In a normal offseason, we would have already made our way through rookie camp, organized team activities, and minicamp. This is not a normal offseason.
Projecting how a team’s roster will look at the end of training camp involves more guesswork than ever. While it’s never easy, at least we’ve had some looks and a framework to base our predictions off of. This year, we’re going blind, which I’m sure will be a lot more entertaining once rosters are announced on September 5th (knock on wood). .
Before we break it down by position, let’s do a quick recap of the Broncos offseason. As “The Drew Lock Offseason” comes to a close we have seen a concerted effort in retooling the offense and letting Vic Fangio work his magic on defense. Even though the Broncos added some veteran talent, they’ll be leaning on young players to help them get back to the playoffs for the first time since winning Super Bowl 50.
Let’s jump right in:
In – Drew Lock and Jeff Driskel
Out – Brett Rypien and Riley Neal
This one is pretty straightforward. Drew Lock proved enough at the end of last season to be the unquestioned starting going into 2020. After going 4-1 with seven touchdowns and three interceptions last season, all eyes will be on the Mizzou product to take that next step. We’ve seen a second year quarterback (Mahomes and Jackson) win back-to-back MVP awards. While I’m not ready to put Lock in the MVP discussion, he certainly has the weapons to be successful.
During the offseason the Broncos signed Jeff Driskel to a two-year contract. While Driskel hasn’t had much success as a starter, he has been in a number of systems and will hopefully help Lock grow. Brett Rypien, an undrafted player out of Boise State in 2019, was impacted the most by the Driskel signing. If he clears waivers, he should be signed to the practice squad.
RUNNING BACKS (3)
In – Phillip Lindsay, Melvin Gordon, and Royce Freeman
Out – LeVante Bellamy, Khalfani Muhammad, and Jeremy Cox
Players that post 1,000 rushing yards in their first two seasons in the NFL don’t usually have to fight to be No. 1 on the depth chart. Well, Phillip Lindsay will have to do just that with the arrival of Melvin Gordon. It is likely that Gordon and Lindsay will be No. 1A and No. 1B for the Broncos in 2020. New offensive coordinator Pat Shumur has already alluded to seeing both on the field at the same time and playing the “hot-hand” when necessary.
Picking the third running back on the roster wasn’t easy. Royce Freeman, the former Oregon workhorse, hasn’t proved much in two seasons. Freeman is averaging just 3.9 yards per carry, but his experience will likely give him the edge. Adding undrafted rookie LeVante Bellamy to the roster was very tempting. The Western Michigan alum has a lot of upside but is a developmental player. During his four years in college he totaled 3,720 yards, 35 career rushing touchdowns, and an impressive 6.0 yards per carry. If there isn’t room for Bellamy on the roster, hopefully he makes it through waivers and can be a part of the practice squad.
TIGHT ENDS (4)
In – Noah Fant, Albert Okwuegbunam, Nick Vannett, and Andrew Beck
Out – Jake Butt, Jeff Heuerman, Troy Fumagalli, and Austin Fort
Another crowded position with a couple of new faces. Of the four I kept, only Noah Fant (40) and Andrew Beck (nine) had receptions in a Broncos uniform last season. Fant had a promising rookie season and should have a big role in the offense. Nick Vannett was added this offseason through free agency and will likely be the in-line blocker of the group. Albert Okwuegbunam was the Broncos fourth round pick and was at his best when Drew Lock was his quarterback at Missouri. Last but not least, Beck is a jack-of-all-trades player and will be used in multiple positions and situations this upcoming season.
Signing Vannett and drafting Okwuegunam was the beginning of the end for Jake Butt, Jeff Heuerman, and Troy Fumagalli. Of the three, I think Heuerman will have the best chance to make the roster, but keeping five tight ends seems unlikely. Unfortunately, Jake Butt could never stay healthy and while Austin Fort has shown flashes in camp, he is also coming off of an ACL injury.
WIDE RECEIVER (6)
In – Cortland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler, Tim Patrick, DaeSean Hamilton, and Diontae Spencer
Out – Zimari Manning, Kendall Hinton, Trinity Benson, Juwann Winfree, Kelvin McKnight, Fred Brown, and Tyrie Cleveland
The Broncos currently have a whopping 13 wide receivers trying to make the team this fall. Cortland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, and KJ Hamler are all locks. Sutton is the unquestioned No. 1 after a breakout season with 72 catches, 1,112 receiving yards, and six touchdowns. Jeudy and Hamler were the Broncos 1st and 2nd round picks and added much needed talent and speed opposite Sutton.
This is where it gets a little bit more difficult. Do the Broncos still believe DaeSean Hamilton can be a difference maker? I think he is in a similar situation as Royce Freeman and will get one more season to prove his worth. Has Tim Patrick shown enough to warrant a roster spot? The size and skill are there, but he hasn’t been able to string it all together quite yet. Do the Broncos think Hamler can take over punt/kick returns, or do they still need speedster Diontae Spencer? I think Spencer steals one of the last spots on the roster. Juwann Winfree (a 6th round pick last year) and Tyrie Cleveland (a 7th round pick this year) are two practice squad candidates.
OFFENSIVE LINE (9)
In – Garrett Bolles (LT), Dalton Risner (LG), Lloyd Cushenberry (C), Graham Glasgow (RG), Ja’Wuan James (RT), Elijah Wilkinson (T), Netane Muti (G), Austin Schlottmann (G/C), and Jake Rodgers (T)
Out – Patrick Morris (C), Tyler Jones (T), Quinn Bailey (T), Calvin Anderson (T), and Nico Falah (G/C)
This one is relatively cut and dry, assuming that there are no late additions to tackle. All eyes will be watching LT Garrett Bolles throughout camp. Dalton Risner and free agent acquisition Graham Glasgow are locked in at the two guard positions, and should create a solid foundation for the future. Adding to that foundation is rookie Lloyd Cushenberry from LSU. He figures to be the day 1 starter at center, and has already received glowing reviews through virtual rookie camp. Hopefully Ja’Wuan James will be able to stay healthy in 2020 and can be a fixture on the right side. It’s going to be vital for these five to protect Lock and give him time to find all of the new weapons on offense.
Wilkinson will likely serve as the backup swing tackle and overall emergency lineman. If Cushenerry does struggle, then Patrick Morris might have a chance to make the team, but Austin Schlottmann can play center and has more experience. Netane Muti, a 6th round rookie from Utah, is a developmental player that offensive line coach Mike Munchak will need to mold, but the potential is there. Jake Rodgers gets the final spot over the other tackles due to his experience.
DEFENSIVE LINE (7)
In – Jurell Casey, Shelby Harris, Mike Purcell, Dre’Mont Jones, DeMarcus Walker, McTelvin Agim, and Christian Covington
Out – Kyle Peko, Jonathan Harris, and Joel Heath
The starters along the defensive line are set in stone. New acquisition Jurell Casey and a re-signed Shelby Harris will bookend the line while Mike Purcell holds down the middle. The first man in the rotation will likely be Dre’Mont Jones, a second year player from Ohio State, who has shown a lot of potential and can play inside or outside.
DeMarcus Walker has had a turbulent career with the Broncos, but I think he will get one more chance to show his worth in his contract year. He finished last season strong and seemed to blossom in Vic Fangio’s scheme. Christian Covington is also a new face in Denver, and should provide some extra depth along the line. McTelvin Agim is a rookie and will likely be the gameday inactive.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER (5)
In – Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Jeremiah Attaochu, Justin Hollins, and Derrek Tuszka
Out – Malik Reed, Malik Carney, and Tre’ Crawford
This was a tough one for me. The first three are all locks, but figuring out who would fill out the position group wasn’t easy. Von Miller had a down year last season (eight sacks), but he’s still a future Hall of Famer. Having Bradley Chubb back and healthy will be a huge boost to the defensive as a whole. Jeremiah Attaochu emerged as the season went on and finished with 3.5 sacks.
After Miller, Chubb, and Attaochu I was torn. I think Justin Hollins, the second year player from Oregon, will get a roster spot due to his flexibility. Injuries forced him to work at inside linebacker a little bit last season. It will be interesting to see if he continues playing inside in special packages or if he’ll stay at his natural position on the outside. Leaving undrafted Malik Reed off the roster wasn’t easy. The Nevada product had a strong preseason last year and started off well after Chubb went down in week four. However, Reed quickly hit a rookie wall and didn’t produce much down the stretch. I believe that will open the door for 7th round pick Derrek Tuszka who has a higher ceiling. Having to pick two players between Hollins, Tuszka, and Reed will be a difficult decision and might be one of the closest position battles on the roster.
INSIDE LINEBACKER (4)
In – Alexander Johnson, Todd Davis, Josey Jewell, and Justin Strnad
Out – Joe Jones and Josh Watson
I was tempted to keep five players here. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Broncos kept six defensive lineman to make room for a fifth inside linebacker. Alexander Johnson burst on the scene last season, but will need to become a more polished leader and player. Todd Davis has been a rock in this defense for a while, although he has his shortcomings. Johnson and Davis should get the bulk of the snaps inside.
Josey Jewell sneaks onto the roster due to his experience and football IQ. While he isn’t the fastest or most athletic player, he just knows where to be. His biggest weakness is in pass coverage, which isn’t ideal when you play Travis Kelce twice a season. Justin Strnad is a rookie who will likely need to contribute on special teams if he wants to play. Joe Jones is the other linebacker I was considering. Jones is a core special teams player, but could lose that role to the younger rookie.
In – A.J. Bouye, Bryce Callahan, Michael Ojemudia, Duke Dawson, De’Vante Bausby, and Issac Yiadom
Out – Davonte Harris, Essang Bassey, and Shakial Taylor
It’s going to be weird seeing Chris Harris Jr. in a different uniform, especially in that Chargers’ blue. Former Jacksonville Jaguar A.J. Bouye is slated to fill Harris’ shoes this season and be the leader within this group. Broncos Country has been awaiting the debut of Bryce Callahan, a free agent signing last season that missed the whole season due to a foot injury. Callahan will likely play in the slot, which is where he was most successful when he was with the Bears. Rookie Michael Ojemudia has the inside track to starting opposite Bouye on the outside, but will need to exceed Coach Fangio’s lofty expectations.
Duke Dawson and De’Vante Bausby were both pleasant surprises for the Broncos last season. If Callahan isn’t 100% healthy or Ojemudia can’t grasp the playbook, then Dawson and Bausby will likely step-in. Dawson is more suited to play the nickel, while Bausby showed flashes on the outside. Issac Yiadom has had an inconsistent run with the Broncos and should consider himself on the roster bubble. If Davonte Harris, who had his fair share of ups and downs last season, or Essang Bassey, an undrafted free agent from Wake Forest, have a strong training camp then they will push Yiadom and maybe even Bausby. Bassey will hopefully land on the practice squad if he doesn’t make the roster.
In – Justin Simmons, Kareem Jackson, Trey Marshall, and Alijah Holder
Out – Douglas Coleman, P.J. Locke, and Kahani Smith
Arguably one of the Broncos’ biggest strengths are their starting safeties. Justin Simmons (93 tackles and four interceptions) and Kareem Jackson (71 tackles in 13 games) both had strong seasons in 2019 and should continue to grow in Coach Fangio’s defense. Simmons does still need to sign franchise tender and they have until July 15th to reach an agreement.
Trey Marshall was a core special teamer last season and held his own when filling in for Jackson. Alijah Holder was a cornerback, but switched positions after the 2019 preseason; he has strong coverage skills and should make the roster.
SPECIAL TEAMS (3)
In – Sam Martin (P), Brandon McManus (K), and Jacob Bobenmoyer (LS)
Sam Martin signed a deal with the Broncos in free agency and will replace Colby Wadman. Another new face will be Jacob Bobenmoyer, who is replacing pro-bowler Casey Kreiter. Brandon McManus will be entering his seventh season with the Broncos, but is in the final year of his contract.
Eyes will primarily be on the returner position. As mentioned earlier, Spencer, the incumbent punt returner, could be pushed out by rookie Hamler. Devonte Booker handled most of the kick returns last season, but he is now in Las Vegas with the hated Raiders.
Please remind me how many predictions I got right and how many I whiffed on this fall on Twitter @gardenSPORTZ.