**
  • Jordan Love - Green Bay Packers**
  • Jameis Winston - New Orleans Saints

Prospects

  • Kenny Pickett - Pittsburgh
  • Matt Corral - Ole Miss
  • Desmond Ridder - Cincinnati
  • Carson Strong - Nevada
  • Malik Willis - Liberty
  • Sam Howell - North Carolina
  • Bailey Zappe - Western Kentucky
  • Kaleb Eleby - Western Michigan
  • Jake Haener - Fresno State
  • Phil Jurkovec - Boston College
  • Tanner McKee - Stanford
  • Jayden Daniels - Arizona State
  • Jack Coan - Notre Dame
  • Dustin Crum - Kent State

*There is some reason to believe this player may be available via trade.

Current teams situation with cap, coaching, front office, etc. means there is a possibility this player could become available via trade.