Projecting the Denver Broncos' Most Heated Roster Battles This Offseason
The NFL draft recently concluded, and though we are only in May, the NFL season is closer than it seems.
Don't look now, but the Broncos will hold rookie minicamp May 10-12 and OTAs start on May 20.
The Broncos will have open competition at many positions as we head into the 2013 season and several of those will be closely scrutinized.
Here is a look at the positions that will be the most hotly contested in training camp and preseason games.
Chris Kuper will get his chance to keep his starting position in training camp, but that may be a tall order.
After injuries derailed his 2012 season, Kuper played in just seven games, starting only five. This forced the Broncos to turn to Manny Ramirez more often than they probably would have liked.
Whether this is a sign that the Broncos have lost faith in Kuper remains to be seen, but it will be tough for Kuper to keep Vasquez from the starting job.
Vasquez will be entering his fifth season and has started 54 career games.
Kuper will have an uphill climb, and if he is beaten out by Vasquez, he could even find himself being released before the season starts.
Kuper is due $4.5 million in 2013 and has had two ankle surgeries in just a little over a year.
Projected Winner: Vasquez
Joe Mays, Nate Irving and Steven Johnson, the three players currently on the roster who figure to compete for the middle linebacker job, combined for a total of just 43 tackles last season.
That is partly due to the fact that Mays played in just six games. Still, Denver knew they were weak at the position heading into the season last year, hence the August signing of Keith Brooking.
Mays has the experience at the position, but Johnson and Irving will be given every opportunity to win the job.
The middle linebacker spot may be the weakest position on the entire team, leading to questions as to why it wasn't addressed in the draft. Denver did bring in Doug Rippy, a former Colorado Buffaloes linebacker, as an undrafted free agent, however.
Opposing tight ends routinely beat Denver across the middle of the field last season, and this is an aspect that must be improved upon.
Mays can add strong run support, but he is a liability in coverage. That opens the door for either Johnson or Irving to step up.
Still, is the starting middle linebacker even on the roster right now?
Projected Winner: Irving
Obviously, unless there is a calamitous set of circumstances, there will be just as much need for a backup quarterback in Denver in 2013 as there was in 2012.
Still, the team has three young quarterbacks on the roster, one of whom is the likely signal-caller of the future.
Brock Osweiler will enter his second season in the league and the team has Zac Dysert, whom they selected in the seventh round of the NFL draft and Ryan Katz, an undrafted free agent who spent time at both Oregon State and San Diego State in college.
Osweiler saw limited action last season, but still has a year serving as an understudy to Peyton Manning under his belt. That will be a huge advantage.
Dysert and Katz will likely battle for the third-string spot, if Denver decides to keep three quarterbacks.
Dysert is an interesting prospect who is able to make plays you wouldn't think he could make, especially with his legs.
Projected Winner: Osweiler (Dysert will be kept as third-string)
It seemed Denver had the middle of its defensive line figured out. That was until the NFL draft.
When Denver came up at No. 28, it could not pass on North Carolina's Sylvester Williams.
Something the Broncos coveted entering the draft was a defensive tackle who could not only clog up the middle, but could put pressure on the quarterback as well.
Williams will do that. He is a very versatile, strong player who can take games over from a defensive perspective. He very well could be an immediate starter for the Broncos.
The player who lines up next to him will likely be the one who performs better between Knighton and Vickerson.
Knighton will be hungry to prove himself for the coach that helped bring him to Jacksonville, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio.
Projected Winners: Sylvester Williams and Terrance Knighton
Everyone can probably agree that the Broncos will feature a running back-by-committee approach in 2013.
Willis McGahee will be 32years old in October and will be coming off a knee injury that sidelined him for the final six games of 2012 and the playoff loss to Baltimore.
Montee Ball was drafted out of Wisconsin in the second round and the team has a bevy of other backs on the roster.
Lance Ball, Mario Fannin, Jacob Hester, Jeremiah Johnson and CJ Anderson will all fight for roster spots.
And let's not forget about second-year runner Ronnie Hillman and Knowshon Moreno, who experienced a resurrection of sorts in the latter part of 2012 before having to leave the playoff game against the Ravens with an injury.
This position will be hard to diagnose, but if the Broncos opt for a youth movement, McGahee's days could be numbered.
There is every reason to believe that Ball could break out in his rookie season.
He ran for an amazing 3,753 yards and 55 touchdowns during his junior and senior seasons alone at Wisconsin.
Hillman will be given his chances, as long as his pass-protection has improved.
Moreno will have to prove he can stay healthy or he could be looking up at the depth chart.
All four guys should make the team unless Lance Ball or Fannin has a terrific preseason and forces the coaching staff to make a tough decision.
If McGahee is fully recovered from his knee injury and has no setbacks, he should get the first shot due to his experience. How long he holds the job will be another question.
Projected Winner: McGahee
Due to an injury last season, Quinton Carter missed all but three games in 2012.
It was a disappointing realization for a guy who had a solid rookie campaign in 2011, making 56 tackles and coming up with one sack.
Carter ran into some trouble this offseason (Denver Post) for cheating on craps in a Las Vegas casino.
Last week, those charges were dropped (Pro Football Talk), apparently convincing the court system that it was an honest mistake.
Despite the recent woes for Carter, Denver wants him to step up and become the team's starting strong safety.
Though Mike Adams was second on the team in 2012 with 80 tackles, he struggled in coverage and did not match up well with tight ends.
Rahim Moore will have the memory of one really bad play (YouTube video) in the playoff loss to Baltimore a tough thing to shake, but he will be the team's starting free safety in 2013 barring injury.
Projected Winners: Carter and Moore
Fourth Wide Receiver
It goes without saying that Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker will be the top three wide receivers in Denver this season.
The real intrigue will be who else gets a roster spot at the position.
Other than the big three, the Broncos have Gerell Robinson, Tavarres King, Andre Caldwell, Greg Orton, Quincy McDuffie, Lamaar Thomas and Kemonte Bateman battling for two or three spots.
Bateman, McDuffie and Thomas were all brought in as undrafted free agents and will be long shots to make the final roster.
Caldwell was a major disappointment last season, catching just one pass after Denver brought him in as a free agent.
Robinson spent time in Denver's training camp last season and was one of the team's final cuts. Orton has been in training camp for the Broncos before as well and spent last season on the team's practice squad.
King was selected in the fifth round of the draft after posting a solid career at the University of Georgia that included over 2,600 yards receiving and 21 touchdowns.
The fourth wide receiver position should go to King, Orton or Robinson and all three will have the chance to make the team unless Bateman, Thomas or McDuffie can open some eyes.
Orton will make a strong push, knowing this may be his last chance to do so. But in the end, it will be Robinson, who will use a combination of his size (6'4", 227) and electric playmaking ability to win the job.
Projected Winner: Gerell Robinson