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4 early position battles that could define the Broncos’ 2022 season

The Broncos are chasing a Super Bowl, and every spot on the depth chart counts in a brutally tough AFC.

The Denver Broncos are in the midst of their first Organized Team Practice Activities (OTAs) of the Nathaniel Hackett and Russell Wilson era. There are a couple weeks to go until George Paton will select rookies from the NFL Draft to fill out the rest of the roster, but it’s already clear the bulk of the 2022 roster is under contract. With no pick until the end of the second round, it isn’t realistic to expect this year’s rookie class to play a major role in the campaign, barring a wave of injuries.

A 33-year-old future Hall of Famer solves the biggest issue that dogged Paton’s first roster, but the Wilson trade also raised expectations. This Broncos team has the oldest passer in the AFC West and nothing is guaranteed in what looks like one of the toughest conferences in modern NFL history. The margin for error looks like it will be razor-thin in ‘22, so it doesn’t seem too early to take a look at the looming roster battles for starting jobs. Keep in mind this obviously does not include the competitions for QB2, RB2, Dime, and the like.

Right Tackle

After failing to draft a single tackle in the 2021 draft, Paton tripled down on the position this year. By signing Calvin Anderson, Tom Compton, and Billy Turner to very similar one year contracts, the Broncos’ GM created a buffer so a rookie tackle wouldn’t be forced into action before he’s ready. It remains to be seen if he actually did enough to shore up a position that’s been a revolving door since the Peyton Manning era.

Anderson signed a deal on the eve of free agency to return to Denver and finds himself with the most lucrative contract of the trio. An undrafted free agent out of Texas in 2019 who may yet offer some untapped potential, Anderson’s plays with an aggressive demeanor and good lateral quickness. He’s logged 304 offensive snaps over the last two seasons playing behind Garett Bolles, Demar Dotson, and Bobby Massie while Sports Info Solutions credits him with 5 blown pass blocks in 161 snaps last season. He should stick on the roster as a swing tackle if he can’t crack the starting lineup.

Compton signed a one year deal worth $2.25 million with $1.095 million guaranteed during the first wave of free agency, following Nathaniel Hackett’s offensive line coach Butch Barry to Denver. The Broncos will be Compton’s seventh team in the NFL after he entered the league as a sixth round pick in 2012. He’s started more than nine games in a season once in his career, and SIS charted him with 16 blown pass blocks in 546 snaps for the San Francisco 49ers last season. The soon-to-be 34-year-old offers guard/tackle versatility if he doesn’t win the starting job.

Turner was the last of the trio to sign, heading to Denver on a one-year deal worth $2.44 million with $1.645 million guaranteed at the end of March after a failed physical ended his tenure with the Green Bay Packers. The 30-year-old started 54 games at guard and tackle over the last four seasons, including a stint at right tackle for the Vance Joseph Broncos in 2018. By SIS charting he had 10 blown blocks in 761 snaps in 2021.

Linebacker

Josey Jewell signed a two-year, $11 million contract to return to the Broncos and should start barring injury. Who plays beside him is now an open question after Hackett confirmed the reports that the new coaching staff would try Baron Browning at edge during OTAs.

While Paton signed Alex Singleton to a one-year deal worth $1.115 million during free agency, neither the terms or his tape suggest he’s a lock for the starting lineup. The 28-year-old started 19 of the 42 games he played in for the Philadelphia Eagles after a three year stint with the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders. He’s a good athlete with the instincts and lateral quickness to hold up in zone coverage, but a below average run defender because of subpar play strength and block deconstruction. If he can’t win a starting job, he probably becomes a mainstay on special teams.

On this side of the NFL draft it, looks like Singleton’s competition for significant defensive snaps is Jonas Griffith, who started four games down the final stretch of the Broncos’ 2021 campaign. The third year pro was acquired in a trade with the Niners at the end of camp last year and looked like he belonged when he found his way to the field. He’s a very good athlete with the size and play strength to hold his own in the box, and his range helped him outperform my expectations for him in coverage. I personally consider him the early frontrunner if Browning isn’t going to receive consideration.

Interior Offensive Line

I’ve written about the interior offensive line a few times this offseason. It currently looks like the roster battle to watch come training camp. At present, it looks like Dalton Risner and Quinn Meinerz are the favorites to start at left and right guard. Graham Glasgow looks as though he’ll challenge Lloyd Cushenberry III for the starting center job.

Cushenberry has started 32 of 33 career games since John Elway selected him with a third round pick in the 2020 draft, but consistently displays subpar play strength that impacts all phases of his game. He struggles to anchor against more powerful players in pass protection and doesn’t do enough at the point of attack. Additionally, his foot speed makes him a questionable projection to a pure zone/duo run game where lateral quickness will be at a premium.

Following an injury-marred 2021, Glasgow agreed to a pay cut in January that all but ensures he’ll make the final roster in 2022. The new deal reduced his salary from $8.4 million to $3.1 million, but moving on from him now costs significantly more than it saves barring a trade after the first of June. If he can return to his 2020 form, moving on probably isn’t a consideration. That Glasgow is an underrated run blocker and the best pass blocker among the interior linemen. He also offers guard/center versatility if he does not win the starting job.

A new coaching staff and scheme makes the outlook of these competitions unpredictable. What muddles it further is just how crowded the room is. Compton offers guard/tackle versatility, along with the presence of Netane Muti and Ben Braden. To complicate matters further, the Broncos have hosted a number of iOL prospects in the lead up to the upcoming draft.

Five Technique

When Paton traded Shelby Harris to the Seattle Seahawks, it created a 300 lb. question mark in his base personnel. It’s a question that hasn’t been answered yet, as the newly signed D.J. Jones’ lack of length should limit him to a true interior role if the Broncos plan to maximize his skillset. It remains to be seen how often new Defensive Coordinator Ejiro Evero plans to use a three or five man front, but on this side of the draft it looks like an open competition between McTelvin Agim, DeShawn Williams, Jonathan Harris, Marquiss Spencer, and Mike Purcell for snaps at five technique.

Poll

What position battle are you most concerned about?

This poll is closed

  • 36%
    Right Tackle
    (556 votes)
  • 26%
    Linebacker
    (410 votes)
  • 13%
    Interior Offensive Line
    (205 votes)
  • 24%
    5 Technique (Defensive End)
    (372 votes)
1543 votes total Vote Now