Denver Broncos: Early Rookie Progress Reports
The Denver Broncos are now in the second week of voluntary minicamp at Dove Valley. Players are working hard on the field to impress the coaching staff. Veterans have experience of going through this part of the process, but rookies are experiencing something new each day.
Young players can make an impact in the NFL, and the Broncos added a quality group of rookies this year. They maneuvered in the NFL draft to find the right picks in each round. After the draft, they also added a group of interesting players as undrafted free agents.
Here’s a look at the progress of each of the rookies on the team in alphabetical order.
Kenny Anunike, DE
The Broncos are constantly looking for pass-rushers. That’s why after the draft they picked up Kenny Anunike from Duke. He led the Blue Devils in sacks the last three years and has multiple moves to get after the quarterback.
During minicamp, the team is not in full pads, so it’s difficult to gauge his ability at this point. He does look quick in one-on-one drills, and he has a good initial burst.
If Anunike continues to show well as a pass-rusher in training camp and the preseason, there’s a chance he could make the practice squad this year.
Shaquil Barrett, OLB
The Broncos already have a strong group of linebackers, but the team picked up a local free agent after the draft who could make the final roster. Shaquil Barrett has a nose for the ball and puts himself in position to make the tackle on most plays. He can scrape and flow quickly to the ball-carrier and rarely takes a false step when pursuing the play.
Without tackling in minicamp, it’s difficult to determine how well Barrett’s transition to the pros is going. However, he’s working hard to prove himself as a strong-side linebacker.
“I was a ‘Sam’ ‘backer for the majority [in college], some strong side and weak side. But ‘Sam’ backer, I’m just learning that, and just trying to get it down so I can have the opportunity to compete.”
The team could use a reserve strong-side linebacker since Nate Irving is moving to middle linebacker this year. The Colorado State Ram went undrafted, but Barrett could find a home with the Broncos if he impresses during camp.
Lamin Barrow, ILB
The Broncos attempted to move up in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft so they could select inside linebacker C.J. Mosley. They were unable to do so and instead resisted the urge to reach at the position. Denver found a value pick when it selected Lamin Barrow in the fifth round of the draft.
He is doing a good job of keeping up with receivers in coverage, which is no surprise, given his skill set. He has the length and speed to make up ground in a hurry, and he does a good job of anticipating where plays are going.
He can play multiple linebacker positions, but he is likely to play on the inside as a pro.
“I’ve been getting work at the ‘Mike.’ I’ve been kind of cross-training, learning the ‘Mike,’ the ‘Will’ and the ‘Sam,’ but primarily today, the ‘Mike.’”
He’s good in coverage, but Barrow needs to improve as a tackler. We won’t be able to monitor his progress until training camp when the pads come on. If he stands out during training camp and the preseason, then Barrow could be a sleeper candidate to win the middle linebacker job this year.
Kapri Bibbs, RB
The team has at least one spot on the depth chart at running back up for grabs. The Broncos failed to address the position in the draft, but they added three backs as college free agents. Kapri Bibbs was a star for Colorado State last year, and now he’s trying to make it in the pros with Denver.
He is an efficient runner who wastes little motion with the ball in his hands. He has elite balance, which helps him stand out as he can keep his feet moving after contact to drive for extra yards. He has the toughness to run in between the tackles, and he’s fast enough to get to the edge at the second level of the defense.
He has looked good during rookie minicamp and the full-team minicamp that is going on right now. Bibbs is looking swift with the ball in his hands, and he’s been able to turn the corner with good burst during 11-on-11 drills.
Offensive coordinator Adam Gase recently praised Bibbs after practice: “He’s done a good job. All these free agents that we’ve had out here, the rookies in that running back room have been very impressive. You can tell it’s not too big for them and they’re stepping up and getting their reps, and doing a good job at it.”
According to Gase, all running back jobs behind starter Montee Ball are wide open. Bibbs could make the final roster if he continues to impress.
Isaiah Burse, WR
The talk of rookie minicamp was undrafted wide receiver Isaiah Burse. After he caught 100 passes last year for Fresno State, it was a bit surprising that he went undrafted. The Broncos were able to scoop him up and paid him the largest signing bonus ($12,500) of any of their undrafted free agents this year.
He is incredibly quick, and this makes him dangerous when running after the catch. Once the ball is in his hands, he sees the field well and loves to toy with defenders in the open field. His skill set is perfect for the slot receiver role, and he can also work well as a return man.
Undrafted slot receivers have gone on to star in the NFL. The Broncos' very own Wes Welker is one such player. Burse feels he can learn a lot from Welker.
“Just his body type and the things he does in the slot, and how successful he was. I feel like even in college, I did a lot of stuff he did. I was in the slot, I returned, and the fact that I became an undrafted free agent, that just all goes together. It’s funny how he was an undrafted free agent, too, and he became so successful. Just seeing him is kind of like a dream.
"For me, it’s like I know I can do it. If he can do it—not taking away from his ability or anything—but I know if he can do it, I can do it. I want to learn everything from him so I can be successful, as well, in the future.”
He’s been living up to the hype ever since he stepped onto the field for the Broncos, and Burse is going to make a strong push for the final roster. He’ll initially help as a special teams player, but he has the upside to be much more if he continues to develop his pro game.
Brennan Clay, RB
The Broncos added a trio of running backs after the draft, and Brennan Clay may have the best big-play ability of the lot. There is at least one spot open on the depth chart, and he has been doing a good job of making the most of his opportunity.
He has make-you-miss ability in the open field. His footwork is outstanding, and this helps him create his own space as a runner. He has multiple moves to get free from defenders and the speed to eat up chunks of yards quickly.
There is no tackling in minicamp, so we can’t see what Clay can do when running between the tackles. However, he’s been showing off as a fantastic receiving option out of the backfield.
His change-of-pace ability may be intriguing for the Broncos when considering backs behind Montee Ball. Clay could make the final roster because he’s dangerous with the ball in his hands and good in pass protection.
Bennie Fowler, WR
The Broncos have one of the best groups of wide receivers in the league, but that didn’t stop Bennie Fowler from signing on as an undrafted free agent.
He has a good size/speed combination and understands how to use his frame to keep defenders away from the ball. He’ll box out smaller corners and does a good job of squaring his shoulders to the line of scrimmage to create the biggest possible target for his quarterback.
In minicamp on Monday, Fowler hauled in a deep pass over his shoulder on a pass from third-string quarterback Zac Dysert. This ball-tracking ability shows that he’s much more than just a possession receiver who needs to run routes close to the line of scrimmage.
Fowler will be hard-pressed to make the final roster. However, if he continues to make big plays, then perhaps the team will keep him around as a developmental prospect on the practice squad.
Greg Hardin, WR
Small-school players can turn into big stars in the NFL. One of the best Broncos receivers of all time, Rod Smith, came out of Missouri Southern State undrafted in 1994 and became a star in Denver. It will be interesting to see what North Dakota’s Greg Hardin can do with his opportunity.
He is quick in and out of his breaks. He can gain separation easily in his routes because of this ability, and this makes him a great target for the quarterback. Hardin can get open and is dangerous after the catch.
He’s not the fastest wide receiver, but he has good acceleration once the ball is in his hands. With fearlessness over the middle, he can work his way through traffic, looking to maximize the yardage gained on each play.
Hardin has been showing good body control during minicamp. He has good sideline awareness, and this makes him a fine option on quick outs in short-yardage situations. It will be tough for him to make the final roster, but the team could develop him on the practice squad this year.
Cody Latimer, WR
The Broncos may have gotten the steal of the draft when they moved up in the second round to select Cody Latimer out of Indiana. He could have easily gone in the first round with his amazing skill set.
He is big, strong and fast. This helps him in multiple ways on the football field. His size makes him tough to defend in the end zone, and it also aids him when run blocking.
His strength helps him rip away contested passes from defenders and also shows up after the catch as well. He has the leg drive to run through arm tackles, and this makes him difficult to bring down.
Latimer’s speed helps him get on top of the defense in a hurry. He can run deep routes, and with his leaping ability he’s especially dangerous. However, he can also run short routes and use his speed to burn defenders after the catch.
He is coming back from minor foot surgery, but Latimer is now doing lateral movement in minicamp. He has looked explosive after his breaks, showing no ill-effects from his surgery. As he gets healthier, he should look even better.
Offensive coordinator Adam Gase is intrigued by what he’s seen so far from the rookie. “I haven’t had a lot of time to spend with him on the field yet. When he’s been in meetings he’s been good. We’ll see how that goes when we get probably further into OTAs.”
Latimer is going to compete as the fourth receiver this year, but he could be starting opposite Demaryius Thomas in 2015. He has the skill set and the offensive system to be a star in the NFL.
Greg Latta, DE
Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio loves players who have a blue-collar work ethic. That’s what Denver got when it added Greg Latta as a college free agent. He played only one season with the Purdue Boilermakers after transferring from College of the Desert.
He played sparingly during his time at Purdue, but he was known as a coachable kid with a team-first mentality. The former basketball star has only been playing football for a few years. He originally started playing tight end in junior college but quickly moved to the defensive side.
He’s athletic and understands leverage. Those abilities combined with his nonstop motor will help him impress in the pros.
Latta is a long shot to make the practice squad, but his raw ability can be built up now that he’s with the Broncos.
Corey Nelson, OLB
Denver added more linebacker depth late in the draft when it selected Corey Nelson out of Oklahoma in the seventh round.
He has the ability to excel in coverage. His 10 pass breakups in college at Oklahoma were certainly noticed by the Broncos. He is a smart player who can diagnose plays quickly as they unfold in front of him, and he has the speed to get to the ball as it’s coming in.
He is not going to be a thumper as a run defender. He lacks the size to be an impact player against bigger running backs. He also has durability questions after several injuries set him back in college.
Nelson is excited to be with the Broncos. “It’s a great feeling. I look up to those guys, especially with the way they approach things, the mindset they have and the intensity that they bring to workouts and to meetings. I look up to them and it’s an exciting feeling to be around those guys, but it’s a humbling experience as well.”
We could see Nelson make the practice squad if he stays healthy and impresses in camp.
Matt Paradis, C
The Broncos found a developmental prospect at center with the upside to be a quality starter someday. Matt Paradis comes out of Boise State as a hardworking player who is smart and athletic.
His initial burst makes him a standout player. He can get out of his stance quickly after snapping the ball. This helps him get his hands on a defender quickly to move his opponent out of the way.
The former defensive lineman in college plays with a nasty attitude. He can work well as a “sticky blocker” at the second level and likes to finish to the echo of the whistle.
Paradis is using some of his college experience to help the transition to the pros. “One thing that benefitted me was that our playbook in college was fairly complicated. And one thing that benefits us now is that we don’t have school so I can spend a lot more time in the playbook and focus on that.”
Paradis concluded, “Every night when I go home to the hotel I got the playbook open. And that’s just what I’m doing.”
We could see him make the final roster as a reserve player with developmental upside. The team has been looking for a quality center ever since Tom Nalen retired in 2006. Paradis may be able to develop into a quality starter someday.
Bryn Renner, QB
Selecting a developmental quarterback each year is a wise move for any NFL franchise. The Broncos didn’t add a quarterback in the draft this year but quickly signed Bryn Renner as a college free agent.
He has the arm strength to make every throw required in the NFL. He’s a pocket passer who loves to be aggressive with the football. He will challenge a defense vertically but will check down if nothing develops.
He is not a scrambler, but he has enough athleticism to “climb the ladder” in order to evade pressure. He’ll do a good job of keeping his eyes downfield while maneuvering behind the line of scrimmage. Renner is a passer first, but he can pick up a few yards with his legs from time to time.
At minicamp Renner is competing with Zac Dysert for the third-string job. Dysert was a seventh-round pick by the Broncos last year and has a stronger arm and better athleticism than Renner. However, Renner has better accuracy and more aggressiveness as a passer.
Renner’s passes show off that skill set in minicamp. While Dysert is constantly checking down, Renner is attacking with deep passes. Dysert still has accuracy problems, and he has a deliberate throwing motion that slows down his release. Renner is more accurate on all throws, and he quickly (and cleanly) gets the ball out of his hand.
Dysert could keep his job as the third-string guy, but Renner will at least push for the practice squad. He’s smart, accurate and aggressive, so don’t be surprised if he beats Dysert out for a job on the final roster.
Bradley Roby, CB
The team’s first-round pick this year has the ability to be a shutdown corner in the NFL. The rookie is being brought along slowly during minicamp, but the idea is that he’ll push for a starting job in training camp.
He has the speed to stay with receivers on downfield routes. He can cover long routes and has a knack for knocking away passes. During his three years at Ohio State, he had 36 pass breakups.
He has good “click and close” ability when the play breaks down in front of him. He does a good job of planting his foot in the ground and bursting to the play when the pass comes in on shorter routes.
He has the size to play press coverage, and he’s not afraid to mix it up as a run defender. He has an aggressive mentality and does not back down from a challenge.
Roby is working on the little things in order to be the best pro he can be. “It’s different terminology, different coverages, things like that, different checks. It’s a new system, so you’ve got to just get used to the words because sometimes the words are different than we used in college. It’s just stuff like that, little small things that you’ve got to get down.”
Chris Harris Jr. is coming back from a partially torn ACL injury he suffered in the playoff win over the Chargers last year. We could see Harris slide back inside to slot corner in order to allow Roby to start on the outside opposite Aqib Talib. Roby’s role will be determined in training camp and the preseason.
Michael Schofield, OT
Versatility and toughness are assets the team is constantly looking for in offensive linemen. This year’s third-round pick Michael Schofield stands out in both categories.
He started 26 games at right tackle and 10 games at left guard during his time with the Michigan Wolverines. It just so happens the Broncos have question marks at both positions this offseason.
Last year’s starting right tackle Orlando Franklin has moved inside to left guard. He’s not a lock to start at the position, and his old spot is now up for grabs as well. Chris Clark and Winston Justice will compete for the starting right tackle job in camp, but Schofield is going to be a factor as well.
He plays with a nasty attitude as a blocker. He patiently waits for a defender to come at him and then jolts him with a strong initial punch.
At 6’7”, 301 pounds, Schofield is tough to move as a pass-blocker. He anchors well against strong opponents and understands how to use leverage to his advantage.
He immediately noticed the biggest difference from college to the pros. “Just how complex the playbook is. It’s just totally different than what it was at Michigan. Michigan, it was pretty much zone left, zone right, you know exactly what you’re doing. Here, like pass pro is my biggest thing, because at Michigan it was pretty simple, and here, you’ve got to figure out what the ‘Mike’ is, and you’ve got to figure out if you’ve got the ‘Will’ or the ‘Sam.’ Just all stuff like that.”
He’s currently working as a reserve player in minicamp, but that could quickly change in training camp if Clark or Justice fails to impress at right tackle.
Aslam Sterling, OT
The Broncos have done a fantastic job of finding quality talent after the draft has concluded. They especially have great luck when adding Kansas Jayhawks as college free agents. Both cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and linebacker Steven Johnson have come to the Broncos as undrafted free agents out of Kansas.
Aslam Sterling could eventually have a similar path.
He is a position-versatile prospect, playing both guard and tackle during his college career. He does a good job in limited space and has the strength to push opponents out of the way.
He lacks the footwork to handle edge-rushers as a right tackle, so his best fit may be inside at guard as a pro.
It’s going to be tough for him to make the final roster. Sterling is hoping to impress enough to make the practice squad as a developmental prospect.
Jordan Sullen, CB
Teams can never have too much depth in the secondary. This is why Denver added Jordan Sullen as a priority free agent after the draft.
He has position versatility and can play as a sub-package corner or free safety with the Broncos. He’s not afraid of contact and has a nose for the ball. This helps him against the pass and the run.
His skill set is raw, but Sullen has the natural athleticism to find a home somewhere with the Broncos. The cornerback position is cramped with the Broncos, but Sullen could find a spot with the practice squad if he performs in camp.
Juwan Thompson, RB
The final of the three backs added by the Broncos after the draft is Juwan Thompson. The Duke prospect is a bit of a tweener who can line up at fullback or running back. His skill set is reminiscent of former Falcons running back Jason Snelling.
Thompson is big but swift. He can get to top speed in a hurry, and this makes him difficult to bring down once he’s built a head of steam. He has the size to be a battering ram between the tackles, but he has surprising speed when he gets to the second level.
He’s a fantastic receiver and pass-blocker. These two skills might be his best attributes. These skills are especially useful in the Denver offense.
Thompson has been standing out at minicamp. He’s a versatile player who can help the Broncos in multiple ways. He’ll need to continue impressing once the pads come on in training camp, but he has to be considered a sleeper prospect to make the final roster.
Chase Vaughn, OLB
The most interesting route to the Broncos roster has to be the path taken by Chase Vaughn. He called in sick to his hospital job in order to try out for the Broncos. When he made the team, he had to confess to his boss at National Jewish Health.
He was originally undrafted out of Colorado State-Pueblo in 2010 and bounced around to the AFL, IFL, UFL and CFL. As he bounced around to four different professional leagues, he never gave up on his dream of playing in the NFL.
Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio is impressed by Vaughn’s attitude. “It says that he’s not letting people that tell him ‘No’ to keep him from fulfilling his dream or chasing his dream. He came in here as an invite in our rookie camp and earned an invite into this camp, into these OTA sessions, and so it’s a credit to him and his willingness to stick it out and continue to work. We’ll see where it goes.”
Vaughn is athletic and can get after the passer. The team is always looking for pass-rushers, and Vaughn has a shot to make the practice squad. He’s a long shot to make the final roster, but it’s foolish to count a determined player like him out.
Louis Young, CB
The Broncos need playmakers in the secondary, and Louis Young has an intriguing skill set. The Broncos added two cornerbacks as priority free agents after the draft, and Young has a chance to make plays.
He can play close to the line of scrimmage and excels as a run defender. He has a nose for the football and is known as a sound tackler. Like Jordan Sullen, Young can play both cornerback and free safety.
He is an aggressive player who plays with little regard for his personal safety. Young can make big hits, and he has a knack for knocking the ball away. His aggression can be used against him as he’ll get a little grabby in coverage, and he bites on too many play fakes or double moves.
We’ll likely see Sullen and Young make the practice squad if they impress during training camp.
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.
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