Denver Broncos: Way-Too-Early 53-Man Roster and Depth Chart Predictions
The Denver Broncos completed a productive draft that added a lot of depth, although not necessarily many starters.
After winning the Super Bowl last season, 2016's team will look a bit different after the departure of some key players in free agency. Instead of looking for direct replacements in the draft, the organization instead elected to target some long-term prospects who might need time before contributing. There was certainly a lot of value in many of the picks, but it appears internal options will have to fill the holes.
Obviously, there is a lot of time remaining to tinker with the roster and improve in various spots that need help. Between undrafted free agents and veterans still on the market, there is help available. However, it's never too early to take a look at the potential lineup for the 2016 season.
Here is a breakdown of the Broncos' depth chart if the first game happened to be this week.
The Broncos used their first-round pick to draft their quarterback of the future in Paxton Lynch. The 6'7" passer has loads of upside and can develop into an elite quarterback down the line.
Unfortunately, he is still much too raw to expect him to play in Week 1.
NFL Network's Mike Mayock summed up the problems with Lynch (via Chris Vannini of CoachingSearch.com): "He’s never been in a huddle, doesn’t call protections, doesn’t control LOS, never been under center, never a five-step drop."
Denver will probably be forced to stick with Mark Sanchez as the starting quarterback, which is apparently already the plan, according to Mike Klis of 9News.
Sanchez won't inspire much confidence among the fanbase with his 74.3 career quarterback rating and 84 career interceptions in 75 games. However, he improved his accuracy and decision-making during his time with the Philadelphia Eagles and still has the tools of a former No. 5 overall pick.
Most importantly, this is a team led by its defense that only needs a quarterback to manage the game and limit mistakes. Neither Peyton Manning nor Brock Osweiler was elite last year, and the squad won a Super Bowl. With Sanchez owning a 4-2 career record in the postseason, he could be enough to help the team win.
|1||C.J. Anderson||Andy Janovich|
With question marks at quarterback, it appears as though this team is going to transform into a power-running attack next season, and all three running backs could be heavily involved.
C.J. Anderson lost his starting job to Ronnie Hillman last season, but once he was healthy in the playoffs, it was clear who was the better player. Anderson totaled 254 rushing yards in the three games, while Hillman managed just 54 at 1.7 yards per carry.
Anderson should begin next season as the No. 1 back with Hillman spelling him when needed.
Of course, you shouldn't count out Devontae Booker making an impact sooner rather than later. The 5'11", 219-pound runner out of Utah is perfectly suited for the zone-blocking system where he can make a quick cut and get up the field in a hurry. He is coming off a torn meniscus injury that cut short his season, but when healthy, he should be able to make an impact.
Sixth-round pick Andy Janovich will likely replace Juwan Thompson on the roster as a true fullback who can clear space for whoever is behind him on the field at the time.
There hasn't been much change to the receiving corps with the exception of Andre Caldwell being unsigned. This is both a good and bad thing heading into next season.
The top two options are as good as it gets with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders combining for 181 catches and 2,439 receiving yards last season. Thomas will need to cut down on the drops, but otherwise this is a dangerous tandem that is tough to defend.
Unfortunately, there is a significant drop-off after that with Jordan Norwood and Bennie Fowler barely topping 200 receiving yards each last year. There is little threat out of the slot, and it puts a lot of pressure on the top two targets to perform.
Cody Latimer and DeVier Posey have plenty of upside but haven't proved anything yet on the field. They both need to put together a strong preseason to have any faith going forward.
Undrafted free agents Durron Neal and Mose Frazier could also challenge for a roster spot.
Jeff Heuerman didn't play a snap last season after tearing his ACL in training camp, but there is a reason the team drafted him in the third round last year, and it is probably the same reason the squad didn't target a tight end this year.
The former Ohio State star is a big target at 6'5" with soft hands who could be a valued target in the middle of the field. If healthy, he could easily be the starter going forward.
Virgil Green also possesses plenty of upside as an athletic player who is a mismatch for defenders down the field. Also standing at 6'5", he could be a threat in the red zone and a quality target for whoever is at quarterback.
Garrett Graham signed as a free agent shortly before the draft. While he is coming off an awful season for the Houston Texans, he could provide some veteran leadership and quality play for the offense.
|1||Russell Okung||Max Garcia||Matt Paradis||Connor McGovern||Donald Stephenson|
|2||Ty Sambrailo||James Ferentz||Robert Myers Jr.||Michael Schofield|
This group will feature the most turnover from last year with potentially four new starters along the offensive line.
Evan Mathis, Louis Vasquez and Ryan Harris are all gone (as well as Ryan Clady) from last year's line, which struggled greatly throughout the year. Meanwhile, the team signed Russell Okung and Donald Stephenson to improve at the tackle position, likely displacing Michael Schofield from his starting job on the right side.
With Ty Sambrailo heading into his second year, there is now a decent amount of depth and experience on the outside.
Matt Paradis isn't exactly a star at center, but the former sixth-round pick started every game there last year and should be the one player keeping his job going into 2016. James Ferentz and Sam Brenner should also stay on the roster and provide some depth both at center and guard.
The biggest question marks will come at guard with no one having much experience at the position.
Max Garcia appears likely to get one of the spots after starting five games during his rookie season. The versatile player is capable of playing at both guard and center and could create some decisions down the line, but the team will need him to shore up the left side of the line.
The Broncos selected Connor McGovern in the fifth round this year, but the Mizzou product has the ability to contribute right away as a mauling run-blocker. He was one of the strongest players in the draft and should be able to handle the physical transition to the NFL.
Robert Myers also has a chance to earn some playing time after bouncing around practice squads last season.
|1||Derek Wolfe||Sylvester Williams||Jared Crick|
|2||Vance Walker||Darius Kilgo||Adam Gotsis|
This was perhaps the most underrated part of the Broncos run to the Super Bowl last season with Derek Wolfe, Malik Jackson and Sylvester Williams playing at a high level all year against both the run and the pass.
Jackson is gone, but the team did add a veteran in Jared Crick to replace him on a two-year deal. The former Houston Texans player started every game last season while tallying 48 tackles. He knows how to play within the 3-4 defense and should slide in perfectly as the starting defensive end.
The Broncos reached in the second round by drafting Adam Gotsis—a high-upside player who has a fan in defensive line coach Bill Kollar. In fact, head coach Gary Kubiak explained this as a main reason he was drafted.
"When [Kollar] comes down over the course of the last six weeks banging on our doors, saying, 'You guys give me a chance to work with this guy,' John and I felt really good about that," Kubiak said after the second round, per Andrew Mason of DenverBroncos.com.
Unfortunately, he is still extremely raw and coming off a knee injury, which makes contributing at a high level in 2016 unlikely. At best, he will be in a rotation along the defensive line with Vance Walker and fellow high-upside prospect Kenny Anunike.
Darius Kilgo didn't produce many stats last season, but he does his job clogging the middle and should represent quality depth at tackle.
If there was one part of the team that didn't need adjusting, it was outside linebacker, which features four elite players capable of making an impact on any given play.
Von Miller is the only question mark at the moment, although certainly not because of his play. The Super Bowl MVP received the franchise tag this offseason and is yet to sign a contract, although the two sides appear close to a deal.
While Miller is one of the top defensive players in the NFL, the Broncos have enough depth that they can go without him for a few games and not lose much.
DeMarcus Ware is the most proven player in the group with 134.5 career sacks, although Shaquil Barrett and Shane Ray showed enormous potential last season when given a chance. Considering both are under 25 years old, the future is certainly bright for these two.
It is also bad news for opposing quarterbacks set to play the Broncos at any point in the near future.
As good as the outside linebackers are as a unit, there is reason to doubt the group of inside linebackers.
Brandon Marshall and his 102 tackles will return as the leader in the middle of the field, but the squad will be without leading tackler Danny Trevathan, who signed with the Chicago Bears. Meanwhile, the team failed to draft even a single linebacker in seven rounds to fill his spot.
Todd Davis appears most likely to slide into the starting role as the second inside linebacker. The former undrafted free agent had 21 tackles last season mostly off the bench, although he did play in all 16 games for the Broncos. He certainly has a lot of toughness, but the unproven player will have a lot of pressure to perform.
Corey Nelson and Zaire Anderson appear to be the best options for depth on the roster now, although fans shouldn't overlook undrafted free agent Frank Shannon out of Oklahoma. The talented player was a star for the Sooners defense in 2013 before being kicked out of school and then rejoining the team in 2015. There are off-field problems, but if the issues are behind him, he has the potential to be a quality player.
Based on the current options, it also wouldn't be surprising to see Denver bring in another veteran before training camp.
|1||Chris Harris Jr.|
This is another strength for the Broncos with both Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib being named to the Pro Bowl in each of the last two years. With the exception of Antonio Brown, Harris has especially been a shutdown cornerback whose ability in man coverage helps out the entire defense.
Bradley Roby also showcased plenty of talent during his rookie year as a nickelback with speed and playmaking ability. After finishing with 10 pass deflections last season, it won't be surprising to see a lot more nickel packages this upcoming season.
Kayvon Webster and to a lesser extent Lorenzo Doss also capably filled their roles on defense and special teams and should be useful members of the roster again in 2016.
Taurean Nixon and Brandian Ross will also compete for playing time, although making the final roster could prove to be difficult.
|1||Darian Stewart||T.J. Ward|
|2||Justin Simmons||Will Parks|
Denver desperately needed depth at safety, and it fulfilled this need in the draft with the selections of Justin Simmons and Will Parks.
Simmons was taken in the third round out of Boston College and certainly has more upside as an athletic player with great ball skills. He has a good chance of contributing early thanks to his ability to drop back in coverage and force turnovers.
Parks, a sixth-round pick from Arizona, is more likely to play closer to the box and make plays against the run. He will give the coaching staff some versatility in sub-packages and is likely to make an impact on special teams.
Still, the starters should remain Darian Stewart and T.J. Ward—two players who have their faults but are still top performers at their positions. If the added depth allows Ward to play where he is more comfortable closer to the line of scrimmage, this group will be even better than anticipated.
|Long Snapper||Nathan Theus|
|Kick Returner||Devontae Booker|
|Punt Returner||Emmanuel Sanders|
Brandon McManus isn't going anywhere after knocking in 85.7 percent of his field goals last year, including hitting five of his seven from beyond 50 yards.
Unfortunately, the same can't be said about punter Britton Colquitt. The eight-year veteran was just 21st in the NFL in net punting average and represents a large cap hit for next season. The squad signed Will Johnson before the draft, but it most likely found the replacement in seventh-round pick Riley Dixon. The Syracuse player excels at pinning teams deep in their own territories and could give the Broncos a boost in this area next year.
Denver signed Nathan Theus as an undrafted free agent almost immediately after the seventh round concluded, per Mike Loyko of NEPD. Long snapper was a need going into the week, and it appears it is Theus' job to lose.
As far as the rest of special teams, Emmanuel Sanders could turn into a full-time punt returner with Omar Bolden no longer on the roster. There are no experienced kickoff returners, but Devontae Booker has that ability thanks to his vision with the ball. The team could also just be trying to find ways to get the rookie onto the field.
Jordan Norwood or Bennie Fowler could also potentially take that role, but it is something the Broncos probably won't decide until the preseason.
53-Man Roster Projection
We are obviously a long way from Week 1, and a lot more will go into the final roster. Additions through free agency, cuts due to salary, injuries during training camp, performances in preseason and other factors can lead to this list looking much different in September.
With that said, here is an early look at a possible 53-man roster for the 2016 season.
|17||Chris Harris Jr.||CB|
|28||Robert Myers Jr.||OG|
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