Breaking Down the Denver Broncos Roster After the 2014 NFL Draft
The Denver Broncos have had an amazing offseason. The team is in a “win now” mode, and that was evident with the aggression that it showed in free agency.
The Broncos have set themselves up to be Super Bowl contenders now, but they also have young talent to keep this team on the winning track in the future.
Let’s go through the roster for the Broncos and examine the depth chart at each position.
Starter: Peyton Manning
Backups: Brock Osweiler, Zac Dysert, Bryn Renner
Peyton Manning is coming off the best statistical season of his career. It will be difficult to top the single-season records of 55 touchdowns and 5,477 yards passing that he had in 2013. However, with the new weapons added to the offense like Emmanuel Sanders and Cody Latimer, throwing for more than 5,000 yards and 45-plus touchdowns is not out of the question.
General manager John Elway said before the draft that the team is preparing Brock Osweiler to be the next starter. Osweiler has improved his footwork and throwing motion while still retaining his rocket arm and athleticism. The development will continue in 2014.
Zac Dysert didn’t show much as a rookie. He has a strong arm and is athletic, but he struggles with accuracy and consistency—just like he did in college. He’ll be pushed for the third-string job by 2014 undrafted free agent Bryn Renner. A Manning favorite, Renner is a smart pocket passer who isn’t afraid to take chances.
Starter: Montee Ball
Backups: C.J. Anderson, Ronnie Hillman, Jerodis Williams, Kapri Bibbs, Brennan Clay, Juwan Thompson
It’s Montee Ball’s time in 2014. The second-year back gets his chance to be the starter with Knowshon Moreno moving on in free agency to the Miami Dolphins. While he’s not going to be given the starting job, Ball should win the top spot in training camp.
He improved as his rookie season wore on. He learned better patience as a runner, and he ran with more authority late in the year. He also has worked hard to improve his pass protection—a key for playing in a Peyton Manning offense.
Behind Ball, we should see C.J. Anderson win the top backup job. He is the team’s only true power back. He has a quick initial burst, and once he’s at the second level of the defense, he has enough speed to get to the edge.
Ronnie Hillman remains a mystery as a pro. He’s arguably the fastest player on the team, and he generally looks explosive in practice. However, fumbling problems cost him the starting job last year, and it got to the point where he was inactive for most of the games in the last half of the season. His job is on the line this year, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him released if the fumbling problems continue.
Behind Ball, Anderson and Hillman, there will be a competition for the fourth-string job. Kapri Bibbs is most likely to be the winner in that competition. He has a nose for the end zone and is an efficient runner between the tackles. He’ll compete with Brennan Clay, Juwan Thompson and Jerodis Williams for that final spot on the depth chart.
Backups: Cody Latimer, Andre Caldwell, Jordan Norwood, Nathan Palmer, Greg Wilson, Greg Hardin, Isaiah Burse, Bennie Fowler
Demaryius Thomas is in the final year of his contract in 2014. He should be able to break the bank after what should be another star performance this year for the Broncos. He has become the favorite target of Peyton Manning, and his size/speed combination makes him dangerous on a number of different routes.
Wes Welker will continue to move the chains for the Broncos on underneath routes. His quickness and agility make him dangerous after the catch, and he should once again be a security blanket for Manning. Welker needs to stay healthy, as last year he missed some time due to concussions.
New addition Emmanuel Sanders will take the role that was vacated when Eric Decker left to the New York Jets in free agency. Sanders is faster than Decker, but he’s not the red-zone threat that Decker was. We’ll see how offensive coordinator Adam Gase creates new wrinkles for the offense with Sanders in the fold.
The Broncos got a steal in the second round of the draft when they selected Cody Latimer out of Indiana. His size/speed combination is similar to that of Decker’s, but Latimer is more dangerous after the catch. This should be a redshirt season for him so he can learn the pro game and develop his raw skill set. However, Broncos fans should expect a breakout season from the talented receiver in 2015.
The Broncos will have a competition for the fifth-string receiver on the depth chart. Veteran Andre Caldwell would have to be considered the front-runner right now. However, he’ll face strong competition from new arrivals on the depth chart.
Isaiah Burse is the name to remember. He was incredibly productive at Fresno State, and his ability as an explosive return man could win him the final job on the depth chart.
Starter: Julius Thomas
Backups: Virgil Green, Jacob Tamme, Joel Dreessen, Gerell Robinson, Jameson Konz, Cameron Morrah
Julius Thomas had a breakout season in 2013, and that momentum should carry over to this year. Like Demaryius Thomas, he’s in the final year of his contract this season. Julius Thomas proved last year that he’s one of the most dangerous move tight ends in the league.
The Broncos know how to use him to attack opponents. Not only can he effectively work the deep middle seam of the defense, he can take short catches and turn them into long gains. Simply put—he’s a mismatch every time he lines up on the field.
Behind Thomas, we’ll see Virgil Green as the primary blocking tight end. Green has worked hard to develop an all-around game with the Broncos after coming out of Nevada as only a receiving threat.
It was a bit of a surprise that the Broncos held onto both veteran tight ends Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen. Their roster spots aren’t safe yet, but it’s a good sign that they’ve made it this far through the offseason.
Both of them are scheduled to make more than $3 million this year, but there’s little dead money in each contract. This makes them both candidates for release if the Broncos need some wiggle room in the salary cap.
Gerell Robinson was transitioned from wide receiver to tight end last year. We'll see if he can make an impact at his new position this offseason. He's certainly got the athleticism and wingspan to create mismatches down the seam.
Starters: Ryan Clady (LT), Orlando Franklin (LG), Will Montgomery (C), Louis Vasquez (RG), Chris Clark (RT)
Backups: Manny Ramirez (C/OG), Vinston Painter (OT/OG), Winston Justice (OT), Michael Schofield (RT/LG), Matt Paradis (C), Ben Garland (G), Ryan Miller (OT), Paul Cornick (OT), Ramon Harewood (OT), Aslam Sterling (OT)
The Broncos offensive line is going to be shuffled in 2014. Last year’s starting left guard Zane Beadles moved on in free agency to the Jacksonville Jaguars, and in his wake is a bit of a mystery at this time.
Ryan Clady will man left tackle once again. He missed most of last season after suffering a Lisfranc injury in Week 2 against the Giants. He should be fully recovered by the time the regular season begins, and having him back will be a huge boost for protecting Peyton Manning.
Left guard should be last year’s starting right tackle Orlando Franklin. The team will move him inside because of his struggles on the edge. He is in the final year of his deal, and it would benefit him to succeed with this transition.
Center will be a competition in training camp between last year’s starter Manny Ramirez and free-agent addition Will Montgomery. Ramirez was a guard before he transitioned to center last year, but Montgomery may be the better fit.
Right guard is all Louis Vasquez. He’s a beast on the interior offensive line, and he should have a Pro Bowl season in 2014. He’s one of the best in the game at his position.
Right tackle should be Chris Clark. He filled in at left tackle as the starter after Clady was lost to injury last year. Clark is not the mauler that Franklin was on the right side, but he should offer better pass protection.
The Broncos have a tackle-heavy roster, and the competition for the backup spots will be fierce. Michael Schofield and Matt Paradis were both added in the draft this year, but they’ll have to prove their worth in training camp.
Last year’s sixth-round pick Vinston Painter should make the final roster. He’s a huge prospect with fine athleticism, but he’ll need to show growth from the raw player we saw last year in training camp.
Ryan Miller is a name to remember. His prep career was at Columbine High School, and his college career was played at the University of Colorado. The hometown product is now with the Broncos, and if he’s healthy, Miller offers good depth at both guard and tackle.
Starters: DeMarcus Ware (DE), Terrance Knighton (DT), Sylvester Williams (DT), Derek Wolfe (DE)
Backups: Kevin Vickerson (DT), Mitch Unrein (DT), Marvin Austin (DT), Sione Fua (DT), Mister Cobble (DT), Malik Jackson (DE), John Youboty (DE), Quanterus Smith (DE), Hall Davis (DE), Kenny Anunike (DE), Greg Latta (DE)
The defensive line will have a new look this year. DeMarcus Ware was arguably the team’s biggest free-agent signing earlier this offseason. He’ll give the team another elite pass-rusher to get after the quarterback.
He is coming off a disappointing 2013 season that saw him compile only six sacks on the year. This was largely due to an elbow injury that hampered him most of the season. He should be fully healthy by the start of the regular season, and he could lead the team in sacks in 2014.
Inside, we’ll see a competition at defensive tackle. Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton should win one of the starting spots. He’s turned his career around under defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, and Knighton does a great job of stuffing the run and creating middle pressure.
The competition will be for the spot next to Knighton. Kevin Vickerson missed the last half of the year due to a hip injury he suffered in the Week 12 game against the Patriots. This allowed Sylvester Williams to earn a larger role as a starter in 2013.
Williams and Vickerson will compete for the starting job, and Williams may have the advantage because of his youth. Vickerson isn’t going to be easy to beat, and this will be one of the most interesting battles to watch in training camp this year.
The other starting defensive end will be Derek Wolfe. He suffered a scary nerve injury last year that forced him to miss the last part of the season in 2013. He is back near full-strength now, and he’ll work hard to continue developing his game this year.
An up-and-coming player on the defensive line is Malik Jackson. He’s huge and strong, has a large wingspan and is quick off the snap. Jackson will work as a rotational player on the line to give the Broncos extra strength as a pass-rusher. It wouldn’t be a shock to see him win a starting job if he continues to impress.
Another player to watch is Quanterus Smith. Last year’s fifth-round pick out of Western Kentucky has great upside as a pass-rusher. He missed his rookie season due to the knee injury he suffered in college during the 2012 season. He will have to stay healthy and prove he can get back to his old form if he wants to hold onto his spot on the roster.
Starters: Von Miller (SLB), Nate Irving (MLB), Danny Trevathan (WLB)
Backups: Lamin Barrow, Steven Johnson, Lerentee McCray, Jamar Chaney, Corey Nelson, Jerrell Harris, L.J. Fort, Shaquil Barrett
Von Miller is under contract until the end of the 2015 season. The Broncos picked up his fifth-year option last month because of his upside and ability to be one of the best in the game when fully healthy.
We’ll see him get better guidance this year from DeMarcus Ware. The veteran is an idol of Miller, and this should help keep him focused on football. Miller lost a mentor last offseason when Elvis Dumervil moved on in free agency to the Baltimore Ravens.
Miller is coming off a knee injury he suffered in Week 16 against the Houston Texans last year. His status for the start of training camp is up in the air right now, but he could be ready for the start of the regular season. He might be eased into the lineup due to this knee injury, but if all goes as planned, he should look like his old self sometime in the middle of the year.
The middle linebacker position is one the Broncos could change on a down-to-down basis like they did at times last year. However, the starter should be Nate Irving. He improved his play as a reserve strong-side linebacker last year, but now he’ll be counted on as the man in the middle. He could move to strong-side linebacker when Miller moves to defensive end in the nickel defense.
The weak-side linebacker is Danny Trevathan. His athleticism and nose for the ball make him a dangerous player on the outside. He gives the team great effort and has the ability to make game-changing plays because of his ability in coverage.
Watch out for rookie Lamin Barrow this year. He should play mostly on special teams as a rookie, but he has the developmental upside to be a quality inside linebacker in the pros. He stands out because of his size, length and athleticism in coverage.
Starters: Aqib Talib, Bradley Roby, Chris Harris Jr. (nickel)
Backups: Kayvon Webster, Tony Carter, Jerome Murphy, Jordan Sullen, Louis Young
Adding Aqib Talib in free agency was a brilliant move by the Broncos. He’ll be the team’s top corner since Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie moved on in free agency.
Talib has the ability to be a shutdown corner, and he’ll take away an opponents’ top target each week. Durability has been a problem with him during his pro career. He’s never played a full 16-game regular season in his six-year career, and that is a concern for the Broncos.
Opposite him we’ll see Bradley Roby. The rookie is a talented player with speed to burn. His speed helps him stick with receivers downfield, but it also makes him quick to the play when it unfolds in front of him. The team had a huge need at cornerback, and that’s why Roby was the top pick.
The addition of Roby moves Chris Harris Jr. to the inside as the slot (nickel) cornerback. He is coming back from a partially torn ACL injury he suffered in the playoff game against the Chargers. His status for training camp is up in the air right now, but he should be near full-strength by the start of the regular season.
Behind the starting trio of cornerbacks, we’ll see Kayvon Webster next. He struggled through his rookie season but gained valuable experience that should help him this year. He is a big, physical cornerback who can help the team when it plays press coverage.
Tony Carter should have a chance to stick on the final roster once again this year. He’s a gambling corner who plays with a lot of confidence. He has made a few mistakes during his time in Denver, but his speed and ball-hawking ability make him an asset for the team.
Starters: T.J. Ward (SS), Rahim Moore (FS)
Backups: Duke Ihenacho, Omar Bolden, John Boyett, David Bruton, Quinton Carter, Eric Hagg
The Broncos' first move in free agency was to add strong safety T.J. Ward. This move symbolizes what they want to be in 2014—tough.
He is one of the most intimidating players in the NFL. His playing style is all about the big hit. He can find the ball quickly and has the speed to arrive at it in a hurry. Once at the play, he strikes with a thunder that can lead to turnovers.
His nickname is “Boss” for a reason. Ward is the boss in the defensive backfield. His presence gives the Broncos defense a swagger that it didn’t have last year.
Starting next to Ward will be Rahim Moore. A leg injury cut his season short in 2013, but he should be fully recovered for this year. He was playing with better confidence last season before his injury, and he should pick up where he left off this year.
Behind the starters, the Broncos have a deep group of safeties.
Duke Ihenacho is going to be a reserve player this year. The young safety can learn a lot from Ward, and that will help his growth and development as a pro.
David Bruton will once again be a standout player on special teams. He may not play that much defensively, but he’s a valuable asset for the team and a leader.
Omar Bolden and Quinton Carter are both talented players who have had durability problems during their pro careers. We’ll see if either can stay healthy and impress this season for the Broncos.
Starters: Matt Prater (K), Britton Colquitt (P), Aaron Brewer (LS)
Backups: Steven Clark (P)
Matt Prater and Britton Colquitt are two of the best in the game at their positions. Both will continue to provide the Broncos with quality play. Aaron Brewer was a find as an undrafted free agent a few years ago, and he’ll continue to be a good long snapper. Steven Clark was picked up as an undrafted free agent this year, but he’s only going to be another camp leg for the Broncos.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos.
Cecil Lammey can be followed on Twitter @CecilLammey.