Initial Post-Draft Depth Chart for the Denver Broncos
Now that the NFL draft is complete and priority free agents have been added, the teams around the league will turn their focus to rookie minicamps and offseason training activities (OTAs).
The Denver Broncos added multiple players in veteran free agency, the draft and college free agency. Their depth chart is going to look much different than it did last year when they finished 13-3 on the season.
Let's go position by position and examine just how things are going to shape up on the depth chart to kick off OTAs.
Projected Depth Chart: Peyton Manning, Brock Osweiler, Zac Dysert, Ryan Katz
Peyton Manning is the clear-cut starter for the Denver Broncos. The team is going to feature a new offense under OC Adam Gase with 11 personnel as their base set. We wouldn't be surprised to see Manning finish the 2013 season with a career year statistically.
Brock Osweiler is the primary backup behind Manning and considered the quarterback of the future. He's cleaned up his footwork and release point since coming out of college and now has a year learning behind a future Hall of Fame player. Many around the organization believe the future is bright for Osweiler.
Zac Dysert was added in the seventh round of the 2013 NFL draft. He's no threat to Osweiler and is only seen as a developmental prospect. He worked out for the Broncos before the draft, and the team likes his potential.
Ryan Katz was a priority free agent the Broncos picked up after the draft. The former San Diego State quarterback comes from John Fox's alma mater and is nothing more than a camp arm. He may find it difficult to even stick around on the practice squad.
Projected Depth Chart: Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman, Willis McGahee, Knowshon Moreno, Lance Ball, Jacob Hester, Mario Fannin, Jeremiah Johnson, C.J. Anderson
Montee Ball was added in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft. He's likely to be the Broncos' lead back in 2013 but will have to win the job in training camp. He's your classic banger who makes his living between the tackles.
Ronnie Hillman is considered the team's change-of-pace back, but his role might be bigger than some people think. He's got the big-play ability this team needs to complement their high-powered passing attack lead by Peyton Manning. Hillman needs to show improvement as a pass-blocker if he wants to play up to his potential in 2013.
Willis McGahee was the starter for the Broncos at the beginning of last season before going down with a knee injury in Week 11 against the Chargers. His durability and fumbling problems have clouded his future with the team.
If he makes it training camp in August, then he should be given every opportunity to keep the starting job. We'll see if his body holds up to the challenge.
Knowshon Moreno played in the first two weeks of the regular season but then was inactive for eight weeks after that. He finally got back to the active roster after McGahee went down with his knee injury. He was given the nod as the team's starter over Hillman after impressing during the coaching staff during the week of practice.
Moreno was okay for a few weeks but went down with a knee injury in the playoff loss to the Ravens earlier this year. His roster spot is in jeopardy with the addition of Ball.
Lance Ball is a versatile veteran runner with little upside. He signed his restricted free-agent tender earlier this month and can be a key contributor on special teams.
Jacob Hester was added late last year and could be on the roster bubble entering training camp. He doesn't offer the team much as a runner or receiver out of the backfield.
Jeremiah Johnson has spent a lot of time on the Broncos' practice squad. This is a make-or-break year for him in training camp. The former Oregon product can make plays in space but at times plays too out of control. If the Broncos released him, I wouldn't be surprised to see him reunite with former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly in Philadelphia.
Mario Fannin can't stay healthy. The big back is a swift runner who reminds some of Ben Tate (Texans). It's unlikely he'll make an impact with the team even if he can stay healthy through camp.
C.J. Anderson was added as an undrafted free agent. He's a powerful runner who can get to top speed in a hurry. The team could keep him around on the practice squad as a developmental player.
Projected Depth Chart: Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker, Tavarres King, Andre Caldwell, Trindon Holliday, Greg Orton, Gerell Robinson, Kemonte' Bateman, Quincy McDuffie, Lamaar Thomas
Demaryius Thomas transformed into one of the best wide receivers in the game today with Peyton Manning throwing him the ball. He's not quite on the level of Calvin Johnson (Lions), but he's close. Thomas has the size to wrestle the ball away from smaller defenders and the speed to take the top off the defense.
Former Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker was added earlier this year in free agency when the Broncos signed him to a two-year $12 million contract. He'll fill the slot role that veteran Brandon Stokely did last year for the Broncos.
It's an amazing addition to what has already been a strong passing game. Welker should be able to become a favorite and trusted target of Manning quickly.
For the first time in his career Eric Decker stayed healthy for a full 16 games and had a career year in 2012. Decker's 13 receiving touchdowns ranked second in the league behind Packers' wide receiver James Jones (14).
With the addition of Welker, we could see the number of targets and receptions drop for Decker this season. He may not snare 13 touchdowns this year but could still get over 1,000 yards receiving in 2013.
Tavarres King was added in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL draft. The rookie may not see many snaps behind the trio of all stars in front of him on the depth chart.
King is a crisp route-runner with enough quickness to get open with ease. He's a smaller receiver but is fearless over the middle and a feisty player who doesn't back down from aggressive cornerbacks.
Andre Caldwell is a savvy veteran with downfield speed and toughness when running routes over the middle. He's motivated by not being invited to Duke University to work out with Manning, Welker, Thomas and Decker. We'll see if that added motivation can help him make the final roster.
Trindon Holliday is listed as a wide receiver, but he rarely gets on the field with the rest of the offense. He is a fantastic returner who can take it to the house on any play.
Greg Orton has been hanging around the league for some time after coming out of Purdue as an undrafted free agent in 2009. He can make difficult catches seem routine but fails to get open consistently. It's a make or break season for his career in 2013.
Gerell Robinson is an intriguing deep sleeper to watch here. He played his college ball at Arizona State catching passes from Brock Osweiler, who is now the team's quarterback of the future. Robinson and Osweiler have great chemistry on the field, and it could buy him another year on the practice squad. When Osweiler takes over at quarterback, we could see Robinson fully developed as a pro and on the active roster.
Kemonte' Bateman, Quincy McDuffie and Lamaar Thomas were all added as undrafted free agents right after the draft was over on Saturday. They'll all compete for a likely spot on the practice squad.
Projected Depth Chart: Jacob Tamme, Joel Dreesen, Virgil Green, Julius Thomas, Lucas Reed
Jacob Tamme looked most comfortable with Peyton Manning last year, and it's no surprise since the two played together for the Indianapolis Colts earlier in their careers.
Tamme's playing time was split last year, but this year his role could be even smaller. The team used 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends) last year as their primary set on offense.
This season under new OC Adam Gase they're going to use 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, and three wide receivers) most often. The addition of Wes Welker will likely cut into the number of targets Tamme sees in 2013.
Joel Dreesen continued his role as a strong blocking tight end and red-zone threat in 2012. The Broncos will continue to use him on running downs or in jumbo packages because of his ability as a blocker. Dreesen is still a good red-zone target and may get a few sneaky touchdowns here and there during the season.
Virgil Green has really developed during his time with the Broncos. When he first came into the league, he was known as a good receiver and poor blocker. Last season he showed great strides as a blocker and now is a complete player. Too bad he's buried on the depth chart because he has the talent to produce decent numbers at the pro level.
Julius Thomas looked like a budding star during his rookie training camp, earning a spot with the first team after four days of practice. Injuries have held him back ever since, and this is a make-or-break year for the former Portland State basketball player. Thomas is a favorite of the coaching staff and will get every opportunity to make the roster because of his unique (and elite) athletic skill set.
Lucas Reed was added as an undrafted free agent on Saturday after the NFL draft had concluded. I saw him at the Shrine Game practices earlier this year and was impressed by his size/speed combination. He's a developmental player who could earn a spot on the practice squad this year.
Projected Depth Chart: Ryan Clady, Chris Clark
Ryan Clady is one of the best left tackles in the league, and the Broncos placed the franchise tag on him earlier this offseason. He is looking for a new long-term contract that could pay him in the neighborhood of $9 million per year.
The Broncos want to see how he recuperates from offseason shoulder surgery that should keep him out until training camp. If Clady stays healthy in 2013, then we could see the team make him a lucrative offer to stay in Denver.
Clark is a veteran backup who can start in a pinch. He's a powerful player who can play inside at guard if need be.
Projected Depth Chart: Zane Beadles, Ben Garland, Justin Boren, Manase Foketi
Zane Beadles has had an up-and-down pro career. Early on during his time with the Broncos, he seemed to be a step behind defenders and struggled to maintain blocks despite a nasty attitude.
Last season, Beadles finally started playing up to his potential and now is reliable as both a pass- and run-blocker. He's flourished with Peyton Manning under center and should have another strong season this year. It's a contract year for Beadles in 2013 and he'll be an unrestricted free agent next offseason.
Ben Garland moves from the defensive line to the offensive line this year. We'll see what kind of impact he can make now that he's a guard.
Justin Boren is a depth player who has shown little in practice.
Manase Foketi was added as an undrafted free agent on Saturday after the NFL draft was over. He's most likely looking for a developmental spot on the practice squad.
Projected Depth Chart: J.D. Walton, Philip Blake, Quentin Saulsberry, C.J. Davis
J.D. Walton played three-and-a-half games last year before a serious ankle injury cost him the rest of the 2012 season. He was replaced by veteran Dan Koppen, and the team seemed to gel up front.
Walton has started every game (even preseason) before this injury during his Broncos career yet has failed to show the development some feel he should have. He does a better job of maintaining his base and keeping his hands inside than he used to, but some are concerned this injury has stunted his development.
Walton should be considered the favorite to win the starting job, but he may face competition for that job in training camp.
Philip Blake is a versatile player entering his second year with the Broncos. He was a fourth-round pick by the Broncos in 2012 and was beginning to turn heads in training camp, with buzz that he could win the starting job.
Blake was put on Injured Reserve after a thumb injury in Week 2 cost him the rest of his rookie year. We'll see if he can get back to form and push Walton for the starting job.
Saulsberry and Davis are both depth players looking to make the end of the active roster or the practice squad.
Projected Depth Chart: Louis Vasquez, Chris Kuper, Manny Ramirez
The Broncos spent a lot of money in free agency to upgrade this position when they added former Chargers guard Louis Vasquez. Denver signed him to a four-year, $23.5 million deal that included $5 million in guaranteed money. The language of the NFL is money, and the Broncos spoke loudly and firmly with this deal.
Vasquez is considered top 10 at his position and is adept at both pass- and run-blocking. He'll help out the right side of the Broncos offensive line, which was weaker than the left side last year because veteran Chris Kuper struggled to stay healthy again.
Kuper is a talented player but has serious durability issues. He has struggled with injuries in recent years, and with a big contract he may be a candidate for release later this year. Per OverTheCap.com Kuper is the fifth highest paid Broncos player, due over $5 million in 2013 with $2.7 million in dead money. The implication of eating that $2.7 million if released could keep him on the team.
Kuper would give them fantastic depth at the position if he stays with the team. Playing in a reserve role would keep him healthy and give the Broncos piece of mind in case injuries hit along the line. Perhaps the team will ask Kuper to take a pay cut in order to stay with them.
Ramirez is a seasoned veteran but has struggled to make consistent plays as a pass blocker. Too often he will lose leverage and get pushed back into the pocket. His salary is much more manageable, but his skill set isn't that strong.
Projected Depth Chart: Orlando Franklin, Vinston Painter, Paul Cornick
Franklin is the team's starter for the time being. The Broncos could consider moving him inside to guard because of his continuing struggles as a pass blocker. Franklin is your classic mauler with brute strength and a nasty attitude.
However, his footwork is poor and he struggles with speed rushers off the edge. He'll have a chance to show his improvement in training camp.
In the sixth round of the 2013 NFL draft, the Broncos added a versatile player in Vinston Painter from Virginia Tech. He can play outside at tackle or inside at guard. Unlike Franklin, Painter has the footwork and athleticism to hang with speed rushers. He can set up quickly and shows a good base against an initial punch.
Painter has problems when a defender uses inside moves, and he's not a mauler as a run-blocker. His versatility earns him a spot on the depth chart, but he's unlikely to win a starting job as a rookie.
Paul Cornick is a depth player looking to make the end of the active roster or the practice squad.
Projected Depth Chart: Derek Wolfe, Robert Ayers, Quanterus Smith, Malik Jackson, Jeremy Beal, Gary Mason Jr., John Youboty
Derek Wolfe was a second-round pick by the Broncos in 2012 (their top pick) and had a strong rookie season. He finished the year with six sacks and was a force on the outside at defensive end or inside at defensive tackle.
Wolfe had stamina problems in college but that didn't surface in his first year with the Broncos. The strength and conditioning staff did a great job of making sure Wolfe had the stamina to be fresh in the final quarter of each contest. The Broncos have made several changes to the defensive line this offseason, but Wolfe should be a constant.
Robert Ayers has never lived up to his draft slot (first round 2009, 17th overall) but that doesn't mean he's a bad pro. He has shown the ability to be a strong edge setter against the run.
Ayers is difficult to move because of his functional strength and can hold the point of attack. He does a good job of keeping contain and forcing plays inside where his teammates await to make the tackle.
Ayers may be a two-down player for the Broncos when opponents are in running situations. He could be replaced on passing downs by Denver's newest edge rusher Quanterus Smith.
In the fifth round of the 2013 NFL draft, the Broncos added Smith to the roster. Smith was leading the NCAA in sacks in 2012 (12.5) before missing the final two games of the year with a knee injury.
If he's healthy, the Broncos are getting an edge rusher with natural bend and good closing speed. He plays with natural balance and does a good job as a chase tackler. Smith is the opposite of Ayers because he's known to struggle as a run defender. He'll be in the pass rushing mix behind newly added free agent Shaun Phillips.
Malik Jackson has an interesting blend of length and strength. He's capable as a run defender because of his powerful upper body. Jackson can create pressure off the edge or in the middle by getting a push. He's not a pass-rushing threat, but he can make quarterback uncomfortable.
Jeremy Beal had a productive career in college but has failed to make an impact at the pro level. He's likely to be on the practice squad more than the active roster if he even makes the team.
Gary Mason Jr. and John Youboty were added as undrafted free agents on Saturday. Both are likely bound for the practice squad if they can impress in training camp.
Projected Depth Chart: Kevin Vickerson, Sylvester Williams, Terrance Knighton, Mitch Unrein, Sealver Siligia
One day after free agency began Kevin Vickerson, aka "Big Vick", stayed with the Broncos by signing a two-year, $5 million deal that included a $1 million signing bonus. He's a team-first player with a high motor and blue-collar work ethic. Vickerson can create middle pressure and is an option to be a full time player for the Broncos.
Williams understands leverage and will win battles in the trenches, even against double teams. He had the biggest hands (10 3/4") of any defensive tackle in this draft class and uses them to quickly disengage from would be blockers. He'll compete for a starting job and could be a full-time player for the Broncos in 2013.
Terrance Knighton is reunited with Del Rio, and it's good for both. Earlier this offseason, the Broncos added Knighton by signing him to a two-year deal worth $4.5 million. He should begin the season as a starter next to Vickerson, but he could end up getting benched like he did last year in Jacksonville.
Knighton may not be the same player he used to be, but some feel the change of scenery will do him some good. Del Rio knows how to motivate and should be able to get the most out of Knighton.
Mitch Unrein is another lunch-pail worker in the middle of the defensive line. He plays with a relentless motor and has good functional strength. Unrein should be able to make the final roster because of his experience and natural skill set.
Sealver Siliga is a depth player with some playing experience. He's more of a rock in the middle of the line than he is a disruptive playmaker.
Projected Depth Chart: Von Miller, Wesley Woodyard, Shaun Phillips, Danny Trevathan
Arguably the Broncos strongest position is led by superstar Von Miller. He'll once again be the primary pass-rusher for the Broncos and is always a candidate to lead the NFL in sacks so long as he stays healthy.
Miller has elite speed of the edge but has an unexpected power element to his game. He likes to get opponents off balance with speed then follow that up by using a bull rush or swim move inside to get after the passer.
Wesley Woodyard has developed into a fine pro during his time with the Broncos. In years past he would struggle in coverage, especially against crossing routes. He's cleaned that part of his game up and is now adept at dropping into coverage. He's got the speed to be a good chase tackler if the play goes away from him. Woodyard has high football intelligence and can identify where plays are going quickly.
Shaun Phillips was just added by the Broncos and signed a one-year deal with the team. The veteran pass-rusher was one of the better free agents still left on the market and decided on the Broncos over anyone else. He'll help fill the void left by Elvis Dumervil (Ravens).
Phillips is a pass-rushing specialist and knows how to make quarterbacks uncomfortable. He also bring a ferocious attitude to the Broncos that some say was missing from the team.
Danny Trevathan reminds me of Woodyard. Both played college football for the Kentucky Wildcats and are known for their speed and football intelligence. Trevathan enters his second year looking at another season in a backup role. He's still developing his pro game and has good upside.
Projected Depth Chart: Nate Irving, Steven Johnson, Stewart Bradley, Joe Mays, Doug Rippy
The Broncos have been waiting for Nate Irving to develop his skill set at the pro level. This year he'll get the opportunity to win the starting middle linebacker job. Irving is considered the favorite to win the starting job but will have to compete in training camp. He's a naturally athletic player with speed to get tot he play quickly.
Irving can also be a big hitter and will deliver bone crunching hits from time to time. It's now or never for Irving, and time will tell if we see him finally become the player the Broncos envisioned when they selected him in the third round of the 2011 NFL draft.
Steven Johnson was an undrafted free agent last year for the Broncos but ended up making the final roster and making plays for the team after injuries presented opportunities for him.
The Broncos want Johnson to challenge Irving for the starting job in training camp, but it will difficult to beat out Irving for the starting job. Johnson gives the team quality depth at the position, and he can still develop his talent as a reserve player.
Earlier this year in free agency the Broncos added veteran Stewart Bradley. He's a talented player with the ability to locate the ball quickly. Injuries have clouded his NFL future but he's smart, physical, and known as a hard worker.
Joe Mays was the starter at middle linebacker last year for the Broncos at the beginning of the season. He ended up losing the job to veteran Keith Brooking, and after that a knee injury cost him the rest of the year.
Mays is scheduled to make $4.1 million this year but his contract only includes $833,000 in dead money this year. That makes him a quick candidate for being released. His roster spot is not guaranteed even if he does make it to training camp with the team.
Doug Rippy was added as an undrafted free agent this year. He's coming off two seasons where he suffered some sort of knee injury. Rippy is a smart player who is always around the ball, but durability is a huge concern with him.
Projected Depth Chart: Champ Bailey, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Chris Harris, Tony Carter, Kayvon Webster, Omar Bolden, Mario Butler, Aaron Hester
Champ Bailey had a strong season in 2012. Too bad he had a bad playoff game against the Ravens. Most are just going to remember him getting torched by Torrey Smith (Ravens) for two touchdown catches in the Divisional Round last year.
Champ can still play at a high level and won't be making the switch to free safety this year. Expect him to get tested more after that Ravens game, but expect Champ to be more than up for the challenge.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromarte signed a one-year contract with the Broncos in free agency. Speed is the name of the game and always has been since he came out of Tennessee State in 2008.
He seemed to have lost his confidence with the Eagles last year and needed a change of scenery. "DRC" was a quality addition to the secondary and could have a bounce-back season in year one with the Broncos.
Chris Harris was an undrafted free agent in 2011 and has become one of the best cornerbacks on the Broncos roster over the last two seasons. His best fit is at nickel corner, but in this pass-happy league, the nickel package is essentially a base set. The Broncos ran the nickel about 65 percent of the time last year, and that could be the same case this season. Harris is fast and a feisty player who does not back down.
Tony Carter was thrust into the starting lineup at times last year and responded well. He's an aggressive player with the speed and confidence to make game changing plays.
Carter will sometimes bite on double moves (see Ravens playoff game versus Jacoby Jones) as he's always looking to make a big play. Another undrafted free agent, he's done a good job of making an impact as a pro.
Kayvon Webster was drafted in the third round of the 2013 NFL draft. He's another fast cornerback with the size that is en vogue in the league right now. Webster can click and close on plays quickly and has a knack for knocking passes away.
Omar Bolden was a fourth-round pick by the Broncos in the 2012 NFL draft. He's a strong player who can get physical against bigger wide receivers. Bolden has good open field moves and can be used as a return man if need be.
Mario Butler is a depth player whose best bet is to latch on with the practice squad.
Aaron Hester was added as an undrafted free agent by the Broncos on Saturday. He's a fast, physical corner who isn't afraid to get his nose dirty in run support.
Projected Depth Chart: Rahim Moore, Mike Adams, David Bruton, Quinton Carter, Blake Gideon, Duke Ihenacho, Ross Rasner
Rahim Moore had a good season in 2012, and it looked like he had regained confidence. Hopefully that confidence is still intact after he missed a long pass to Jacoby Jones (Ravens) that turned into a 70-yard touchdown catch.
I've talked to Champ Bailey this offseason, and he insists that play will not define Moore. Hopefully Moore can prove the doubters wrong this year by continuing to show good instincts against the pass and the run.
Mike Adams was signed as a free agent last year and stepped into the starting lineup for the Broncos immediately. He's not the fastest player but can diagnose quickly and finds a way to the football on most plays. He struggled to cover tight ends this season as the Broncos allowed the most touchdowns allowed at that position (11) than any other team in the league.
David Bruton is a quality special teams player. He's a strong open field tackler and an important part of the team's kick coverage unit.
Quinton Carter is known as a big hitter, but durability issues cloud his future with the Broncos. Last season he missed most of the year due to another knee injury.
Blake Gideon and Duke Ihenacho are depth players looking to make the end of the bench or the practice squad.
Ross Rasner was added as an undrafted free agent this year. He's looking for some experience and a spot on the practice squad.
Projected Depth Chart: Trindon Holliday (kick return, punt return), Omar Bolden (punt return), Matt Prater (kicker), Britton Colquitt (punter), Ryan Doerr (punter), Aaron Brewer (long snapper)
Trindon Holliday is listed as a wide receiver, but his biggest impact is felt on special teams. He's got the speed and elusiveness to score from anywhere on the field.
Matt Prater is one of the best kickers in the league. He should once again have a solid season for the Broncos.
Britton Colquitt is known as one of the best punters in the NFL. The Broncos are set with a player who can pin opponents deep with his strong leg.
Aaron Brewer proved that he was a capable long snapper last year for the Broncos.
Projected Final Roster
QB (3): Peyton Manning, Brock Osweiler, Zac Dysert
RB (4): Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman, Willis McGahee, Lance Ball
WR (6): Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker, Tavarres King, Andre Caldwell, Trindon Holliday
TE (4): Jacob Tamme, Joel Dreesen, Virgil Green, Julius Thomas
LT (2): Ryan Clady, Chris Clark
LG (2): Zane Beadles, C.J. Davis
C (2): J.D. Walton, Phillip Blake
RG (1): Louis Vasquez
RT (2): Orlando Franklin, Vinston Painter
DE (4): Derek Wolfe, Robert Ayers, Malik Jackson,Quanterus Smith
DT (4): Sylvester Williams, Kevin Vickerson, Terrance Knighton, Mitch Unrein
OLB (4): Von Miller, Wesley Woodyard, Shaun Phillips, Danny Trevathan
ILB (2): Nate Irving, Steven Johnson
CB (6): Champ Bailey, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Chris Harris, Kayon Webster, Tony Carter, Omar Bolden
S (4): Rahim Moore, Mike Adams, David Bruton, Quinton Carter
Special teams: Matt Prater (kicker), Britton Colquitt (punter), Aaron Brewer (long snapper)