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Broncos vs. Rams: 5 Things to watch in the preseason finale

We give you five things to watch during the Broncos preseason finale vs. the Los Angeles Rams.

Denver Broncos v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Late tonight, the Broncos take the field at home to play their preseason finale vs. the Los Angeles Rams. The two teams had joint practices on Wednesday and Thursday of this week but now will do the real thing tonight.

This will be the last chance for a lot of the Broncos bubble players and players on the back end of the roster to impress the coaches and make their case for a roster spot or a spot on the practice squad. Not only will they be auditioning for the Broncos, but for all the other 31 teams who will be looking to add to their roster after cuts and add to their practice squad.

So, let us take a look at the five things to watch for during the Denver Broncos preseason finale vs. the Los Angeles Rams.

1. Marvin Mims Jr. is expected to play a lot

As we have already covered, head coach Sean Payton noted that rookie wide receiver Marvin Mims Jr. would play quite a bit during the preseason finale. The explosive rookie missed the preseason opener and played limited snaps last week vs. the 49ers but now is expected to play quite a bit in this one.

With Jerry Jeudy likely sidelined for a bit, there are snaps available and the second-round pick has a shot to earn a significant role on offense for the Broncos. Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi was asked if he believes Mims can step up and fill a role within the receiving room. He told reporters that they have been impressed with him since he came back from injury and that they are “really optimistic about him”.

“Yeah, for sure. He was hurt the first couple of weeks of camp, but since he has been back, we have been impressed with him. Hopefully, he keeps developing and keeps performing as he has. We are really optimistic about him.”

With him expected to play a lot vs. the Rams, all eyes will be on him during the finale. If he goes and has a big game, it will help ease the concerns some have with Jeudy sidelined. Sean Payton also has a great track record of developing young receivers in his offense. On top of that, Mims has a ton of talent, so we could be on the verge of a breakout year for him. I say this because he likely starts the season as the Broncos’ number two or three receiver now and will see significant snaps either way. He gives them a reliable deep threat and someone they can take deep shots to off play-action which figures to be an important aspect to the Broncos offense this season.

So, while it sucks that Jeudy will be sidelined for a bit, it could give rookie Marvin Mims Jr. the opportunity he needs to have a breakout year this upcoming season for the Broncos.

2. Backup offensive line positional battle

One of the more interesting positional battles ongoing with the Broncos right now is their backup offensive line battle. At offensive tackle, you have veteran Cam Fleming looking like a lock to be the swing tackle, Isaiah Prince who started at right tackle when Mike McGlinchey was down fighting for a spot, and impressive rookie Alex Palczewski making a name for himself as well. Only three of these players are expected to make the team, so it will be interesting to see how they do and how much they play.

As for the interior offensive line, it’s tough to say right now. All of them are on the roster bubble and it is quite possible none of them make the 53-man roster and the Broncos add one or two linemen during the cutdown period or on waivers. So, it’ll be interesting to watch this group and see who starts, who’s on the second team, and who doesn’t play at all potentially.

3. Will Albert Okwuegbunam continue to impress?

It has been an up-and-down career for tight end Albert Okwuegbunam who has gone from a promising-looking young tight end to a starter, to being in the coach's dog house, and now on the roster bubble. Now, he enters a preseason finale where he is fighting for his spot on the Broncos 53-man roster.

Albert O. first was in trouble when the Broncos released their initial depth chart of the year and he was listed as the fifth tight end behind undrafted rookie Nate Adkins. That was the first big red flag for him, however, since then, Okwuegbunam has gone out and had a solid few weeks for the Broncos. He has looked good as a blocker in practice and during the games, which is big for him. Also, during the joint practices with the Rams, the big tight end caught four touchdown passes over the two days of practices. He has done everything asked of him, but will it be enough?

The reality is that 95% of the roster moves have already been decided by now and this game will not change a ton for most players, but this may not be the case for Okwuegbunam. He will likely play a lot on offense but most importantly, on special teams. He will need to prove he can continue to block well, and be a consistent pass catcher, while also showing he can be a reliable and consistent contributor on special teams. If he can do that, he can potentially lock up a spot on the 53-man roster.

I also would not rule out Okwuegbunam potentially being traded if a team is interested, but either way, he will be an interesting player to watch in this one.

4. Brett Maher kicking for his job

The Broncos kicking job remains in flux after the team surprisingly parted ways with longtime kicker Brandon McManus. They signed kicker Elliott Fry first and later signed veteran kicker Brett Maher for competition. Fry was eventually waived with an injury designation and Maher was left as the lone kicker on the team. However, he is far from safe and may still be fighting for the starting job in this one.

After a tough performance vs. the Cardinals, Maher was perfect the following week against the 49ers while also having a good week of practice. So, he helped himself with that and is now entering the preseason finale on the bubble, despite being the only kicker on the roster.

I say this because Payton has mentioned they will be looking at the kickers who become available after cuts and if they see someone they like, they would replace Maher on the roster. Also, there are rumors that the Broncos could trade for Saints kicker Will Lutz if he becomes available, so that is something to watch. Add in the fact that Maher has no guaranteed money on his contract and is making the veteran minimum so the Broncos lose nothing if they release him.

How Maher does in this game will be important and honestly, if he is anything but perfect, it is only going to intensify the speculation about his roster spot as we move towards the cut deadline.

5. Roster bubble players to keep an eye on

Head coach Sean Payton did note that some starters could play in this game, but overall, this game is all about the backups, reserve players, and bubble players. So let us take a look at a few notable bubble players who could help themselves during the preseason finale.

Running back Tyler Badie

He was the third off the bench in the preseason opener but missed the second game due to an injury. Now, with Jaleel McLaughlin’s emergence, Badie is firmly on the bubble and is likely competing for a spot on the practice squad in this game. I expect him to get plenty of carries and touches in this game so he will have his chance to prove himself to the coaches.

Wide receiver Kendall Hinton

With a rash of injuries at the wide receiver position, Kendall Hinton once again finds himself in the Broncos 53-man roster discussion. Payton recently highlighted Hinton’s intelligence and views him as a slot receiver. His comments seem to point to him making the roster, but a strong performance in the finale could help his chances.

Defensive lineman Jordan Jackson

Second-year defensive lineman Jordan Jackson has had a solid preseason, but he has been outshined by fellow defensive lineman Elijah Garcia. Now, with Mike Purcell back and making the roster, that is one less spot available. So, Jackson is squarely on the bubble but could push for a roster spot with a strong performance.

Linebacker Justin Strnad

After Jonas Griffith’s injury, Strnad has taken over the fourth linebacker spot. In the past, he has filled in as a special teams player who plays some linebacker in a pinch, so could he have that role again this year? It is possible, but if a player the Broncos coaches like becomes available during cuts, he could be replaced. So, a good showing on special teams in this one could be beneficial for him.

Cornerback Tremon Smith

Smith was signed this offseason as a free agent and his special teams/return ability was viewed as a strength. However, we have not seen Smith in the return game and he is behind on the cornerback depth chart, so it is hard to find a spot for him. It will be interesting to see how he does in this one and how he is used.

Safety JL Skinner

Heading into training camp and the preseason, I thought Skinner was a sure lock to make the team, but now, I am not so sure. The safety depth is deep and Skinner’s play honestly has not been great and he is not more deserving of a roster spot than his fellow teammates. With that said, I have a hard time seeing the Broncos waive their 6-4, 220-pound safety who they drafted just a few months ago. In his defense, he was sidelined for most of the offseason so his camp and preseason struggles should not be a surprise. If he can have a strong showing in this one, it could really help his chances of making the team.