Determining the final 53-man roster for an NFL team is as much an art as it is a science for executives. It is nearly impossible to predict who will flash in camp and who will falter, anymore than it is possible to predict that a player like Elvis Dumervil could tear a pectoral and be out for the season.
The Denver Broncos are hoping that their team remains intact and they get the chance to evaluate every player they have in camp at 100 percent of their capacity.
No matter what happens, it is a certainty that this Broncos team will be vastly different from last years in the way that they try to win ball games, even if some of the faces remain the same.
Barring as many unforeseen circumstances as possible, here is a prediction for the final 53-man roster of the 2012 Denver Broncos.
The starting offensive line should see no changes from 2011 to 2012, unless the rumblings that Jeff Saturday could come to Denver were a precursor to the replacement of J.D. Walton.
For that to be true, rookie draftee Philip Blake—who followed Walton at Baylor—would need to come in and do the same in the NFL. It's a possibility, but not likely.
Look for former Broncos tackle Ryan Harris to stay on in a back up role in his second stint with the team, and former Carolina Panther C.J. Davis to take over for Manny Ramirez and Russ Hochstein backing up the inside.
|C||J.D. Walton||Philip Blake|
|G||Chris Kuper||Zane Beadles||C.J. Davis|
|T||Ryan Clady||Orlando Franklin||Ryan Harris|
The tight end position is going to be very different for the Denver Broncos in 2012. Peyton Manning will have a familiar sight in Jacob Tamme, and Colorado natives will enjoy seeing former Ram Joel Dreesen playing for the Broncos.
Denver will also continue trying to make the experiment from last season's draft continue to work by keeping both Julius Thomas and Virgil Green on the roster. Thomas will try to become the pass catching threat they hoped, and Green will play the flexible position moving form tight end to fullback.
This will be a position that is vital to the success of the Broncos under Peyton Manning. There are certainties like Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, and then there is the competition for the rest.
Will Brandon Stokley make his comeback? Is Andre Caldwell the lock for the third spot?
This will be a battle royale in training camp, and one that will have plenty of tape to review with Manning running the offense.
The decision may be to keep six receivers on the roster, and the final spot may come down to Jason Hill, the six-year veteran, and Mark Dell, the talented rookie who didn't get a chance to shine last year. Hill may have the experience, but I believe Dell will connect with Manning and use his natural size and ability to steal the spot.
Willis McGahee will have his shot to continue resurrecting his career as the No. 1 running back in the Denver Broncos' stable, and it's a safe bet that Ronnie Hillman will turn his draft position into a certain roster spot.
The question then becomes how many backs will Denver carry, and who will the others be?
Mario Fannin was a player who got injured early, but if he hadn't he might have been a breakout star in the new look Broncos rushing attack last season when injuries riddled the staff.
The other question mark is whether Knowshon Moreno can keep his job in light of his expiring contract and offseason troubles. It may come down to Moreno and Lance Ball, but on the field Moreno is the most explosive—and that is what the Broncos need.
This is an interesting spot for the Broncos because ideally it should not matter if it's Hanie, Osweiler or Elway himself backing up Peyton Manning since the plan is for the mega-star quarterback to never step off the field.
Still, the best laid plans can sometimes go awry, and Denver will likely have both Hanie and Osweiler on the roster just in case the worst happens and Manning does get hurt. Denver will probably not have much patience with poor play from Hanie, and that might give Osweiler the chance to play—potentially in the same game that Manning goes down in.
This is another area where the team will mirror itself from 2011.
Britton Colquitt and Matt Prater are two of the most solid players at their position in the entire league, but the Broncos are hoping that Colquitt is utilized a lot less and Prater only comes in to finish off an offensive sequence with Lonie Paxton feeding the ball to both of them.
This is one the biggest areas of need for the Denver Broncos, and as such it is going to look different from last year even though some of the players have been Broncos since last year. Denver may look for more versatility in the defensive front with their defensive ends and lineman.
The bookends of Elvis Dumervil and Robert Ayers will surely be the starting ends and they will be accompanied by last seasons depth player, Jason Hunter, and new addition Malik Jackson, who may see time at end and interior line because of his size.
The interior should be anchored by a well rested Ty Warren, who the Broncos are still hoping has gas in the tank, as well as veteran Justin Bannan. Kevin Vickerson will also make the cut beside the rookies, Derrick Wolfe and Ben Garland, who will finally get his chance to be a rookie out of Air Force.
It's safe to say that last season's Defensive Rookie of the Year, Von Miller, leads this list and is going to help anchor this defense. The re-signing of Joe Mays shows that Denver is not ready to turn over the keys to Nate Irving just yet, but that project is still ongoing.
A very interesting situation will unfold with DJ Williams and his potential suspension to start the season. it is conceivable that Denver would simply cut the talented veteran and let go of all his off the field distractions but that is easier said than done. If WIlliams can appeal and get his suspension knocked down, then he may remain a Bronco, which will help, because his talent is hard to replace.
The perennial Pro Bowler in Champ Bailey will once again be the star in the defensive backfield for Denver, but he will be surrounded by a very different cast this season.
The Broncos have added a lot of depth in Tracy Porter, Drayton Florence and (hopefully) Omar Bolden to the cornerback position. The only other holdover may come down to Cassius Vaughn, Syd'Quan Thompson and Chris Harris, with the advantage going to Harris for his slot coverage ability.
The safety position is another that sadly will look different without potential Hall of Fame member Brian Dawkins patrolling the secondary. However, there were promising performances at different points of the season from Rahim Moore and Quinton Carter, who will both get the chance to start.
Veterans Mike Adams and David Bruton will be waiting to step in as needed, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see Adams start the season over Moore, potentially. Rounding out the roster will be the versatile defensive back Rafael Bush, who can play any position in the secondary as needed and will be a valuable asset to Denver.