Early Predictions for the Denver Broncos' Final 53-Man Roster
With the 2014 NFL draft wrapped up, the Denver Broncos look to analyze their roster during rookie minicamp, offseason training activities and training camp. As the offseason moves on, the team will have to cut approximately 30 players to get down to the final 53-man roster.
The Broncos have time to make these decisions, as the roster won’t need to be finalized until the end of August. However, ever snap is critical for players looking to make the team. The Broncos are in a Super Bowl window, and they will have some tough decisions to make.
The team added a quality group of rookies through the draft. Players like cornerback Bradley Roby and wide receiver Cody Latimer have star potential and could be big contributors for the Broncos in the near future. Behind their top two picks, the Broncos added players with developmental upside like linebacker Lamin Barrow and offensive tackle Michael Schofield.
After the draft, the Broncos added 15 undrafted free agents. The team has a history of finding quality players in the undrafted ranks, and this year is no different. There could be a few of these 15 players that push for a spot on the final roster, while others may be placed on the practice squad.
Per NFL rules, each team is allowed eight players on their practice squad. There could be some rookies and second- or third-year players (with eligibility left) that don’t quite make the cut. These players are prime candidates to be put on the practice squad.
With the players currently on the Broncos roster, here is a possible scenario for the final 53-man roster.
QB (3) Peyton Manning, Brock Osweiler, Bryn Renner
There are no question marks here at the starting position. Peyton Manning is the man, and he’s a man on a mission as the Broncos attempt to get back to (and win) the Super Bowl.
Behind Manning we’ll see Brock Osweiler resume his role as the primary backup. General manager John Elway said before the draft that the team is preparing Osweiler as their quarterback of the future. His development will continue this year.
The third-string job is up for grabs. Last year’s seventh-round pick Zac Dysert is going to compete with 2014 UDFA Bryn Renner. Watching Renner this week in rookie minicamp, he already looks better than Dysert did last year.
A winner in this battle will be determined in training camp, but I give the edge to Renner because he’s more consistent and has better accuracy.
RB (4) Montee Ball, C.J. Anderson, Ronnie Hillman, Brennan Clay
It’s not official, but everyone under the sun expects Montee Ball to be the lead back for the Broncos this year. It’s Ball’s time to shine after a rookie season that saw him play a complementary role behind Knowshon Moreno. With Moreno moving on in free agency to the Miami Dolphins, Ball will get a big opportunity in 2014.
Behind Ball, C.J. Anderson should win the primary backup job. He’s the team’s only true power back and Anderson is a favorite of the staff because of his work ethic.
Outside of the top two, the spots on the depth chart are up for grabs. Ronnie Hillman is entering his third year, and some think it’s a make-or-break season for the 2012 third-round pick.
Offensive coordinator Adam Gase had this to say when I asked him what Hillman could do to get back in the good graces of the staff after a fumble-filled, disappointing 2013 season.
“We’ve talked to him, [running backs coach] Eric [Studesville] and myself, as far as, ‘Hey, this is a new start to the year. Whatever happened in the past, you’ve got to build off it. We’ve just got to start over.’ His goal is to become the best running back he can. I can’t say make-or-break, because I don’t know what that is. He’s just got to come out, he’s got to work his butt off and make sure he puts himself in a great position to contribute this year.”
The fourth spot on the depth chart is an unknown right now. The team added three undrafted backs this year to compete for that spot. Brennan Clay has performed the best of the trio so far in rookie minicamp, and he’s looked fantastic as a receiver out of the backfield.
The Broncos have one of the best collections of wide receivers in the league, and the addition of second-round pick Cody Latimer will only make them better.
Demaryius Thomas is entering the final year of his contract. He’ll once again resume the role of Peyton Manning’s favorite target. Expect Thomas to break the bank when his new contract is agreed upon—and expect the Broncos to make re-signing him a top priority.
Wes Welker is in the final year of his contract with the Broncos. He missed a few games last year due to concussion problems, and he’s looking to stay healthy all season long this year. Welker will once again be a dangerous slot receiver for Denver.
Free-agent addition Emmanuel Sanders replaces Eric Decker in the lineup. Sanders is faster than Decker, and he can get better separation at the top of his route. He can also do more than Decker did after the catch.
Latimer is an exciting rookie to watch, and he may have a larger role this year than some think. Even as the fourth-string guy, Latimer can be mixed in immediately as a rookie because of his size and ability to be a quality red-zone threat.
Veteran Andre “Bubba” Caldwell is a valuable player who gives the team insurance at the position in case injuries strike above him on the depth chart. Undrafted rookie Isaiah Burse has been a standout player each day in rookie minicamp, and he could make the team because of his ability to be a dangerous return man.
TE (4) Julius Thomas, Virgil Green, Jacob Tamme, Gerell Robinson
We saw the birth of a star in 2013. Julius Thomas was finally healthy after missing most of his first two seasons due to a severe ankle injury. It didn’t take him long to prove what kind of weapon he could be for the Broncos, and he should carry that momentum over to this season.
Behind Thomas, Virgil Green will be the second tight end. Green has become a fantastic blocker, and he’s a good all-around threat who can be relied on in two-tight end sets.
Jacob Tamme is scheduled to make $3.5 million this year, but the Broncos could keep him around for a couple of different reasons. First, he’s got tremendous chemistry with Peyton Manning dating back to their days with the Indianapolis Colts. Second, Tamme is a team-first player who has plus-ability on special teams.
Gerell Robinson made the switch from wide receiver to tight end last year with the Broncos on their practice squad. He could end up replacing Joel Dreessen if he proves himself as a blocker in training camp. Dreessen is on the roster right now, but his $3.1 million salary (with only $665,000 in dead money) makes him a candidate to be released.
OL (8) Ryan Clady, Orlando Franklin, Will Montgomery, Louis Vasquez, Chris Clark, Michael Schofield, Manny Ramirez, Vinston Painter
The Broncos are missing only one player from the offensive line that made it to the Super Bowl last year. However, there are three spots in the starting lineup that are up for grabs this year in camp.
Left tackle is not up for grabs as Ryan Clady is back. He missed most of last year after suffering a Lisfranc injury in the Week 2 game against the New York Giants. Having him protect Peyton Manning’s blind side is a huge boost for the team.
Left guard is open right now as Zane Beadles moved on in free agency. Last year’s starting right tackle Orlando Franklin is being moved inside, and he’s the front-runner to win the job.
The team added veteran center Will Montgomery this offseason in free agency. He could win the job over last year’s starting center Manny Ramirez. If Ramirez loses the starting center position, he could earn a spot on the roster by moving back to his natural position of guard.
At right guard the Broncos have a stud. Louis Vasquez is one of the best in the game at the position, and he’s an incredibly gifted player who can excel in run or pass blocking.
Right tackle is now open since Franklin has moved inside. After Clady was lost for the year, Chris Clark filled in at left tackle and did a good job for most of the season. He could slide over to the right side to provide better pass protection than Franklin did last year.
Michael Schofield was a third-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft. The Broncos won’t give up on him, and Schofield could in fact push for the starting right tackle job in training camp. Vinston Painter was a raw prospect last year, but with a year of experience the Broncos could choose to keep him around.
DL (8) DeMarcus Ware, Terrance Knighton, Sylvester Williams, Derek Wolfe, Malik Jackson, Kevin Vickerson, Mitch Unrein, Quanterus Smith
The Broncos improved the defensive line (and the entire defense) with the addition of DeMarcus Ware. He will be an incredible boost for the team’s pass rush. Ware will also provide a veteran presence on the defense, and he should become an instant team leader.
The middle of the defensive line will see Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton as the primary run-stuffer. He’s a huge lineman, and Knighton does a good job of plugging the run and getting some interior pressure on the quarterback.
Last year’s first-round pick Sylvester Williams will be relied on to do more in 2014. He came on strong at the end of last year, and he’ll continue to develop as a disruptive interior player for the Broncos.
Derek Wolfe is back in action after missing the last half of the 2013 season due to a scary nerve/neck injury. He’s out to prove that 2013 didn’t stunt his growth as a player. If healthy, Wolfe gives the Broncos a relentless presence on the outside.
An up-and-coming player for the Broncos is Malik Jackson. He’s worked hard to develop his game as a pass-rusher and run defender. Jackson is huge, strong, aggressive and quicker off the snap than some think. We should see him continue to develop into a fine pro this year.
Kevin Vickerson is too valuable to release. He gives the team veteran insurance, and Vickerson should be able to stay healthy as a part-time player. Like Vickerson, Mitch Unrein is a blue-collar worker who stands out due to heart and determination.
Quanterus Smith missed all of last season due to a 2012 knee injury he suffered at Western Kentucky. If he's at full strength, Smith could be a fantastic part-time pass-rusher.
LB (6) Von Miller, Nate Irving, Danny Trevathan, Lamin Barrow, Steven Johnson, Shaquil Barrett
There is still a question mark at the middle linebacker position. At this time it looks like Nate Irving will be the team’s starter in the middle. He’s developed into a fine reserve strong-side linebacker, but he might be the best option to start the season at middle linebacker.
Strong-side linebacker will be Von Miller if he’s healthy. Miller is coming off an ACL injury that he suffered in Week 16 against the Houtston Texans last year. His status for the start of training camp is up in the air right now, and the team is hopeful he can be ready by the beginning of the regular season.
Danny Trevathan was a breakout player in 2013. He made big plays in coverage, and Trevathan proved himself as a sound tackler who can fly to the football.
Steven Johnson sticks with the team this year because of his ability on special teams. He can also play middle linebacker if the team needs him to.
Lamin Barrow is outstanding as a coverage linebacker, and he may be the eventual starter in the middle. His length, speed and athleticism could keep him on the field for all three downs.
Shaquil Barrett was added as an undrafted free agent out of Colorado State. He has the ability to win on the edge as a pass-rusher. If he can contribute on special teams, Barrett should make the final roster.
CB (6) Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr., Bradley Roby, Kayvon Webster, Tony Carter, Louis Young
The Broncos made a big move in free agency when they added Aqib Talib. He’ll be an improvement over last year’s top corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Talib is a shutdown corner who will automatically take away an opponents’ top target.
Opposite of Talib we should see 2014 first-round pick Bradley Roby. He’s got the length and ball skills to knock away passes when they come in. Roby also has elite speed which allows him to stay with receivers on downfield routes.
Chris Harris Jr. should move back inside as the team’s nickel corner. He’s coming off a partially-torn ACL that he suffered in the playoff win over the San Diego Chargers. Harris will be brought along carefully as he returns from this injury, but he should be near full strength by the start of the regular season.
Last year’s third-round pick Kayvon Webster will play a reserve role for the team. He was forced into the lineup last year due to injuries above him on the depth chart, and the results were varied. Webster is a big hitter, but too often he found himself out of position and a target for opposing quarterbacks.
Tony Carter is a corner who likes to take chances. This helps him make plays, but it also can get him burned. Louis Young is arguably the best UDFA they added at the cornerback position. His athleticism and nose for the ball make him an interesting fit in the final spot on the depth chart.
S (5) T.J. Ward, Rahim Moore, David Bruton, Duke Ihenacho, John Boyett
The first move in free agency could be the best one for the Broncos. T.J. Ward is going to start at strong safety this year, and he brings an intimidation to the defense they didn’t have last year. Ward’s nickname is “Boss” and he should have command as the defensive leader in 2014.
Rahim Moore was having a good season in 2013 when a rare lower leg injury cost him the second half of the season. Once again healthy, Moore should be able to pick up where he left off this year. His confidence seemed renewed last season, and Moore will benefit from playing opposite Ward.
David Bruton stays with the team because he’s a standout special teams player. Duke Ihenacho can learn how to be a better safety from Ward. Boyett has the athleticism and nose for the ball to make the team.
Specialists (3) Matt Prater, Britton Colquitt, Aaron Brewer
The Broncos have one of the best groups of specialists in the NFL. Kicker Matt Prater, punter Britton Colquitt and long-snapper Aaron Brewer give the team a strong special teams.
Cecil Lammey can be followed on Twitter @CecilLammey.
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