5 Players Who Might Find Themselves on the Denver Broncos Practice Squad in 2014
The Denver Broncos have one of the deepest and most talented rosters in the entire league. They have a nice blend of youth and experience at several positions on both sides of the ball.
Some of the younger players may not be able to make the 53-man roster, but they could impress enough to find a home on the practice squad.
The NFL’s rules for the practice squad are as follows:
The practice squad is used for rookies or players with limited experience that the team wants to develop. They are essentially free agents who can be signed away to another team’s active roster at any time. They cannot go from one practice squad to another without first being released.
A player is eligible if he does not have an accrued season of NFL experience. Players gain an accrued season by being on the active roster for at least six games. If a player has one accrued season, he can still be practice squad-eligible if he was on the 45-man active game-day roster for less than nine regular-season games.
A player is deemed to have served a season on the practice squad if he remains on the squad for at least three weeks. Players are eligible to be on the practice squad for two seasons. They can be eligible for a third practice squad season if their team maintains no less than 53 players on the active/inactive list at all times.
Practice squad players practice with the team each week, but they are not eligible to play on game day.
Here’s a look at five players who might find themselves on the Broncos practice squad in 2014.
Quarterback Bryn Renner
The Broncos have an interesting mix of quarterback talent behind starter Peyton Manning. Bryn Renner went undrafted this year, but he has the upside of an eventual starter if he develops and plays up to his potential.
It’s not outlandish to argue the point that he may be the team’s best quarterback behind Manning. Yes, the team is happy with Brock Osweiler as the backup, and that’s unlikely to change in training camp. However, Zac Dysert may be pushed hard by Renner in training camp for the third-string job.
Renner lacks the rocket arm of Dysert, and he’s not quite as athletic as the Broncos' 2013 seventh-round pick. However, the rookie is better than Dysert in the ways that matter most for a quarterback—he’s aggressive and accurate.
During his time at North Carolina, Renner was known as a fiery leader who loved to beat teams with his arm. He had the nickname “Gunner” because of his gunslinger mentality and competitive nature. Even in tough coverage with the defense swarming around him, he would constantly look for the big play downfield.
Renner is smart and can diagnose the defense quickly as he drops back from center. He can effectively use his eyes, shoulders and pump-fakes to manipulate the defense. Once a safety or corner is baited, Renner can make them pay with an accurate throw to any level of the defense.
He’s not a scrambler, but he is more athletic than some give him credit for. He can “climb the ladder” to avoid pressure that is coming from the edge. He also has the ability to make off-platform throws when on the run.
Renner may have to be patient in waiting for his opportunity with the Broncos. If they don’t want Dysert to hit the street, then perhaps placing Renner on the practice squad is the right choice.
Running Back Brennan Clay
There are likely two positions up for grabs on the running back depth chart behind Montee Ball and C.J. Anderson.
Brennan Clay could very well end up on the 53-man roster as a reserve running back. If not, then his skill set would make him a fine practice squad player with developmental upside.
He was an 11-game starter for the Oklahoma Sooners last year, racking up 957 yards and six rushing touchdowns. He had a big game against West Virginia early in the season, finishing with 170 yards on 22 carries.
On the road against Kansas State late in the year, he proved that he could be a workhorse back. He finished that contest with a whopping 31 carries for 200 yards and two rushing touchdowns.
He is a smaller back, measuring in at 5’11”, 200 pounds, but he runs with a ton of heart.
His size prevents him from being a pile-pusher, but Clay can run between the tackles. He does a good job of running through trash at the line of scrimmage, and he can “get skinny” to squeeze out yards inside.
When he’s in space, Clay really shows off his natural skill set. He’s a patient runner who doesn’t look to bounce every carry outside. Clay is an “inside/out” runner who can burst to the edge at the second level of the defense.
Once in the open field, he has the ability to pull away from defenders down the sideline. His speed also helps him outrun angles of oncoming defenders. He is so fast that he’s a threat to score every time he touches the ball.
Clay was not used that much as a receiver out of the backfield with the Sooners, only catching 16 passes in 2013. However, his receiving ability has made him a standout player during rookie minicamp, voluntary OTAs and mandatory minicamp.
The screen game is a big part of the Broncos offense. Clay is dangerous on screen plays because of his speed, ability to toy with defenders in the open field and vision.
If Ronnie Hillman wins the third-string job and fellow undrafted free agent Kapri Bibbs wins the fourth-string job (provided Denver keeps four backs), then Clay may be on the outside looking in when final cuts are made.
Putting him on the practice squad might be the best option for the Broncos.
Running Back Juwan Thompson
Some players are so good at multiple things that they are tough to release. That’s a problem the Broncos could have on their hands with running back Juwan Thompson.
During his time at Duke, he stood out on film in a number of different ways—and on both sides of the ball. In addition to playing running back for the Blue Devils, he also lined up at safety as a senior.
A big back at 5’10”, 228 pounds, he can be a banger between the tackles. He’ll win collisions in the hole, and he has the leg drive to push for extra yards after contact. This makes him a good option in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
Thompson is a fantastic receiver out of the backfield. He regularly catches passes cleanly away from his body, and he has wide receiver-like body control to adjust to poorly thrown passes. He is surprisingly swift after the catch and tough to bring down once he builds a head of steam.
Finally (and perhaps most importantly), he might be the best pass-protection back on the roster. He understands leverage, can anchor properly and blocks with proper technique. Protecting Peyton Manning is priority No. 1 for the Broncos, and Thompson (unlike most rookies) excels in pass blocking.
Think of him like former Atlanta Falcons RB/FB Jason Snelling. He also has a little bit of Detroit Lions Joique Bell to his game. Thompson is a ‘tweener who can contribute in a number of different ways.
It might be tough to find a spot for him on the depth chart at the end of August, but he’s certainly worth keeping around on the practice squad.
Wide Receiver Bennie Fowler
The Broncos have a long tradition of finding talent from the college free-agent pool after the draft. They had an incredible class of college free agents after the draft this year, and wide receiver Bennie Fowler was one of the best players they added.
He was a standout possession receiver in college at Michigan State. He finished the 2013 season with 36 catches for 622 yards and a career-high six receiving touchdowns. He flashed solid potential in games at Iowa (nine catches, 92 yards, one touchdown) and versus Michigan (six catches, 75 yards, one touchdown), but he could be more than just a possession receiver in the pros.
He’s a strong receiver with broad shoulders, measuring in at 6’1”, 217 pounds. He knows how to use his frame to keep smaller defenders away from the ball. This ability helps him win at the point of the catch, and he can brush off defenders who hang on after the catch.
Fowler is fearless while running routes over the middle. He had too many drops at Michigan State over the middle, but that was largely due to him trying to do too much after the catch. He is a steady target who can pick up good yards after the catch.
Once the ball is in his hands, defenders can kiss him goodbye. He didn’t get to show it off that much for the Spartans, but he has blazing straight-line speed.
At the Spartans pro day earlier this year, he ran an official 4.39 40-yard dash. However, some scouts timed him at a blazing 4.27 seconds, according to MLive's Mike Griffith.
Fowler is big, fast and physical. These attributes have helped him stand out during rookie minicamp, voluntary OTAs and mandatory minicamp. Many times when quarterbacks like Brock Osweiler or Zac Dysert have looked good, it was Fowler making plays at the other end of the pass.
The Broncos have a logjam of incredible talent at the wide receiver position. Fowler has a great natural skill set, and he’s been impressive in minicamp this offseason. Even if he continues to show well in training camp, it’s probably not enough for him to make the 53-man roster this year.
He has good developmental upside, and he’s well worth one of the eight spots on the practice squad.
Center Matt Paradis
Finding a quality starting center who can man the position for years is tough to do. The Broncos haven’t had a regular at center since Ring of Fame center Tom Nalen retired after the 2007 season.
In the sixth round of the 2014 NFL draft, the Broncos selected center Matt Paradis from Boise State. He’s a developmental prospect with good upside at a critical position.
He was a walk-on at Boise State who originally began his college career as a defensive lineman. During his sophomore season he was converted to a center and has flourished ever since.
The first thing that jumps out about him is his athleticism. Measuring in at 6’2”, 306 pounds, he is light on his feet for a big man. This quickness helps him get out of his stance cleanly after snapping the ball.
He is also agile enough to be a “sticky blocker” at the second level. He can find a moving target and get to his man quickly in open space.
Paradis has the attitude that coaches love. He plays with a nonstop motor and works hard in the weight room. His intelligence and willingness to learn make him a highly coachable player.
In addition to being quick and agile, He is also country-strong. The former eight-man high school player loves to be aggressive with an opponent and can drive his man out of the way as a run-blocker.
Growing up on a cattle ranch helped shape Paradis into the man he is today.
“What it did was it started me with a great base work ethic from a young age. When I was like six years old, we would start doing the little things here and there. And then the older we got, the more responsibilities we got. It really instilled that work ethic from a young age.”
Manny Ramirez is likely to hang onto the starting center job for Denver this year. Veteran Will Montgomery offers valuable veteran depth on the line, and that leaves Paradis as the third-string center. The team could choose to put him on the practice squad to develop in 2014.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos. Contract and salary-cap information provided by Spotrac.com. Transaction history provided by ProSportsTransactions.com.
Cecil Lammey can be followed on Twitter @CecilLammey.