We are one week away from all NFL teams having to trim down their 90-man rosters to 53 players. Each team has players on the roster bubble who may or may not make the team and the Denver Broncos are no different. So, let us take a look at the Broncos players currently on the roster bubble and what their chances are of making the 53-man roster.
QB: Ben DiNucci
Ben DiNucci is locked in as the Broncos' third-string quarterback and is currently on the roster bubble. He has had a few notable performances and looked good in the preseason opener before struggling in the second week vs. the 49ers, but does he make the 53-man roster?
I am leaning towards no with DiNucci but I see him signing on to the practice squad instead of taking a spot up on the 53-man roster. He has not shown enough for me to say he needs to be on the roster and this allows the Broncos to keep someone else at a different position.
RB’s: Tyler Badie, Dwayne Washington, and Tony Jones Jr.
I have undrafted rookie Jaleel McLaughlin locked into a roster spot after having a strong camp and looking impressive during the preseason. He is an explosive back who could contribute to the starting offense during his rookie season. As for the remaining backs, it all comes down to their impact on special teams.
Second-year back Tyler Badie is an undersized back with a similar skill set to McLaughlin so he likely does not fit what Payton is looking for here. Tony Jones Jr. is a bigger back with some special teams experience, but a recent signing puts him in danger. That recent signing is former Saints special teams ace Dwayne Washington who Sean Payton called a “four core special teams player”. If Washington is in good shape and can contribute, he seems like the favorite to be the fourth back on the roster.
WR’s: Montrell Washington, Kendall Hinton, and Lil Jordan Humphrey
After Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, and rookie Marvin Mims, I have Brandon Johnson and Marquez Callaway making the team. Johnson was running with the first team before his ankle injury and Callaway has been productive with Payton in the past. So, while both are not locks, they seem like safe bets to make the team. The real question is, will the Broncos keep just five receivers?
Montrell Washington could be an option but he only played four snaps on offense during the second preseason game and is not the top return man on special teams. So, what role would he fill if he was on the roster? I do not see a spot for him. As for Hinton, I think his time with the team will come to an end. He can be a practice squad option but is not a lock. Lil Jordan Humphrey has played for Payton in the past but really has not shown enough to earn a roster spot. Of the three mentioned, I think he has the best shot but even then, it seems unlikely. Jalen Virgil would have been the favorite for this spot but he will likely be placed on the injured reserve after suffering a knee injury.
Michael Bandy, Taylor Grimes, Nick Williams, J.J. Koski and recently signed Josh Hammond are not making the team. Of this group, Taylor Grimes seems like a smart bet to make the practice squad.
TE’s: Albert Okwuegbunam and Nate Adkins
Albert Okwuegbunam has the size, and speed, and has showcased some improved blocking skills this summer, but is that enough to make the roster? He has a shot, but the emergence of Nate Adkins puts his spot on the roster in danger.
The undrafted rookie can play fullback, tight end, is already a good blocker, can be a pass catcher, and likely most importantly, he can play special teams. Both players have a shot to make the team but I am leaning towards the Broncos keeping Adkins because of his versatility and ability to play special teams.
OT’s: Cam Fleming, Isaiah Price, and Alex Palczewski
This is a tough one for me. All three could make the 53-man roster but likely only two of the three will make the team.
The veteran Cam Fleming was a solid starter for the Broncos last season and figures to be the swing tackle for them this season. However, the Broncos signed him to a one-year deal with only $850,000 guaranteed money in his contract, so they are not tied to him. I still would be surprised if he is the odd man out. As for Isaiah Prince, he has had a strong summer and has also made a strong case to make the team. He is an experienced player who started at right tackle during their Super Bowl run a few years ago and has been starting in place of Mike McGlinchey throughout camp. He too has made a solid case, but the emergence of the undrafted rookie Alex Palczewski complicates things. He is a big developmental tackle who has performed well this summer and is pushing for a roster spot. He would give the Broncos a developmental tackle for the first time in a long time, but who does he replace? He is a practice squad candidate but we shall see if they decide to go that route.
I would like to see Palczewski earn a spot on the roster because that means the Broncos finally have a young tackle to develop. If he makes it, I think Fleming offers for versatility than Prince and will be your swing tackle.
Interior OL: Quinn Bailey, Luke Wattenberg, Will Sherman, and Kyle Fuller
This is a tough one.
Based on the snap counts, these four appear to be in the running for the backup interior offensive line jobs. However, neither of the four really stand out as strong candidates and we could see outside additions added to this team instead.
Of the four, I think Quinn Bailey has the best shot at making the team. He did okay last year in limited action and gives you tackle versatility in a pinch if needed. After that, Luke Wattenberg has seen significant snaps on the second team and gives you guard and center versatility. Kyle Fuller, like Wattenberg, has seen significant snaps and also gives you center and guard versatility. Sherman is a guard only, but we saw similar snaps as the rest, and appears to be a candidate as well. It’s tough to say which one of these four players will make the team.
Rookie Alex Forsyth is a candidate, but he played strictly with the third team so he appears to be a practice squad candidate right now, but we shall see.
D-Line: Elijah Garcia, Jordan Jackson, Mike Purcell, Tyler Lancaster, and P.J. Mustipher
Heading into camp, the D-line depth was a big question mark, but it appears to have sorted itself out. Jonathan Harris has emerged as the starter opposite of Zach Allen and Matt Henningsen appears locked in as a reserve/depth piece. After the three starters and Henningsen, there are two or three roster spots available.
Second-year player Elijah Garcia has made a strong case to make the team. He has two sacks and an interception so far during the preseason and appears to have some pass-rush ability to his game. Fellow second-year player Jordan Jackson had played well too but doesn’t have the stat line of Garcia. Choosing between the two will be tough, but could we see both of them make the roster? Of the two, I think Garcia has the edge.
With Mike Purcell on the NFI list, veteran Tyler Lancaster has been the backup nose tackle throughout the summer. He has two-down run-stuffing ability and can play inside or outside the defensive line, so I think he has a decent shot at making the team. Rookie P.J. Mustipher had some OTA hype but he has not lived up to it so far this summer so I think he is a practice squad candidate. As for Purcell, he has missed the entire offseason and could start the season on the NFI if he does not get activated soon.
ILB: Justin Strnad
Strnad is a borderline bubble player for me currently. You could argue he is more of a lock than a bubble player, but he is likely facing competition from the rest of the cuts that will be made. Of the linebackers currently on the roster behind Josey Jewell, Alex Singleton, and Drew Sanders, Strnad is the best candidate to be the fourth linebacker. He has plenty of special teams experience in his past and has been receiving significant snaps during the preseason.
So, I think he is a safe bet to make the team but if a player who the Broncos like better is waived and they can get that player, Strnad could be the odd man out.
CB: Ja’Quan McMillian, Essang Bassey, Fabian Moreau, and Tremon Smith
After Patrick Surtain II, Damarri Mathis, K’Waun Williams, and rookie Riley Moss, the final few spots at the cornerback position are up for grabs.
Right now, I would say Ja’Quan McMillian and Essang Bassey have the best shot at making the 53-man roster. McMillian played well in limited action last year and has had a strong offseason. As for Bassey, he has been starting in the slot with veteran K’Waun Williams sidelined and he has two interceptions so far during the preseason. They have been lucky right place and right time interceptions, but still. He also saw played some safety vs. the 49ers so he showcased some versatility. That certainly will help his odds of making the team.
Tremon Smith was signed as a free agent this offseason and his return ability was cited as a big reason why. However, we have not seen him factor into the return game and have seen him strictly at corner. So far, he has not stood out to me and likely is on the outside looking in. As for Moreau, he is a veteran corner who played significant snaps for the Giants last year, but I do not see him making the team ahead of McMillian and Bassey right now.
S: P.J. Locke, Delarrin Turner-Yell, JL Skinner
Justin Simmons, Caden Sterns and likely veteran Kareem Jackson are making the team. Jackson is listed as a co-starter and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said they have packages for him, so he is likely a safe bet to make the team. After that is where it gets difficult.
P.J. Locke is probably safe, but he and Delarrin Turner-Yell are competing for the same role on special teams. There is a chance both make the team, but then, the team will likely have to waive rookie JL Skinner. The rookie most likely would clear waivers, but it still would be risky to do so. You also need to factor Bassey playing safety into the equation, If he can do that, that may knock someone else off the roster.
At the end of the day, I think the odd man out between Locke and Turner-Yell does not make the team and they keep the rookie Skinner on their 53-man.
K: Brett Maher
Despite being the only kicker on the roster, Maher is clearly on the hot seat. He went 0 for 2 in the preseason opener on field goal attempts before being perfect vs. the 49ers. He has yet to miss an extra point as well, so it has been a mixed bag for the veteran kicker.
There are already rumors that Sean Payton may look to acquire his former kicker with the Saints if he becomes available and the team likely will investigate every available kicker. So, right now, Maher’s future with the team seems murky at best. I would guess that he is not our week one kicker. He has zero guaranteed money in his contract and would cost the Broncos nothing to move on from.